About Me

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Jim Croteau lives in Kalamazoo, Michigan with his partner of 31 years, Darryl, and their two Labrador retrievers. He grew up gay and Catholic and white in the southern United States in the 1960’s and 70’s and has spent his adult life in small non-coastal cities, mostly in the Midwest. He loved his mother very much. He began writing poetry in May 2012 at first to cope with life in times of aging and then, well, he sorta caught the poetry bug. He is still working as a professor in Counselor Education and Counseling Psychology at Western Michigan University.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

What if . . .?

Homophobia ruined my life. These words were spoken to me by another gay man who was in his late sixties and had been a leader in the gay community. He was a retired professor with what seemed like a good life and he was certainly well-liked and well-respected.  His words shook me.

Through my own therapy and other self-reflection I am discovering how deeply I was injured, certainly psychologically, probably spiritually, by having grown up in a time and place that was pervasively homophobic.

I often think “what if”—what if I had made some kind of connection with the gay community when I was younger and had been able to come out as an adolescent or young adult. How much less haunted by what I will simply call “internal demons” would I be now?

I had been trying to write a poem about the UpStairs Lounge fire in New Orleans in 1973. The lounge was a gay bar in New Orleans that was destroyed in an arson's fire on June 24, 1973. It was the deadliest fire in the city's history and the largest mass killing of LGBT people in the United States.

New Orleans holds a special place in my heart.  I moved to New Orleans in 1975 for college, still very closeted, even in some ways even to myself, as I would remain for a while. I never heard of the fire then, and in fact, did not know about it at all till 4 or 5 years ago. It has received little attention. Oppression is assisted through the concealing of history. 

I had down good description of the fire and its aftermath, but I needed something more.  Then at a writing conference this past summer I started thinking again about those words that my friend had said to me as well as the pain of my own youth. I started hearing in my head What if, what if I had heard, what if I knew, what if  . . . ?

And the poem fell into place.  Please go the link and give it a read.  (And while you are there look around the issue of The About Place Journal, you will be impressed by its passion for justice.)

Thursday, October 16, 2014

In Ogunquit ME for a Fall Visit and Lots of News on the Writing Front

There is no place that "takes my shoulders down"  from their usual tense place like Ogunquit ME.  It's taken 3/4 of the trip this time, but with 48 hours left here, I am feeling that Ogunquit magic.  Darryl and I have been coming here for close to 30 years and it is a special place for us. (The town is Halloween decorated).

But on to writing news--and there is a good bit of it since I have not made an entry here since July. First, The Queer South anthology is out.  See my previous post for how to get a hold of it. Two of my poems, Camp Revelation and Lord I Am Not Worthy are in this excellent anthology of fiction and poetry.  The poems are both reflections on growing up in the south a few decades ago.

Talking in Late September, what might be my best poem so far, was recently published in Chelsea Station.  They published it with a pretty cool line drawing that serves the poem well.  I dedicate it to my close friends with whom "talking" about our lives is such a central part of the friendship.  It is pretty autobiographical in sentiment if not in every exact detail.  Here is the link for that poem: Talking in Late September

Finally I just got acceptance of two poems that are very close to my heart.  They will be published soon, in November's issue of About Place Journal--a journal by a institute with values close to my own, The Black Earth Institute. The poems are The UpStairs Lounge and Blessed Be the Boys. I will post more on each of those poems when they come out in November.  For now just a teaser--Blessed Be the Boys has a line in it that inspired part of the title for this blog.

Writing is definitely at the top of my list in terms of things keeping me sane at this time of life!

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

The excitement continues . . . I just noticed the anthology that I will have two poems in that is due to come out (so to speak) in October is now up for pre-order.

I am really gulping on this one. I saw the list authors--I can't even fathom my poems being published alongside folks like
Dorothy Allison, Shane Allison,  Richard Blanco, Perry Brass, Matthew Hittinger, Darrel Alejandro Holnes,  Stephen S. Mills, Cameron Mitchell,  Del Shores,  and L. Lamar Wilson and many other great writers!

It is up for pre-order right now.

To pre-order the anthology from SRP.

Nine of poems in Assaracus, the issue is out!


When I set out on this poetry journey thing 26 months ago it was the poetry of Bryan Borland that inspired that beginning. I found that poetry could have an emotional wallop and he was writing stuff about being gay outside of large urban communities that registered with me. It was my dream to have something published one day in the journal he started and edits--Assaracus. I was really excited and a bit overwhelmed when he accepted my poems in September. They were just published a few days ago.  I am not sure how I feel--I am thrilled and a little befuddled too.  The other poems in the issue are by and large very impressive and I am honored to have my poems with them. I will blog more when I figure out all my reactions more.  Here are links if you are interested in the issue.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

On contemplative photography and impermanence

I did another contemplative photograph walk Sunday in downtown Kalamazoo.  It is a great place to walk and see. And I do feel the practice part of this activity--the focusing on what is in front me in a much fuller way than my monkey mind usually allows. During this walk, the shadows were amazing.  And seeing them, one at time, did bring me to a place I know occasionally in meditation.

I have an old friend who was diagnosed with a fairly serious cancer. We haven't seen each other much in the three decades I have known her, so I can't say we are close. But I have always registered pretty strongly with the way she sees the world and what "right action" is for us human beings.  She is doing an amazing job of writing about her experiences with her illness and treatment. She is experiencing impermanence, and the related sanctity of being in the present moment, in a larger way than I ever.  I am inspired (and a bit frightened) by what she has been sharing so eloquently.

So I plan to keep practicing even when it's hard.  It's all I know to do.  Here's to meditation and contemplative photography practice

--I hope you enjoy a few of my latest photos.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Writing about Sexual Abuse in the Catholic Church

It’s only been a little over two years since I started this path of writing poetry. I write, of course, about things that register with me, usually in some emotional way: growing up gay in the time and place I did, my mother and her death, getting older, being more aware of impermanence, my meditation practice, my long term relationship, etc. When the Catholic Church sexual abuse scandal first started getting widespread media attention, I did not know what to make of it. It felt disturbing and close to home, but I didn’t quite know how. I knew that a teacher at my all-boys Catholic high school had molested one of the only friends with whom I have stayed in touch over the decades. I did not know how else it all had touched me. I had not explored how growing up in the environment that “housed” such abuse may have affected me, even though I was not sexually abused in any physical way. I started learning a lot, and wrestling with lots of my own feelings.

I discovered that one of the parish priests who trained me as an altar boy, and with whom I often served Mass, was a perpetrator. I read some documents about his particular case that the courts forced my old diocese to release.  I recalled some of his verbal behavior with me in the confessional that I am now pretty sure fits the category of abusive. I recalled a conversation with my mother that was about him. On Calvary Hill is about all that. It is the second poem that has made it to press about sexual abuse in the Catholic Church. It is in five parts, two of which are “found poems” with wording taken directly from all those documents. That poem will be out soon, with eight other poems, in the July 2014 edition of Assaracus: A Journal of Gay Poetry.

New Verse News in February of this year, published Defrocking. NVN is an online journal and you can find my poem here: http://newversenews.blogspot.com/2014/02/defrocking.html.  In many ways, it has a similar focus to On Calvary Hill, but not as much of a narrative poem, more political, and mostly has an angry and sarcastic edge.

I have other poems in various stages that focus on sexual abuse in the Catholic Church. I hope that one or two of them will see the light day in publication. I am making this blog entry because I spent some time today working on one of those poems. I am often as left in a certain mental and emotional space after working on writing in the area. I thought sharing that might be of some use to others. I feel some anger, often less at individuals and more at the Church culture and system. I feel sorta sick to my stomach too and like I want to take a shower and get clean. But in the middle of all that, I feel better about myself—I often do when writing anything personal—like I am affirming that what I have experienced and have to say is indeed viable, real, worthy. When writing in this area, it feels like that sense of affirmation holds some extra power. I think for me it is saying that even though my damage was “collateral” so to speak, I too survived growing up Catholic at a time when sexual abuse was hidden but pervasive.  It feels good to say, hopefully with some poetic grace and power—all that was pretty sick stuff and that’s where I spent a lot of my boyhood.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Some contemplative photography . . .

I dabble in what is called contemplative photography. From what I understand the idea is less about creating photographs and more about contemplative practice. Here is my own few sentences length thumbnail about the process. First, connect with your breath; if you are a meditator, the instruction "take good head and shoulders" apply. Then as you begin a state of mind like meditation, just start looking around you. It does not have to be in any particular place, and you are certainly not searching for anything beautiful or even interesting to capture. It is more like you are experiencing the phenomenal world more "as it as", instead of as we create it to be in our heads. Wait for a visual "flash" of sorts, something that catches your perception. Breath and take it in. When (not if, at least in my case) you begin to think about what you seeing, notice the thoughts and non-attach to those thoughts, as in mindfulness meditation practice. Just stay as much as you can in this "noticing" process. Only after the noticing thoroughly, do you pick the camera up and try to capture what you saw as best you can.  The photograph is really kind of an after-thought.

This is just my own "off the top of my head" description as I have come to practice contemplative photography. For more information there is a great book available, here is it's Amazon link: 

The Practice of Contemplative Photograph by Andy Carr and Michael Wood

One example of my own contemplative photography is on this blog that appears to right--the photo with the leaf embedded in the fallen rain on our deck in our backyard. It was the one of the first contemplative photographs I took and is still my favorite. Here are some examples of what I have "noticed" on a very recent contemplative photography outing in downtown Kalamazoo.