Chrystos

Artifact: Excerpt of WHITE GIRLS DON’T by Chrystos

Let me take you to Purdy white girl
I’ll show you some torture that works & works & works
doesn’t leave a mark
Somewhere else is safer & not your fault & not your responsibility
Easy
to be outraged & run off to save somebody
on your white horse airplane
come back with slides to show me how horrible it is down there
gore gleaming in your eyes your excitement just
held in
I’ll show you blood on every street in america
We aren’t the latest fad in your candy-striper life
You want genocide
look out the window at the road going past your house
honey
it’s killing us

Identification: This poem was published in 2012. Written by Chrystos, a Menominee and Native American poet, this poem describes the racial tension and dividing history in the United States, saying, “I’ll show you blood on ever street in america/ You want genocide // honey // it’s killing us.” Chrystos puts special emphasis on white privilege and oppression, an often forgotten element of privilege within groups like the LGBTQ community. Chrystos has written other works of queer poetry, but is most well known for her activism and work with intersectionality.

Annotation: Not only is Chrystos Native American; she is also Two-Spirited. Two-Spirit is a Native American term for describing the LGBTQ individuals in their community– a combination of spirits, so to speak, such as a masculine female or a feminine man. Chrystos has identified more specifically as gay according to her book Living the Spirit: A Gay American Indian Anthology. Her work has discussed many parts of her identity, including her gender, sexual orientation, and race. All of these are important to note when assessing her poetry and how her experience as a queer poet is different than others.

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.

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.

 

Andrea Gibson

Artifact: Excerpt of Maybe I Need You by Andrea Gibson

For the winter we heated our home from the steam off our own bodies?
I wrote you too many poems in a language I did not yet know how to speak
But I know now it doesn’t matter how well I say grace
if I am sitting at a table where I am offering no bread to eat
So this is my wheat field;
you can have every acre, Love…

Maybe I need you the way that big moon needs that open sea
Maybe I didn’t even know was here ‘til I saw you holding me
Give me one room to come home to
give me the palm of your hand
Every strand of my hair is a kite string
and I have been blue in the face with your sky
crying a flood over Iowa so you mother can wake to Venice

Lover, I smashed my glass slipper to build a stained glass window for every wall inside my chest
Now my heart is a pressed flower and a tattered Bible
It is the one verse you can trust

Identification: This self-published 2009 poem came right after Gibson’s big explosion into the poetry world, being the first poet to ever win the Women of the World Poetry Slam in Detroit in 2008. Maybe I Need You is Gibson’s personal struggle with their romantic relationship, producing one of their most well known lines, “I wrote you too many poems in a language I did not yet know how to speak.” Gibson is remarkable not only in the fact that they are a non-binary poet who prefers they/them pronouns, but their medium is often music and slam poetry that can be delivered both through text and through video.

Annotation: Gibson is the first poet to be explored in this contemporary LGBTQ archive that directly tackles gender queerness and the idea of slam poetry as a medium to convey and spread queer poetry. She’s a huge advocate for LGBT rights who also discusses intersectionality and how other aspects of identity, like race and ethnicity, plays into their personal experiences (as seen in her other poems, including one titled “A Letter to White Queers, A Letter to Myself” and “Privilege is Never Having to Think About It”). By addressing “white queers”, including themself, they consider how their race plays into their experience as an LGBT member and how it plays into their romantic relationships with others.

Eileen Myles

Artifact: Excerpt of Dear Andrea by Eileen Myles:

Dear Andrea
I’ve been alone all day
Spare me the postmodern experimental poet bullshit
Honey, think hard
about moments of love you’ve experienced with me
I want that love
Are we in a relationship or not?
Eileen, are you paying attention?
Fifty dollars, first ticket
Fifty dollars, first catcase
Diesel, diesel

Dear Andrea
You are the candy melting in my mouth
Is that a euphemism?
For what?
Witnessing your love
That’s pretty good

Identification: Eileen Myles is one of the most well-known female LGBT poets in the contemporary poetry world. This poem is an excerpt from her 2007 book “Sorry, Tree.” Much of her poetry centers around her relationship with other women and her confidence in her sexuality (as seen in other parts of this poem, including “don’t f**ck up my hair” and “I can’t believe you almost fisted me”). For Andrea is one of her most infamous works, along with other self-addressed poets to her partners such as To Jordana. She’s come a long way since she debuted on the scene in the 1970s but has kept her language rich and her diction direct throughout her career. The link to the full poem has a wonderful reading by her.

Annotation: This poem is powerful in its many layers, strong language, and tangible dialogue. “Spare me the postmodern experimental poet bullshit” is one of my favorite lines I’ve come across in any contemporary poem. Despite how comfortable she is in her sexuality, there’s also moments of uncertainty, as with any relationship, such as “are we in a relationship?” and “Eileen, are you paying attention?” Myles poems are powerful in how they capture the human experience, especially in a population under-represented in other literary mediums.

Trace Peterson

Artifact: Excerpt of After Before and After by Trace Peterson

I’ve been freed from
inside the Fall of Rome,
my contract disrupted.
Civilization will
not descend without
my bet against it rising,
a weather balloon
that hangs against a vast
usurped sky.
After before and
after, humane enclosures
air whips through
with a taste for blood
oranges and secret
unpoliced
temporal lace
have been spread out
imagining possible
goddesses in
bed. What’s free
about a woman’s stubble,
what’s enhanced
delivering an urgent note
across a field of blue.

Identification: Highlighted by a PBS article, this 2015 poem discusses how transgender women are often seen as a catalyst for social disintegration and many social issues (i.e. “The Fall of Rome”) and tries to put in a new framework, instead describing how transgender women are a loving and wholesome part of society. Peterson is considered to be one of the leaders for transgender poetry in the contemporary movement, helping to define a “class” of poetry among queer poetry readers. While this poem was released less than 10 months ago, transgender poets aren’t as well-known as other LGBT poets. As a transgender woman herself, Peterson hopes to change that.  The reading of Peterson’s poem from Peterson herself is available thanks to the PBS website and Soundcloud.

Annotation: This poem, described as a “love letter to trans women”, is the start to including transgender individuals in a positive narrative. Instead of seeing transgender women in a negative light, Peterson uses powerful imagery, historical contexts, and subtle hints (“a woman’s stubble”) to link transgender women to beautiful, powerful ideas. By replacing old narratives with new narratives, we can move towards including transgender women and transgender poets into our scope of LGBT poetry, as well as into the overall scope of the LGBT community, as well as the general heteronormative.

Richard Blanco

richard-blanco-2014

Artifact: Excerpt of Since Unfinished by Richard Blanco

“I’ve been writing this since
the woman I slept with the night
of my father’s wake, since
my grandmother first called me
a faggot and I said nothing, since
I forgave her and my body
pressed hard against Michael
on the dance floor at Twist, since
the years spent with a martini
and men I knew I couldn’t love.

I’ve been writing this since
the night I pulled off the road
at Big Sur and my eyes caught
the insanity of the stars, since
the months by the kitchen window
watching the snow come down
like fallout from a despair I had
no word for, since I stopped
searching for a name and found
myself tick-tock in a hammock
asking nothing of the sky.”

Identification: Written in 2012, a year before Blanco was invited to be the United States’s fifth inaugural poet, this poem explores how different moments in his life have inspired him to write, and how writing is a lifelong process. In this excerpt, he discusses his sexuality, a sense of insanity, and a despair “[he] had no word for.” This poem was published in one of his larger works, Looking for The Gulf Motel. It can be found in various mediums, including Poetry Foundation’s website.

Annotation: Richard Blanco is one of the most famous openly gay poets in the contemporary world. In this work, he describes how he has struggled with his sexuality, seeking women in only his most desperate times (the night of his father’s wake, shortly after his death) and how the rest of the time he has had to deny his sexuality and be around men he “knew [he] couldn’t love.” This could contribute to the despair he discusses in the second stanza. He also alludes to cohort differences, facing discrimination and labeling by his grandmother, and suggesting a more negative attitude toward homosexuality from the older generations. Given that this was written less than five years ago, this is an important piece to consider for contemporary literature. Even with our current strides towards acceptance, members of the LGBT community continue to face discrimination that leads to the minority stress, depression, and self-doubt described in this poem.