Originally released in 1970, soulscript was edited by June Jordan, who wished to make a space for voices historically kept out of mainstream or widely acknowledge conversations. As she wrote in her foreword to this collection, “Afro-Americans are writing poetry. It’s happening now, and it’s wonderful, fine, and limitless, like love.” Included in this gorgeous anthology are some of the foremost queer poets of the 20th century, including Nikki Giovanni, Langston Hughes, Robert Hayden, Audre Lorde, and, of course, June Jordan herself. Organized into sections that speak to some of Jordan’s own poetic interests—“Tomorrow Words Today” is the first, “Attitudes of Soul” is the last—this new edition also includes an introduction from Staceyann Chin, who, like Jordan, is a black and queer poet and activist, for whom the voices in this anthology have been essential.
If They Come for Us
Co-creator of the hit comedy series Brown Girls, Fatimah Asghar, a Pakistani-Kashmiri-American poet, released her debut full-length poetry collection just last year, though the sophistication, play, and emotional resonance of these poems point to an extremely well-developed talent. Asghar’s poems queer the form, using structures such as a bingo card, a mad-lib template, a crossword puzzle, as well as more traditional or recognizable line-breaks. Prefacing the collection with a note on the violent, forced migration that occurred during the India/Pakistan Partition, Asghar returns again and again to the historic harm done to her ancestors as well as the contemporary harm still wrought on brown bodies. But this collection is not despairing—instead, it blazes with truth, conviction, and curiosity.
Take Me With You
In Andrea Gibson’s pocket-sized collection, Take Me With You, the poet invites the reader to, quite literally, take the poems along for a ride. A longtime spoken-word poet with several albums and books to their names, Gibson’s ability to reach into their listeners and readers and evoke recognition, laughter, and tears all speak to their remarkable talent. In this sweet collection of some of their most uplifting, affirming, and galvanizing quotes and poems, Gibson shares their vulnerability through language that encourages us to be so as well. As they write, “It takes guts to tremble. It takes so much tremble to love. Every first date is an earthquake.”
In sam sax’s full-length debut, selected by Terrance Hayes as the winner of the National Poetry Series, the queer, Jewish writer and educator explores themes of mental illness, the body, desire, and addiction. Showing the slippages between historical classifications of mental illness and aspects of queerness and desire—lest we forget that homosexuality or gender variance were once considered kinds of madness by Western medicine—sax explodes the myth of scientific objectivity and celebrates the bodily complexities of illness. Refusing to sit with comfortably static categories, sax’s work probes inherited cultural norms, practice, and knowledge, appropriates the past to serve the present and vice versa, and reveals the lineages of language we draw from as we attempt to understand our own identities.
Elizabeth Bishop: Poems, Prose, and Letters
Elizabeth Bishop remains not only a giant of the poetry world—though she wasn’t recognized as such until after her death—but one of the primary examples of conflicted identity. As critic Gabrielle Bellot wrote, “At once exuding courage and exalting an almost Victorian ideal of discretion, Bishop lived and frequently traveled with her distaff lovers, yet she described them, in writing and conversation, as ‘my friend,’ ‘my hostess,’ or even as a ‘secretary,’ rather than as a lover.” Bishop’s desire to be with women coupled with her dislike of labels and an internalized lesbophobia make sense for her time, when McCarthyism was rampant, but this contradiction of self wasn’t easy to live with. In this comprehensive collection, you’ll find Elizabeth Bishop’s entire body of published work as well as poems, prose, and letters never published during her lifetime. These various documents reveal her complex self, but it is in her poetry that readers find, again and again, her tenderness, loneliness, and expressions of both pain and love.
Stung with Love
If you’ve ever heard the term “sapphic” used to denote sexuality (the OED defines it as “Of, relating to, engaging in, or characterized by sexual activity between women or female same-sex desire”), that’s because of Sappho, a lyric poet who lived on the Greek island of Lesbos during the 6th century BC. Though her surviving text is relatively minimal and is famous for its fragmentary nature due to the physical lacunae of surviving manuscripts, it is also highly skilled, and we know that Sappho was well-known and beloved in her day. Translated by another queer writer, Aaron Poochigian, this edition of Sappho’s work brings to life its rhythmic quality and evokes the way it used to be declaimed with musical accompaniment.
Frank O’Hara is sometimes forgotten in the litany of queer poets to check out. Like many of his era, his queerness was often elided. As Penguin editor Christopher Richards wrote, “O’Hara’s queerness has always been there to see but it was consistently obstructed either by critics, his friends, or in a few cases, himself.” Yet Richards points to the work itself as evidence, beyond the simple biographical information. O’Hara’s excitable style, which has sometimes been called camp, is both exactly that and more: it is a love of language, a love for and attention given to sensuality in all its forms. It’s frenzied, at times, his movement across the page quick and enthusiastic as a crowded New York City sidewalk. O’Hara is, in many ways, a poet for our time more than even his own, his joy a kind of middle-finger in the face of anyone who would criticize him.
Love Speaks Its Name
J. D. McClatchy
In this lovely collection, the late J. D. McClatchy—who passed just one year ago—has collected a vast, beautiful array of queer poets writing specifically about love in all its messy, difficult, complex, beautiful, joyous glory. Divided into sections, Longing, Looking, Loving, Ecstasy, Anxiety, and Aftermath, this collection will certainly lead to a further reading list for anyone interested in queer poets. From Vita Sackville-West to Federico García Lorca, from James Baldwin to Muriel Rukeyser, from Lord Byron to Adrienne Rich, McClatchy’s choices are, as he puts it in his introduction, about the various forms of desire: “A desire can be a vague wish, a sharp craving, a steadfast longing, a helpless obsession. It can signal an absence or a presence, a need for commitment, an ideal, or an impossibility.” Sound familiar? If so, pick up a copy, and keep it nearby for nights of solitude, shared love, or the many vagaries in between.
Poetry is one of humanity’s most ancient art forms, right up there with theater and music. Just like poetry, queer folk have been around for as long as humans have known how to love. We want to celebrate poets of all stripes, but we want to recognize, too, the special kind of something that queer poets bring to the table. Folks who identify along the LGBTQIA2S+ spectrum tend to live in marginal and/or liminal spaces, and so their observations, language, and complex negotiations with the world are unique, specific to their multiple identities. They aren’t predictable, safe, or easy—and why should they be? As Caribbean-American bisexual poet and activist June Jordan once wrote, “Poetry is a political act because it involves telling the truth,” and these poets tell it, in myriad wild and wistful and wondrous ways.