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These essays reflect Mann's other literary abilities; the language is poetic, and the erotic passages burn hot: they are relatively few, but they are highly charged. The most striking, and consistent, element of this collection is how honest and open Mann chooses to be with his readers, not only with the fetishes and obsessions he's already thoroughly documented in earlier works (his love of Appalachian language and cuisine, his infatuation with country singer Tim Mcgraw, his love of bladed weapons and the heroic stories, ancient and modern, in which they so often play a part--not to mention his deeply ingrained appreciation of Southern manners and his kinship with nature, especially the beauty of mountain terrain), but with the course of his own life.
By ''ursine essays,'' Mann is referring to his identity as a bear. He relishes the vocabulary of strength in discussing this most central aspect of his identity, calling himself ''husky'' and ''burly,'' describing how he ''growls'' in response to a broad palette of emotion: appreciation, lust, anger, resentment. More: Mann lets us know more than once that he's a ''leather bear,'' and his love of bondage--mostly as a top, but occasionally as a submissive--plays as essential a role in these selections as do any of the other themes Mann explores, including relationships, travel, and cultural heritage....
It's the complexity--and those conflicts--that allows Mann to blend such disparate strands in his writings and in his life. Rather than set two diminished concepts against one another--say, sex and spirituality, with the nuance and nourishment boiled out of them by facile posturing--Mann looks to a broader focus that allows all of his aspects (and, by extension, all of the elements of any human being) to jostle, compete, reinforce or cancel out. Thus, he can contain a poet's fragile heart within a joyously hot and hairy chest, and allow himself to look for the same in others.
These essays are full of humor, anecdote, political fury, and sexual frisson. They also contain a deep and melodic religious resonance. This burly leather bear poet brings word and flesh together in the most compassionate, if underserved, sense of untrammeled faith. --Kilian Melloy for Edge Online
Lambda Award-winning writer Jeff Mann follows up on his Edge: Travels of an Appalachian Leather Bear with this second collection of personal essays. And these essays are deeply personal--reflecting both his deep affection for the land and people of the mountains and the deep pain the homophobia endemic to the region causes him.
Mann is a gay, pagan, leather bear, and in many ways, you might think this makes him out of place in the mountains of West Virginia. But he is also an Appalachian, and a country boy--and he can't live comfortably away from the region and its people. Instead, he uses his multiple outsider status--gay, blue-collar, mountain, pagan, and bear--to educate and enlighten the classes he teaches and the communities in which he dwells. The essays in Binding the God will do the same for the urbane and sophisticated, the slender and smooth-chested, and the A-list gays, and will remind us all that the GLBT community and GLBT culture is everywhere.
That's not to say that Mann s home does not cause him pain. Despite his deep affection for the land and people of the Mountain South, he is acutely aware of its conservative politics. He looks around at the gym and sees a hot man, his perfect good ol' boy type--and realizes the object of his affection is likely straight and even homophobic. But then, he has a great time bonding with the men painting his house, and they don't mind that he's gay, because he can talk trucks and cowboy boots and country music. Being a hill-queer may be a contradiction--but it's one with which Mann has learned to live. And if he has to occasionally escape to gay-friendlier climes, the mountains always call him back home.
Some may be wary of the sexual content, but without it we'd get a distorted view of the very complicated Jeff Mann. The essay ''Bondage Tape in Budapest,'' for example, illuminates the relationship between leatherbear Mann and his vanilla partner. And when Mann talks about Tim McGraw, not just as a musician, but as a sex object--well, I can relate. I only ever listened to Tim McGraw because he looked hot on the album cover!
Recommended for all public and academic libraries, and particularly for those libraries serving GLBT or Appalachian communities. --John Bradford for the GLBT Roundtable of the American Library Assoc.
Jeff Mann grew up in Covington, Virginia, and Hinton, West Virginia, receiving degrees in English and forestry from West Virginia University. His poetry, fiction, and essays have appeared in many publications, including The Spoon River Poetry Review, Prairie Schooner, Shenandoah, Laurel Review, The Gay and Lesbian Review Worldwide, Crab Orchard Review, Bloom, Appalachian Heritage, and Best Gay Stories 2008. He has published three award-winning poetry chapbooks, Bliss, Mountain Fireflies, and Flint Shards from Sussex; two full-length books of poetry, Bones Washed with Wine and On the Tongue; a collection of personal essays, Edge: Travels of an Appalachian Leather Bear; a book of poetry and memoir, Loving Mountains, Loving Men; and a volume of short fiction, A History of Barbed Wire, which won a Lambda Literary Award.