‘Guys Reading Poems’ film uses works by gay, lesbian, bisexual poets to spotlight characters’ mindstate

WEST HOLLYWOOD — Hunter Lee Hughes’ debut feature film, “Guys Reading Poems,” follows the life of a mother and avant-garde painter (Patricia Velasquez) who breaks with reality after her lothario husband dumps her for another woman, and eventually locks her young son inside a puppet box.

Trapped with no way to escape, the creative and resourceful child uses poetry to cope with his disturbing captivity.

Hughes, who wrote and directed the film and is gay, frames his black and white narrative about an artistic and damaged family with various men reading 32 poems, including poetry from West Hollywood poet laureate Steven Reigns and classic pieces from such gay, lesbian and bisexual poets as Walt Whitman, Edna St. Vincent Millay and Thomas Gray, among others.

“Guys Reading Poems” has showings tonight and Sunday at the Arena Cinelounge in Hollywood.

In an interview with Q Voice News, Hughes, a West Hollywood resident, talks about making his debut film and showing classic works by gay, lesbian and bisexual poets. Here are excerpts from the interview.

On how the boy trapped in the box parallels LGBTQ people

“Gay people in the past didn’t quite have the language with their peers to express what was happening with them emotionally. Poetry, painting or other creative processes were their options,” Hughes said. “The boy in the film has no other way to explain his emotions, so he turns to poetry to express his feelings.”

On making his first feature film

“When I began the project, I didn’t know it would be my first feature. I wanted the poetry to be cinematic. It was calling out to be something else,” Hughes said.

“Then I started thinking how to integrate poetry into a bigger piece — Who would need poetry to survive?

“It struck me that a child would have a creative solution in that vein, a child of creative people,” he said. “Then I thought, What situation would call for using poetry as a life line? “There’s nothing worse than being imprisoned by your own mother, someone who is supposed to be your biggest advocate.”

On shooting in black and white

“It’s surreal. We are building a film on a dream,” Hughes said. “The aesthetic of black and white works. It helps transport you to another world.”

On featuring gay, lesbian and bisexual poets

“When you make a film, it’s like a love affair. I believe that passion is necessary to make a movie,” Hughes said. “It started with me loving the poems. The poets being gay or lesbian was a bonus. Maybe there was a sense of relating to them as a gay artists.

“Edna St. Vincent Millay was openly bisexual in 1915, and she won a Pulitzer Prize. As a gay person, I want to honor all the people who came before me to the culture at large,” Hughes said. “If I can pay tribute to her in my little film, I want to do that.”

In his film “Guys Reading Poems,” Hunter Lee Hughes frames his black and white narrative about an artistic and damaged family with various men reading 32 poems, including poetry from West Hollywood poet laureate Steven Reigns and classic pieces from such gay, lesbian and bisexual poets as Walt Whitman, Edna St. Vincent Millay and Thomas Gray, among others. Photo: “Guys Reading Poems.”

Related posts:

About the author

Phillip Zonkel

Award-winning journalist Phillip Zonkel spent 17 years at Long Beach's Press-Telegram, where he was the first reporter in the paper's history to have a beat covering the city's vibrant LGBTQ. He also created and ran the popular and innovative LGBTQ news blog, Out in the 562.

He won two awards and received a nomination for his reporting on the local LGBT community, including a two-part investigation that exposed anti-gay bullying of local high school students and the school districts' failure to implement state mandated protections for LGBT students.