Saeed Jones

Artifact: Skin Like Brick Dust by Saeed Jones

In bed, your back curved
to answer the heat of my holding

& Harlem was barely awake below us
when a half-broken building

gave in. First, a few loose bricks,
then decades crashed to the street

just as a bus pulled up. Passengers,
choking on dust, rushed

to escape the wrecked weight
of someone else’s memory.

Two blocks beyond gravity,
I pressed into you, into you & away

from all the breaking. I didn’t know
your name, so I kissed one

into your mouth. Told myself
he is my body but you

were already on your way
out into the sirens.

Identification: This poem is from Jones’s 2014 book Prelude to Bruise. The work was inspired by a 2012 accident in Harlem where a bus did crash into a brick building, but added the element of his sexuality and the manipulation of another man to seek comfort from the crash. From the text of the poem, it’s clear the narrator doesn’t know the person or their name. The only identifier is the title Skin Like Dust Brick. Besides that, it seems the narrator only wants the unnamed man for his body. According to a Buzzfeed article by Julia Furlan, Jones described this work as an additional prelude to Prelude to Bruise. He said the meaning of the poem was to answer the question, “‘How do we use other people, and their bodies, to express ourselves?’ The speaker in the poem is, whether he knows it or not, using the man he’s sleeping with to convince himself of something. I think that’s deeply human” (Jones). The Buzzfeed article listed includes four other of his poems.

Annotation: Jones’s discussion of the male body isn’t romanticized. Instead, he seems to address more uncomfortable ideas about the human body and our relationship to it, as other LGBTQ authors have done like Whitman. However, unlike Whitman, that discomfort is also tied to our perception of the black male body. This is evidenced in how he links Prelude to Bruise to this poem, which is a heavily uncomfortable description of the African-American body and how it’s treated. In it, Jones’s says, “Your back, blue-black / your body, burning / I like my black boys broke, or broken / I like to break my black boys in.” Saeed Jones’s discussion of race and sexuality is powerful. He exemplifies a raw candor in contemporary poetry that I haven’t seen in years.

Staceyann Chin

Artifact: Excerpt of If Only Out of Vanity by Staceyann Chin

Will I still be lesbian then
or will the church or family finally convince me
to marry some man with a smaller dick
than the one my woman uses to afford me
violent and multiple orgasms

Will the staff smile at me
humor my eccentricities to my face
but laugh at me in their private resting rooms
saying she must have been something in her day

Most days I don’t know what I will be like then
but everyday—I know what I want to be now
I want to be that voice that makes Guilani
so scared he hires two (butch) black bodyguards

I want to write the poem
that The New York Times cannot print
because it might start some kind of black or lesbian
or even a white revolution

Identification: This poem is one of her most infamous works and has been performed on several stages since 2009. The poem discusses how other people may see her in her older years and how her life, centered around political and social revolution, will be perceived by others. She mentions many controversial topics including the church, being forced to marry, and being boisterous to the point the media censors her and the powerful fear her spoken word. Similar to slam poetry, spoken word and performance have been her stronghold for a good portion of her career. She has spoken out about many injustices facing the LGBT poetry and recently spoke on the Orlando shooting from last month (which was not revolutionary to the point The New York Times refused to print it, but If Only Out of Vanity seemingly was at the time).

Annotation: Staceyann Chin is from Jamaica. She is also of Chinese and African descent. Because of this, she has spoken out not only on sexuality but on how her race and how the two intersect. While this is different from the revolutionary work of black female scholars like Lorde, who have a specific history of oppression in the United States, other non-Caucasian races still face discrimination at the hand of white privilege. Even in Jamaica, she’s reminisced on how she was mistreated as a gay woman. Queer women of color have continually addressed injustice, and Chin’s work through poetry is a colorful way to do so. Her work continually mentions sparking a revolution whether “black or lesbian or even a white revolution” and her advocacy reflects that.

Resource Guide

Accessing LGBTQ poetry and discovering LGBTQ archives has never been easier, courtesy of online resources like this one. The purpose of this archive is to collect and discuss modern queer poets, usually through their poetry and other artifacts. However, finding lesser known names can be challenging, as can understanding the literary definition of contemporary and the different scopes of intersectionality associated with the queer community like gender identity, sexual orientation, and race. To help remedy this, I’ve compiled six resources so readers can better understand the terminology and authors highlighted in this blog. These websites cover queer definitions, literary definitions, and lists of accessible poets in hopes LGBTQ poetry can become better understood and more accessible.

  1. Academy of American Poets, “LGBTQ Poetry” (https://www.poets.org/poetsorg/lgbtq-poetry)

This is a wonderful resource for those interested in LGBT literature. By focusing on certain movements and populations, such as the LGBT community, poets.org hopes to empower individuals and provide them literary resources to explore. This LGBTQ literay archive includes featured poems, featured audio, featured essays, and featured books from author such as Audre Lord, Mark Doty, and A.E. Housman. Even if your primary interest isn’t in poetry, this website provides other ways to access LGBTQ poets and their inspirations.

2. Poetry Foundation, “LGBTQ Pride Poems” (https://www.poetryfoundation.org/features/articles/detail/69805)

An article created to celebrate Pride Month in June, the Poetry Foundation (founder of Poetry magazine) also ties poetry to the LGBT community, focusing especially on the contemporary period. According to the introduction, the celebration of Pride is to “stop to remember the Stonewall rioters… and take a moment to appreciate the beauty and goodness of our queer lives.” To accomplish this, the article has poems under three categories: “Feeling Proud at Pride”, “Feeling Ambilant at Pride”, and “Queer Poets on Queer Poets.” These should help people of all interests and affiliations, even just the everyday literary buff, to tap into queer poetry.

3. Advocate, “Seven Queer Poets You Should Know” (http://www.advocate.com/arts-entertainment/2013/11/18/7-queer-poets-you-should-know)

If you ever wanted a solid framework when thinking about contemporary queer poetry, this article is a good resource. “Queer” by Frank Bidart is a pivotal poem you’ll find in many queer archives and gives a unique perspective of what “queer” means to the LGBTQ community. Other authors, such as Blanco, Peterson, and Myles, I’ve already discussed in my blog. However, this article provides additional excerpts and links to better tap into their poetry. I would highly encourage looking into all seven authors to gain a variety of perspectives about the queer poetry movement.

4. Reference, “What is Contemporary Literature?” (https://www.reference.com/art-literature/characteristics-contemporary-literature-     24f12fd15cbf9c6e)

This article helps explain contemporary literature and its characteristics. For those that do not know what this archive means when referring to “contemporary” poetry, it’s works that are generally published and circulated post-WWII, or from the 1940s to today. It notes how literary perspective and global perspectives changed after the World Wars and how social, political, and theological movements were set into motion because of this, including the idea of intersectionality. The information from this article originally came from the College of Dupage.

5. CARE2, “What is Intersectionality and Why Is It Important?” (http://www.care2.com/causes/what-is-intersectionality-and-why-is-it-important.html)

Intersectionality is a concept I discuss often but may be new to many readers. This explanation of the social theory may be beneficial in understanding it and how it incorporates privilege, identity, and discrimination. The article provides a good history of its origins and modern application as well. While my archive focuses on sexual orientation and gender identity (hence LGBTQ poetry), those identities overlap with others like race and ethnicity. When discussing an author’s influences, I believe it’s important to look at all aspects of the individual and how they interact, making intersectionality important. CARE2 is a social awareness network that partners with other prominent organizations:

 

         

6. American Psychological Association, “Sexuality Definitions” (https://www.apa.org/pi/lgbt/resources/sexuality-definitions.pdf)

As mentioned above, LGBTQ poetry focuses especially on sexual orientation and gender identity. For those not as familiar with the LGBTQ community, it can be easy to mix these ideas up. Many people assume transgenderism is a sexual orientation like the other main three in the queer community’s acronym. This resource can help clear up this kind of confusion. The following APA guide compiled definitions for sex, gender, gender identity, gender expression, and sexual orientation. It also links other APA resources for the LGBT community and their terminology.

 

Carol Ann Duffy

Artifact: Gay Love by Carol Ann Duffy

This writer is gay,
and the priest, in the old love of his church,
kneeling to pray.
The farmer is gay, baling the gold hay
out in the fields,
and the teacher, cycling to school each day.
The politician is gay,
though he fears to say,
knotting his tongue, his tie;
and the doctor is gay,
taking your human pulse in her calm way.
The scientist is gay,
folding the origami of DNA,
and the judge, in his grey wig, is gay.
The actress is gay,
spotlit in the smash-hit play;
the butcher, the baker, the candlestick-maker,
our children, are gay.
And God is gay.

Identification: This poem was published on June 16, 2016 in response to the Orlando shooting that killed 49 members of the LGBTQ community four days before. Duffy is openly gay and has discussed her sexuality through poetry before, but often in the context of love poetry, not tragedy. The poem gained notoriety through celebration of the LGBTQ community as well as through criticism for her last few lines, “our children, are gay / And God is gay.” While many of speculated her theology and ideology, the majority seem to agree that sexuality is a critical part of our societal identity and should be considered when responding to discrimination, hate crimes, and the backlash of non-privileged groups.

Annotation: Much like Richard Blanco, Carol Ann Duffy is the first openly gay poet laureate within her domain, Britain. She is also the first female and individual of Scottish descent to hold the position. She was appointed in 2009 and has continued making poets since, as evidenced by this June excerpt. The conceptualization of this poem is simple: we are one and we are gay. Even if we ourselves do not identify as non-heterosexual, we are surrounded by those who are and are still influenced by them. By making broad generalizations like our children are gay and our God is gay, it forces us to consider the entirety of the human experience. As far as her last line, I don’t think saying “God is gay” is sacrilegious. Many people believe we were made in our “God’s” image. I believe he encompasses all identities and he is many things at once– including variations of gender, race, disabilities, and sexual orientation. It’s a utilization of language that makes people react. It makes people feel. I think that’s especially crucial in the wake of tragedy.

Audre Lorde

Artifact: Love Poem by Audre Lorde

Speak earth and bless me with what is richest

make sky flow honey out of my hips
rigid as mountains
spread over a valley
carved out by the mouth of rain.

And I knew when I entered her I was
high wind in her forests hollow
fingers whispering sound
honey flowed
from the split cup
impaled on a lance of tongues
on the tips of her breasts on her navel
and my breath
howling into her entrances
through lungs of pain.

Greedy as herring-gulls
or a child
I swing out over the earth
over and over
again.

Identification: This poem was published in 1975 and was included in her book The Collected Poems of Audre Lorde. Lorde is a famous poet and is especially known for her works in feminism and how it relates with race and sexuality. She openly describes herself as a black feminist lesbian poet. Much like Alice Walker, Lorde’s criticism of 1960’s feminism, which catered primarily to white women while ignoring other privileges, led to the concept of womanism for black female scholars. Her work in understanding the influence in various identities helped ground our current understanding of intersectionality, which can be seen in her poetry.

Annotation: Love Poem is a brazenly honest (and beautiful) depiction of how Lorde sees her love life with women. Her description of the female body in relation to nature is a common metaphor, but it’s often used in celebration of their bodies or their sisters’ bodies in black feminism, not in application to female lovers or how they “bless [her] with what is richest.” Instead of discussing herself, she focuses the beauty of female bodies on her partners. This perspective of her race and sexuality can be seen in many of other poems, including Who Said It Was Simple where she notes, “But I who am bound by my mirror / as well as my bed / see causes in colour / as well as sex.” Just like June Jordan, sexuality, race, and gender are all important in Audre Lorde’s perspective on identity.

June Jordan

ArtifactExcerpt of The Talking Back of Miss Valentine Jones: Poem Number One by June Jordan

Sweet My Jesus ain but one can
left
and we not thru the afternoon
and now
you (temporarily) shownup with a thing
you says’ a poem and you
call it
“Will the Real Miss Black America Standup?”

guilt po’ mouth
about duty beauties of my
headrag
boozeup doozies about
never mind
cause love is blind

And the very next bodacious Blackman
call me queen
because my life ain shit
because (in any case) he ain been here to share it
with me
(dish for dish and do for do and
dream for dream)
I’m gone scream him out my house
be-
cause what I wanted was
to braid my hair/bathe and bedeck my
self so fully be-
cause what I wanted was
your love
not pity
be-
cause what I wanted was
your love
your love

Identification: This poem was from Jordan’s book Naming Our Destiny: New and Selected Poems, which was published in 1989 and in the post-Civil Rights era for the African-American community. Naming Our Destiny was the fourth book published by Jordan. She had seven books in all. This poem discusses many things, but centers around a black woman’s numerous dreams and how it’s often sacrificed through the hardships of life. While she’d like to be traveling and fulfilling her fantasies, she’s sorting laundry, trying to keep young boys from dying, and rejecting patronizing men instead. It’s a harsh wake up and hard look at the hardships and relationships in the black community.

Annotation: June Jordan is a bisexual black woman from New York. Unlike the other poems discussed in this archive, I wanted to primarily elevate her racial experiences, as I believe those can help illuminate how it interacts with her queer experiences. This overlap of identities is important when considering her take on love and life. Not only is she dealing with the hardships associated with being a woman and being a queer person, she’s dealing with the struggles within the black community. White privilege, male privilege, and heteronormative privilege are all working against her. Her discussion of “the real miss black America” and craving love over pity shapes her take on relationships. Just as I’ve discussed how gender identity must be taken into account when considering sexual orientation, so should race and privilege, lest our take on LGBTQ poetry lack intersectionality.

 

Blog Post 6

For my archive, I would want to talk to LGBTQ poets throughout the contemporary period. I would want to track first-person accounts of how LGBTQ literature and the community has changed through the decades. For example, an older poet who lived through Stonewall or the HIV/AIDS epidemic would have a different experience and perspective compared to a younger poet. I would prefer to have more prominent poets, but it would also be interesting to interview smaller poets who are well-versed in spoken word, as they’d likely give an articulate oral recount. I imagine they would describe everything from personal experiences to their perspectives on broader LGBTQ events, like the dismantling of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and the recent Pulse shooting. Both public and personal events can be very inspiring for writers.

Lived experiences can be documented in several ways. I’ve come across several examples in archives including newspaper articles with eye witness accounts, public court statements, oral accounts, and videos of people recounting their stories. I don’t know if there’s anything essentially queer about that type of archiving. Perhaps in the same way that queerness evades definition, there are so many ways to archive lived experiences that it cannot be tied down to one example.

Fleeting moments pose several issues for archives. For one, there may be minimal witnesses or individuals that lived through that experience. For another, those that experienced a fleeting moment may have only partial memories. This is especially true if there has significant time between the event and documentation, and if the incident was traumatic. Impermanent institutions can make tracking and keeping documentation difficult for archives. The same way a broken link can make an archive item impossible to access online, having a physical archive item that is constantly moving through museums and institutions makes it difficult to keep track and exemplify different items. All of this should be considered when archiving first-person accounts and oral history.