Nepantla: A Journal Dedicated to Queer Poets of Color

Society itself has come a long way with the representation of queer peoples in the everyday culture, but there are still a few gaps. Last year, the Lambda Literary Foundation recognized these missing narratives and created Nepantla: A Journal Dedicated to Queer Poets of Color. Their mission is to “nurture, celebrate, and preserve diversity within the queer poetry community.” They celebrate the multiple voices and experiences within the community, while keeping the content specific enough that it can be a safe space. They emphasize that this journal is not a place for any type of prejudice, oppressive language, or fetishization of the lives of queer people of color. It invites the reader to contact them if they ever feel discriminated against by the language used. Along with the literary journal, this past summer they also put on a reading series where some of the Nepantla poets visited various US cities to share some of their poetry aloud.

In Joseph Epstein’s Homo/Hetero: The Struggle for Sexual Identity, he makes it very clear that he is not a fan of the queer community. He throws around words such as cursed and appalling, as well as claims there is nothing that would make him sadder than if one of his son’s came out to be gay. He states, “If I has the power to do so I would wish homosexuality off the face of the earth, I would do so because I think that it bring infinitely more pain than pleasure to those who are forced to live with it.” I selected three poems from the first two issues of Nepantla that I see as responses to the previous statement.

Danez Smith’s On Grace speaks on the beauty of the black, male body. He uses metaphor to compare their physique to religious concepts, such as gospels and miracles,
and their sex to Danez Smithworship. He loves both his blackness and his queerness to the point where he calls out God’s name. Considering that to religious peoples God is perfect and all that is good, the comparisons used in this poem make it pretty clear that Smith does not believe queerness causes widespread pain and anguish, but that it is beautiful and something to be praised.

Mariah L. Richardson’s Butter Cream is more abstract when it comes to describing the love of queerness. In this poem she is speaking on one specific partner, rather than a group of people. In the first stanza she describes her as “soft cake / butter sweet / and light,” and what is more pleasurable than cake? I would argue nothing. She uses various beautiful, intricate language to emphasize the pleasantness of their surroundings, which can also be read as the pleasantness of their intimacy. “Bouquets of / myrrh sandalwood / wafts and billows”, “faux ming vase / bursting of cattails / and pussy willow / tease in the corner”, “the big, big bed / royal purple / gold sheets / satin raw silk /  gregorian chants / whisper lusty devotions”. The most obvious depiction of pleasure is in the last stanzs: “I hear the color red.” Their sex is so wonderful that it is making the impossible Danez Smithpossible. Once again, I do not see any form of pain.

The third poem I selected is by far the simplest of the three. Nashon Cook’s Imagine explains what an orgasm feels like for him. While this does not comment on queerness specifically, given the nature of the literary journal we know that he is a member of the queer community. Once again there are references to churches and preachers as to show the purity of intimacy. The feelings he describes in this poem most definitely can be seen as powerful, but none painful.

Many of the pieces we have covered in this class are fairly old and clinical; while I do think it is important to know the history and theory, there is a need for more contemporary representations of queerness, especially regarding QPOC. In the 16th century when the Spanish were colonizing Aztec land, the indigenous people described their experience and culture as nepantla, a state of in between. In between two identities, two cultures. In between the person you are and the person you wish to be. Nepantla celebrates the in between, and I think we should too.

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