So the few who actually read this blog, that I never promote and rarely update, know that I, Sean Aaron Bowers, used to write and read under the pseudonym Johnny No Bueno. I picked that name as a play on the nickname of a cat I once knew that went by the name Johnny Bueno. He was cool slick cat. Wore only vintage greaser style clothes, carried steel hair combs, and was tattooed from head to toe. He was the kind of cat who would invite you out to drink with only $2 to his name and you both would walk out of the bar shitfaced and with more money than when you went in. He was a boxed-wine, cocaine, and Rolling Stones kind of cool. We were good buddies, but he used to pull some shady shit, so I always joked around and called him Johnny NO Bueno. So when it came time to publish my first suite of poems, I wanted a cool name to publish by and Johnny No Bueno it was. By the end of 2012, my first collection of poetry was published by University of Hell Press under the name Johnny No Bueno. Up to that point, I had made something of a name for myself in the poetry slam world, as well as the lead poetry editor for Criminal Class Press for some time before it folded. So it only made sense that I would publish under the name that people called me and the brand that I had created. But directly after that, I began having misgivings with the name.
I was slowly digging myself out of the hell of homelessness and drug addiction that Johnny No Bueno penned about in his poetry. But I wanted something more–something bigger. I started worrying about how I would get into the inner circles of the poetry world with a name like Johnny No Bueno. I wondered if anyone would ever take me seriously. So a year or two after the publication of my first book, I began reading out by my birth name, Sean Aaron Bowers. I was going to school and trying to distance myself form the poetry slam world. Poetry Slam is great medium and an obscenely entertaining platform. However, I felt my work wasn’t getting the attention I felt it deserved, as Poetry Slam began moving away from a platform for everyone and started focusing on work of the more marginalized people. And not that I have any problem with marginalized people speaking up and creating brilliant art to help represent them better. But what is the point in taking part in an activity that is fruitless due to the fact that I am a white, cisgender male? Especially when the month after my book was launched was also the beginning of a social media movement to stop buying books by white men. My so-called friends championed that cause, which means to this day, many people whom I was loyal to still do not own a copy of my first book.
At this time, I was in college, and was heavily entrenched in what the world might call “academic poetry.” This, I think, is a horrible representation of the poetry that was popular at the time, as it actually transcended class, race, gender, and the like. The poetry that was catching my attention dealt more with form, and how the destruction and recreation of structure translated the underlying tone of the poetry. I became much more interested in this school of writing, as it took more than just jotting down some sentiment in prose form and delivering it in a compelling performance to make it hit. It took a historic knowledge of poetry. It took a close attention to white space, page positioning, and symbolism. This was is the type of poetry that stands up to postmodernist critique and cannot be deduced to a criticism of the identity de jour, at least not skillfully. This is the type of poetry I thought I might be able to write and help make my work stand up on its own two legs without worrying about what characteristics I was born with to prop it up–or tear it down.
So I jumped into that world, and I fell in love. Here was a group of people speaking my language. They did not disdain the canon but sought to become part of it. Here were people who partied like I used to, and carried around tomes of WH Auden to pour themselves into and out of it day in and day out. We could celebrate both Charles Bukowski and Terrance Hayes in the same breath. I wrote pastorals. I wrote pantoums. I read lyric essay and wrote with hopes of becoming the next Dylan Thomas.
But I was losing my voice. I gave over to this world–a world terrified of the world that I actually come from. I couldn’t talk about homelessness or prostitution without being blamed for pandering. It got to the point that I was trying to bleach my blue collar white and join the ranks of the academic intelligencia. No longer was I standing on my own two feet, but propping myself up on the backs of people who would awkwardly look into their breakfast cereal if I even mentioned the years I spent locked up or on the streets. I made my way into the world I was hoping to get into, and found myself more isolated than before.
I am about to finish school, and find myself having lost interest in becoming a writing professor. I now want to write for video game companies. I want to write commercials. I want to write from my perspective without fear of losing friends due to the degenerative content that is innate to my experience. For so long, I tried to get away from the very thing that made my work so compelling–me.
So last night I decided that my next book will NOT be published under my birth name but under the name that gave birth to my art. I can no longer sit on the side lines and make believe that Johnny No Bueno is just some voice that i occasionally write in. When I write, so does Johnny No Bueno. When I cry, so does Johnny No Bueno. When I cum, so does Johnny No Bueno. Johnny No Bueno is not just some pseudonym. Johnny No Bueno is me. I AM JOHNNY NO BUENO!