Bryan Borland: Poet Interview

Publish date:

Please join me in welcoming poet and publisher Bryan Borland to the Poetic Asides blog!

Bryan Borland

Bryan Borland

Bryan Borland, a Lambda Fellow in Poetry and winner of the 2016 Judith A. Markowitz Emerging Writer Award, is the founder and publisher of Sibling Rivalry Press, the only publishing house to ever win Lambda Literary Awards in both Gay Poetry and Lesbian Poetry. He is the author of My Life as Adam, which was selected by the American Library Association for its first annual “Over the Rainbow” list of recommended LGBT reading, and Less Fortunate Pirates: Poems from the First Year Without My Father, both from Sibling Rivalry Press, as well as DIG, just published by Stillhouse Press.

He is the founding editor of Assaracus: A Journal of Gay Poetry, which was honored in its first year by Library Journal as a “Best New Magazine,” the editor of Lady Business: A Celebration of Lesbian Poetry, which was included on 2013’s “Over the Rainbow” list, and the co-editor of Joy Exhaustible, an anthology highlighting the writing of gay publishers and editors, which was included on 2014’s "Over the Rainbow" list. He lives in Arkansas with his husband and co-publisher of Sibling Rivalry Press, Seth Pennington. Learn more at

Here's a poem I really enjoyed from DIG:

Three Ways to Mean It, by Bryan Borland

(1) Dig your nails into the armrest of the airplane.
Dig your fingers into the pulpy flesh of the orange.
Dig yourself into another body beyond the burnt
peeling of the skin. Dig down into summer.
Dig down deep.

Dig down into the bruised
meat of your own back. Into the hurt
and joy, but push. Dig inside yourself. Mine
yourself for the world beneath the world. The god
beneath the talk of god.

Dig because you like him.
Dig because you love him.
Dig because you (2) dig him. Let that
meaning overtake
this mess.

Here are the rules. Do not take unnecessary shots.
Do not throw sucker punches or heirloom lamps
or meaningless jewelry out the window of a moving car.
Do not take (3) digs at anyone whose imperfection turns
you to yourself. This includes yourself.

Dig. Say it with me.
Dig as challenge. Dig as miracle of destruction.
Dig as science of creation. Say the word then
dig deeper. Do not be afraid. Say the word.


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What are you currently up to?

I’m on tour for DIG. I started in Memphis at the Mid-South Book Festival, and last week I was at the Brooklyn Book Festival and Bryant Park in New York. This week, I’m in Washington, DC, where my publisher is based and where I’m participating in Virginia’s Fall for the Book Festival.

In the coming weeks, I’ll be in Oklahoma, Nashville, Chicago, Indiana, and the Dodge Poetry Festival in Newark, New Jersey. Then, I’ll be in California in November and wrap up the tour in New Orleans on December 1.

I really enjoyed your collection, DIG. How did you go about getting that collection together?

I went through a spectacularly bad breakup, which typically can produce the best art, I think, but then I fell immediately in love again, and with another poet!, which fueled most of the book. In between all that, I was running Sibling Rivalry Press, the indie publishing house I founded in 2010, and I was watching it grow to a level of success I’d never imagined possible.

The book is about balancing desire. For intimacy and love and sex and professional success and individuality. The book has a heart on the cover and that heart is very much my heart.

When you felt the collection was ready for publishers, how did you go about getting it published?

I met the editor-in-chief of Stillhouse Press, Marcos L. Martinez, at the Lambda Literary Emerging Writers Retreat in the summer of 2015. He’d seen work I’d posted to Facebook and he asked for my manuscript. I said no! I’m a publisher and have published two of my own books through SRP.


There’s a lot of stigma about self-publishing, and I could care less about that (I could care less about a lot of the traditional, must-do-this, have-to-do-that, never-do-that models of writing and publishing, and I think a lot of people have come to that conclusion in the last few years), but Marcos was persistent. His passion for poetry was clear, and his vision for the book hooked me. And once I got to know the Stillhouse Press team, my fears subsided.

They’ve been so good to me as a writer, and that’s the thing, really. They’ve allowed me to feel like a writer and not a publisher. And they made a gorgeous book.

What has the process been like working with Stillhouse Press?

I can’t say enough good things. From the very beginning, they allowed me to be part of the process. They make me feel respected as a poet and loved as a person. We have a very solid professional relationship but real friendships have developed, too. With Stillhouse Press, you get a team of people working for you.

Any time you publish with a small press, or any press for that matter, the level of success you achieve is on you as an individual writer. All a publisher can do is give you the opportunity to make that success happen, and Stillhouse has gone above and beyond with the opportunities they’ve given me.

As you mentioned earlier, you’re the founder and publisher of Sibling Rivalry Press. Do you find yourself taking notes on how Stillhouse operates and/or making suggestions because of how your own press publishes work?

Stillhouse is a young press that is associated with George Mason University’s MFA program, their students, and their alumni. And they told me early on they wanted me to share any ideas and advice along the way. Indie publishing is trial by fire and there isn’t a rulebook. Stillhouse was great about listening to my experiences and successes and missteps and mistakes as a publisher.

But I’ve learned just as much from them, including how it feels to be on the other side of things. And it’s something I take back into SRP to apply to my relationship with my authors. I’ve watched Stillhouse grow into the real deal. Send them your work. You won’t be disappointed.

As a publisher, what do you look for in poetry collections with Sibling Rivalry Press?

There isn’t any formula. I look for work that makes me feel electric. And I look for the energy in the poet.

The poet is the brand. The poet is who so often sells the work. If people fall in love with the poet’s heart and presence at a reading, then they’ll support that poet. If a poet creates an experience for a person that allows the audience to feel something, then they’ve created and shared a moment. And the poet has earned a new reader, usually for life.

It’s that intense and that strong. And goddamn, it’s beautiful.

You’ve been published in several publications over the years. Do you have a submission routine?

I write way more than I submit. I submit in batches a few times a year to publications I respect of all sizes. And I love being published in smaller venues or new startup publications. I feel a kindred spirit with people who are creating new spaces for voices.

A poet most folks don’t know about who you think is incredible—who is it?

My husband, Seth Pennington. Just as I’m working on this interview, he sent me a file of his recent work, and I stepped away to read it. He sees the world and writes it in a way that makes me grateful to be alive and hungry to be more alive. After I read his poetry, everything else is just noise for a moment, and when that falls away, all the colors are just… more beautiful.

If you could offer up only one tip to your fellow poets, what would it be?

Be kind. Be aware. Be brave.


Robert Lee Brewer is the editor of Poet’s Market and author of Solving the World’s Problems. Follow him on Twitter @robertleebrewer.


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