By Daniel Reynolds
Originally published on Advocate.com March 31 2014 6:31 AM ET
What the Lambda Literary Awards does best is highlight LGBT voices you should know. This year's nominees include 20 books of gay and lesbian poetry, as well as several LGBT poetry anthologies, for its annual prize.
In celebration of their achievement, The Advocate asked the esteemed nominees — including Tamiko Beyer, Frank Bidart, Rafael Campo, r. erica doyle, Rigoberto Gonzalez, David Gross, Michael Klein, Randall Mann, Kamilah Aisha Moon, Angelo Nikolopoulos, Suzanne Parker, Carl Phillips, Verónica Reyes, Elizabeth Lindsey Rogers, Michael D. Snediker, Trace Peterson, TC Tolbert, Brian Teare, Megan Volpert, and Ana Božičević — to each share one poem from their collections. Here are their poetry selections.
For the full list of nominees or to purchase a ticket to the upcoming ceremony, visit the website of the 26th Annual Lambda Literary Awards, which will be held June 2 at Cooper Union in New York.
From We Come Elemental by Tamiko Beyer
now water becomes tangible to tooth
and gives all :: full-weather assault
and we are not boundless ::
nest, egg, a flutter of a plastic bag ::
the children haven’t even hatched
and I’m thinking of blood, heavier than water,
a mess of desire :: impulse ::
a child will say a name
and that name will become my body ::
no covering of fabric or image
the world enters our room through
the sentimental forgetfulness of building materials
:: no please or thank you when it comes to winter ::
even the overheating radiator is no match for this resolve
I’m wanting to burrow down and ask for a kind of forgiveness
there are parts of what I must call my heart
that I can only touch at times ::
unpredictable slide from one scale to the next
like now, I want to return
to the problem of the white plastic in the kites’ nest :: bully
:: strongest bird :: surviving egg ::
we let go what we create
:: detritus :: our restless imaginations ::
but I take more than I give up
:: I’ve met very little without protection,
without a little bit of defense ::
now I’m raw :: holding nothing across my chest
Excerpted from We Come Elemental by Tamiko Beyer with permission from the author. Copyright 2013. Published by Alice James Books.
Tamiko Beyer is the author of We Come Elemental from Alice James Books and bough breaks from Meritage Press. She is a winner of the Alice James Books Kinereth Gensler Award. A Kundiman fellow, her poems have appeared in The Volta, Octopus, DIAGRAM, and elsewhere. She is the Associate Communications Director at the Boston-based watchdog organization, Corporate Accountability International, where she harnesses the written word to challenge some of the most powerful and abusive corporations in the world.
From Metaphysical Dog by Frank Bidart
Lie to yourself about this and you will
forever lie about everything.
Everybody already knows everything
so you can
lie to them. That's what they want.
But lie to yourself, what you will
lose is yourself. Then you
turn into them.
For each gay kid whose adolescence
was America in the forties or fifties
the primary, the crucial
forever is coming out—
or not. Or not. Or not. Or not. Or not.
Involuted velleities of self-erasure.
Quickly after my parents
died, I came out. Foundational narrative
designed to confer existence.
If I had managed to come out to my
mother, she would have blamed not
me, but herself.
The door through which you were shoved out
into the light
was self-loathing and terror.
Thank you, terror!
You learned early that adults' genteel
fantasies about human life
were not, for you, life. You think sex
is a knife
driven into you to teach you that.
Excerpted from Metaphysical Dog by Frank Bidart. Copyright 2013. Excerpted with permission by Farrar, Straus, and Giroux.
Frank Bidart’s most recent full-length collections of poetry are Watching the Spring Festival (FSG, 2008), Star Dust (FSG, 2005), Desire (FSG, 1997), and In the Western Night: Collected Poems 1965–90 (FSG, 1990). He has won many prizes, including the Wallace Stevens Award, and, most recently, the 2007 Bollingen Prize for American Poetry. He teaches at Wellesley College and lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
From Rise in the Fall by Ana Božičević
Paris Pride Parade
I don’t know what else to say. Really it’s the middle of the night,
and I’m sobering up from too much almond
liqueur, trying to persuade my body it’s
not dying. But it is.
At planet velocity, velocity of falling in love.
She’s right next to me. And I have landscapes inside me.
Did you leave these landscapes in here? Do you know that
I can change the size
of all those memories, just by the power of thinking?
And if tomorrow I jump off, and at the same time
think the jump back, would I not hang
flying above the bridge-water? Well.
The inside of a rainbow
is brittle. A kind of waiting room made
out of marzipan
& an air of exclusivity,
like watching a marionette theater do a Holocaust play inside the
top of the Arc de Triomphe.
The inside of a rainbow is
peeling from too much
pressure of how
I love death now,
the way I used to love rollercoasters: that she and I
are hurtling towards it & breaking,
age-blooming outward from the imperceptible speed—of all
the things that make me happy, this one is strangest, oh
city of Paris,
body of spring.
Excerpted from Rise in the Fall by Ana Božičević with permission from the author. Copyright 2013. Published by Birds, LLC.
Ana Božičević, born in Croatia, is the author of Stars of the Night Commute (2009) and Rise in the Fall, Publishers Weekly’s top five in poetry for 2013. She's a two-time Lambda Literary Award for Poetry finalist. She is the recipient of the 40 Under 40:The Future of Feminism award from the Feminist Press, and the PEN American Center/NYSCA grant for translation. She teaches and studies poetics at the City University of New York, and works for VanessaPlace Inc. With Sophia Le Fraga, she performs and creates multimedia work as part of a poetry duo called not_I. For more, visit anabozicevic.com.
From Alternative Medicine by Rafael Campo
Band of Gold
You told me the lesser known lesbians
like Willa Cather and Alice Toklas
who died unremarkable, quiet deaths
never interested you. After all,
who wouldn’t drink or pine themselves into
oblivion alone like that, unloved?
The only reason you were homeless was
because you beat up your brother Leon
after he called you a dyke and your folks
threw you out. You painted your nails pink
while you listened to Freda Payne belt out
“Band of Gold” over and over again.
You said she really knew what she was
talking about, because your girlfriend
left you when she found out you had cancer
and it hurt in exactly the same way.
You said your guess was she was probably
queer too, but since it was the seventies
you couldn’t sing about another woman
breaking your heart like that. I was there
when you told the surgeon, sure he could
cut them off, but how would he like it if
someone cut off his cock? After you died
alone in your room one night, your mother
showed up with some hash brownies she’d baked you,
which were too sweet and didn’t get us high.
The solarium felt like the inside
of emptiness, bright and airless and hot.
She told me that Leon had moved out, and
Freda Payne was a pretty black woman
who could pass for white and whose sister
was a back up singer for the Supremes.
She had a film career that not many
people know about because of that
goddamn song, that whenever you hear it
you understand, whatever love might be,
it abandons us all us, mercilessly.
Excerpted from Alternative Medicine by Rafael Campo with permission from the author. Copyright 2013. Published by Duke University Press.
Rafael Campo, M.A., M.D., D. Litt., is a poet and essayist who teaches and practices internal medicine at Harvard Medical School and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston. He is also on the faculty of Lesley University’s Creative Writing MFA Program. He is the recipient of numerous honors and awards, including a Guggenheim fellowship, a National Poetry Series award, and a Lambda Literary Award for his poetry; his third collection of poetry, Diva (Duke University Press, 2000), was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award, and The Enemy (DUP, 2007), won the Sheila Motton Book Award from the New England Poetry Club, one of the nation’s oldest poetry organizations.
from proxy by R. Erica Doyle
Excerpted from proxy by r. erica doyle with permission from the author. Copyright 2013. Published by Belladonna* Books.
r. erica doyle was born in Brooklyn, NY to Trinidadian immigrant parents. Her first book, proxy, was published by Belladonna* Books in 2013, and won the 2014 Norma Farber First Book Award from the Poetry Society of America. Her work has appeared in Best American Poetry, Our Caribbean: A Gathering of Gay and Lesbian Writing from the Antilles, Bum Rush the Page: A Def Poetry Jam, Ploughshares, Bloom, Blithe House Quarterly, and Sinister Wisdom. Erica is a fellow of Cave Canem and has received grants and awards from the Hurston/Wright Foundation, the Astraea Lesbian Writers Fund, and the New York Foundation for the Arts.
Poem by Adele Hampton from Flicker and Spark: A Contemporary Queer Anthology of Spoken Word and Poetry, edited by Brittany K. Fonte and Regie Cabico
You told me if I spit out my gum on the ground outside I would be a murderer. But since I didn’t want the title of baby bird slayer attached to my last name, I asked you for a piece of paper. You pulled a CVS receipt from your backpack and I spit my gum out in the evidence of your purchase of O.B. tampons.
Now, how you use an O.B. tampon is something that confuses the hell out of me, but I was too afraid to ask for instructions because the topic of female hygiene makes me a little uncomfortable.
Just like how this attraction makes me want to open my ribcage and let you settle inside my chest regardless of how much it aches to set my bones by the wayside.
Your beginning was ferocious. Back-handed me across the face within ten minutes of our first conversation; I wanted to know all the places you’ve called home. Your quiet thoughts thundered so loud when they sifted through my body that sometimes I wish my marrow had earplugs.
But I’ve realized my bones can sometimes be too brittle for your amplified crashing against my skin, and I’m afraid I’m not strong enough to hold steady through your floods.
So I am trying to stand two feet, two hands in front of you with a windmill heart painting a Dutch sky because I want to take you there some day. Show you where my roots started to form hair triggers; peel back my skin, love, and you’ll see I’ve been wrapping my heart in Kevlar. I’ve never been called delicate, so do not tip toe around my mines.
I’m not asking you to drape your ribcage across my chairs, only that you leave enough room in between your bones and your blood for the possibility of miracles.
I would have cradled your fears in my belly and filled your bones with stardust confidence, because that’s how much hope I saw in your fingertips. I would have braced your fleeting eyes and told God to hold steadfast the levies because I’ve been running head first into mortared bricks for the glory of open hearts.
But now, I want you to talk to me about loneliness, love. I want you to tell me tall tales about hearts that can’t remember how to breathe through sawdust forests or lungs that have forgotten how to pump red blood cells into clouds because I’m starting to lose track of how many times I’ve been bent under this weight and not broken.
I’m not elastic, love. Keep in mind that I have the ability to snap, buckle. I can become willowed and will forget how delicious your name tastes even though my tongue will always remember how to form the syllables.
I refuse to call myself empty even though you’ve left me scattered bone dust for the stars to sweep under carpets. I will not label my heart vacant or my stacked marrow bowed just yet. So show me how to walk these streets upright, knowing I’m not fit enough to chase after the ground.
These are not easy words gasping for air between the gaps of my teeth because I never wanted to write this poem again.
So I preach to you caution from the pulpit because I know how good I am at this pen to paper, feet to pavement. Know that I’m not one to repeat myself. So please open your beating drum heart to my gospel. I will walk away from your smile and feel good about not looking back.
Now the least you could do is pretend you know how to pray.
Excerpted from Flicker and Spark: A Contemporary Queer Anthology of Spoken Word and Poetry with permission from editors Brittany K. Fonte and Regie Cabico. Copyright 2013. Published by Lowbrow Press.
Flicker and Spark: A Contemporary Queer Anthology of Spoken Word and Poetry is the quintessential international and intergenerational spoken word and page poetry handbook. Published by a straight man (Lowbrow Press) in support of his 13-year-old-daughter's coming out, this collection features what others have not: both performance and page poetry, U.S., U.K. and Canadian poets, LGBT writing icons like Eileen Myles, Maureen Seaton, Gerry Potter and Bill Bissett, as well as new word stars like Sophia Walker (2013 BBC Slam Champ), Sam Sax, and July Westhale (Nominee for AWP Intro Award). This book embraces all sexual orientations and gender identities, as well as cultural rituals and historic LGBT moments on two continents. This collection is a contemporary guide to living LGBT poets who are making fabulous and important impacts on our community around the globe.
Brittany K. Fonte holds an MFA in Creative Writing, Fiction. She is the author of three books, in addition to being the co-editor of Flicker and Spark: Buddha in My Belly (Poetry/ Hopewell Publications), Fighting Gravity (Young Adult/ QueerTeen Press), and, just out in 2014, A.K.A. Charming (Fiction/ JMS Books). She teaches at the university level and is currently working on a Middle Grade novel about an adopted zombie with a single mom. Her goal is to one day be more banned than her hero, Judy Blume. She lives in Annapolis, MD, with her wife and two children.
Regie Cabico is the first queer and Asian poet to win top prizes in the 1993, 1994 and 1997 National Poetry Slams and has appeared on two seasons of HBO's Def Poetry Jam and NPR's Snap Judgement. His latest solo play, Godiva Dates & A One Night Stand premiered at the 2013 Capital Fringe Festival. He performs throughout the United Kingdom and North America. He produces and hosts Capturing Fire: An International Queer Poetry Slam and Festival and resides in Washington, DC.
From Unpeopled Eden by Rigoberto Gonzalez
Oh father, oh music man
with a whistle instead of a coin
to toss on your walks,
keep these things for us
until we’re ready to come home:
Our baby teeth, fragments of bone
that rattle in a domino box.
Tuck it in your pocket but please
don’t gamble it away
the way you lost our
christening gowns in poker.
We had outgrown them, true,
but what other proof
did we have that all seven
of our outfits could be stacked
and shuffled like a deck
of cards. Keep the bottle cap
opener hanging by a string.
Wear it like a locket
and stay collared to our after-school
bliss when we found you
underneath a tree that scattered
glass fruit around your feet.
The boys lined them up
for death by slingshot
and the girls giggled
when the bodies shattered.
Take good care of our drawings,
our crooked handwriting
exercises, the scribbles of our names,
and sew a suit with sailboats
on the sleeves, a coat with Qs
sliding down a wire, and pants
that celebrate our pre-pubescent
autographs. And in your shoe--
don’t tell us which! let us guess!--
save the coin you told us
came from China. It had a hole
in the middle because the merchants
slid their change on chopsticks.
We pictured them on market
Sundays holding up their earnings
like a shish kabob. We know
you hid the coin because all seven
of us wanted it and so you
took it with you. Or so I claimed.
Can I be blamed, oh father, oh story
man, for wanting to possess
the single thing that couldn’t be shared?
You saw me slide it out
the window of your wallet
while you napped and didn’t
snap into attention to complain.
Of all your sons and daughters
it is I who wanted to escape the most
to anywhere. I learned the desperate
alchemy of flowering a barren day
with song from you, oh master.
A minstrel needs his freedom.
And so you let me take it.
Excerpted from Unpeopled Eden by Rigoberto González with permission from the author. Copyright 2013. Published by Four Way Books.
Rigoberto González is the author of fifteen books of poetry and prose, and the editor of Camino del Sol: Fifteen Years of Latina and Latino Writing. He is the recipient of Guggenheim and NEA fellowships, winner of the American Book Award, The Poetry Center Book Award, The Shelley Memorial Award of The Poetry Society of America, and a grant from the New York Foundation for the Arts. He is contributing editor for Poets & Writers Magazine, on the executive board of directors of the National Book Critics Circle, and is professor of English at Rutgers-Newark, the State University of New Jersey.
From Clay by David Groff
After the mutual cruise in the surf,
after I ignored the fact your towel was pink,
after the hellos, the wind tousle, the shifting
to face each other now sitting on the pink towel,
after I swallowed that you attended seminary—
damn, you’re my goddamn father, damn—
after I decided that was interesting,
after I said, testing but not expecting,
(you were younger, you were Texan,
exiled from the early scourge of HIV),
AIDS was such a bummer &
you looked at me deadeyed & said you had it,
after my heart sank & bobbed up again
because your face grew richer in the evening beachlight,
& because you were not the first of my men to be mortal
(thank you Craig, Jay, Ron, Len, Paul,
all of you dead by then, my bruised test cases),
because you laughed like a little boy
at the cartoon plovers skittering the sand,
after we went back to your room & did everything but it,
after the two weeks of phone calls before you returned to my island,
after the sighting of you at the ferry dock & my shock
at the face I’d half-forgotten, its pockmarks & wine-dark eyes,
after the heat lightning on the beach that flashed at us like God’s metaphor,
after the urgent clumsy love,
after we were careful for the first of a thousand times
& we opened the doors to ourselves & the same wind blew through,
on the day we went to Washington for the Quilt
& I saw you as part of that carpet,
at the healing service where the bishop anointed you with oil
& I was blasted open with tears
& you were blasted open with tears,
I could do nothing but marry my life with death,
to the coded body of life in death
& the moment the wind will blow us apart,
the embodied air of you, the promise of absence,
the robust receding wave
the moon takes back, to leave behind an ocean.
Excerpted from Clay by David Groff with permission from the author. Copyright 2013. Published by Trio House Press.
David Groff’s Clay won the Louise Bogan Award and was published by Trio House Press. His book Theory of Devolution (2002) was selected by Mark Doty for the National Poetry Series. The coeditor of Persistent Voices: Poetry by Writers Lost to AIDS (2009) and Who’s Yer Daddy? Gay Writers Celebrate Their Mentors and Forerunners (2013), he teaches in the M.F.A. in Creative Writing Program at The City College of New York.
From The Talking Day by Michael Klein
Shadow of him, net to shadow of a dog.
The rest of light waits somewhere he’s been to
And never thought he’d have.
Here in the beyond – a little – the middle of his life.
The ocean, a success behind that.
He knows what happened.
He asked for love.
That was his first mistake.
Excerpted from The Talking Day by Michael Klein with permission from the author. Copyright 2013. Published by Sibling Rivalry Press.
Michael Klein is a five-time Lambda Literary Award Finalist, which includes recent recognition for his book of poems, “The Talking Day”, published in 2013 by Sibling Rivalry Press. New work appears or is forthcoming in BLOOM, Little Star, Guernica, Poets & Writers, The Awl, and Poetry magazine. He reviews books for Los Angeles Review of Books and The Rumpus and teaches in the MFA Program at Goddard College. He lives in New York and Provincetown, Massachusetts, with his husband, Andrew Hood and his dog, Ruby and his cat, Cyrus.
From Straight Razor by Randall Mann
in memory of Seth Walsh, Justin Aaberg, Billy Lucas, and Tyler Clementi
There are those who suffer in plain sight,
there are those who suffer in private.
Nothing but secondhand details:
a last shower, a request for a pen, a tall red oak.
There are those who suffer in private.
The one in Tehachapi, aged 13.
A last shower, a request for a pen, a tall red oak:
he had had enough torment, so he hanged himself.
The one in Tehachapi, aged 13;
the one in Cooks Head, aged 15:
he had had enough torment, so he hanged himself.
He was found by his mother.
The one in Cooks Head, aged 15.
The one in Greensburg, aged 15:
he was found by his mother.
"I love my horses, my club lambs. They are the world to me,"
the one in Greensburg, aged 15,
posted on his profile.
"I love my horses, my club lambs. They are the world to me."
The words turn and turn on themselves.
Posted on his profile,
"Jumping off the gw bridge sorry":
the words turn, and turn on themselves,
like the one in New Brunswick, aged 18.
Jumping off the gw bridge sorry.
There are those who suffer in plain sight
like the one in New Brunswick, aged 18.
Nothing but secondhand details.
Excerpted from Straight Razor by Randall Mann with permission from Persea Books. Copyright 2013.
Randall Mann is the author of three collections of poetry: Straight Razor, Breakfast with Thom Gunn, and Complaint in the Garden. He is shortlisted for the Lambda Literary Award and winner of the Kenyon Review Prize. He received the 2013 J. Howard and Barbara M.J. Wood Prize from Poetry magazine. His poems and prose appear in The Washington Post, The Paris Review, Poetry, The Kenyon Review, and the Los Angeles Review of Books. He lives in San Francisco.
From She Has a Name by Kamilah Aisha Moon
AIRPORT SCENE AFTER HER FIRST SOLO VISIT
She wanted to fly like us, experience
peanuts and ginger ale at 35,000 feet.
Rent metal wings
and hurtle through the sky—
free to defy
Autism’s gravity and simply be
the passenger in seat 13E.
She was coasting,
a look-ma-no-hands smile
resplendent on her face.
shortened her ride,
as I led her by the hand
to the front of the line,
telling the attendant
to keep watch
that she is different.
“Why did you do that to me?!”
Bruised but standing, she turned
to exit through the gate—
her flight home
a lesser altitude.
Excerpted from She Has a Name by Kamilah Aisha Moon with permission from the author. Copyright 2013. Published by Four Way Books.
Kamilah Aisha Moon's work has been featured in several journals and anthologies, including Harvard Review, jubilat, Sou’wester, The Awl, Oxford American, Poets.org, Callaloo, Superstition Review, Villanelles, and Gathering Ground. Her poems and prose have been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. A teacher of English and creative writing at various institutions, Moon is the author of She Has a Name (Four Way Books) and holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Sarah Lawrence College.
From Obscenely Yours by Angelo Nikolopoulos
Anonymous Creampies: Auditions
When windows opened it was a consolation
and those mornings my windows opened
to bougainvillea vines against white walls
that I would trace with my small hands
and collect their petals, thin as paper,
to stuff into books, the folds of beds,
my mother’s purse. I’d seal them into letters
that summer to send to friends in the states.
Purple lanterns from Capri, I wrote.
That summer, the found octopus
we inked against a rock. At night it hung
from wire. That summer, the man I’d find
out where the sea met the island at night
and I would not tell a soul—
how could you tell a mother, after collecting
your purple lanterns, after having hung
them up to dry against the bare white wall
where you had met him in the salty night
and you had asked him to take you quickly.
Excerpted from Obscenely Yours by Angelo Nikolopoulos with permission from the author. Copyright 2013. Published by Alice James Books.
Angelo Nikolopoulos is the author of Obscenely Yours, winner of the 2011 Kinereth Gensler Award (Alice James Books 2013). His poems have appeared in Best American Poetry 2012, Best New Poets 2011, Boston Review, Fence, The Los Angeles Review, The New York Quarterly, Tin House, and elsewhere. He is a winner of the 2011 "Discovery" / Boston Review Poetry Contest and the founder of The White Swallow, a queer reading series in Manhattan. He teaches at Rutgers University, New Brunswick and lives in New York City.
From Viral by Suzanne Parker
I Want to Give This a Happy Ending
for Tyler Clementi
Wings, gills, an apartment
in the Village with three guys
sharing toothpaste, stories
of a white towel dropped
at the Baths, a soundtrack
of ice chiming in a glass,
tongue outlining a set
of perfect abdominals
shuddering like a shy cat,
tracing their ridges, one man arced
over another like a wave
like fingers pushing hair
back from a forehead
like a name, a number, a door
closing on laughter
from the roommates
because before them is a new night,
another bar, another party, the invitation
sitting on the kitchen table
between his outstretched arms.
Suzanne Parker, “I Want to Give This a Happy Ending” from Viral. Copyright © 2013 by Suzanne Parker. Reprinted with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc., on behalf of Alice James Books, www.alicejamesbooks.org.
Suzanne Parker is a winner of the Kinereth Gensler Book Award from Alice James Books for her poetry collection Viral, which was written in response to the suicide of Rutgers University student Tyler Clementi as well as the deaths of other young queers. Her poetry has appeared in Barrow Street, Cimarron Review, Hunger Mountain, Drunken Boat, and numerous other journals. Her work has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize, and she is a winner of the Alice M. Sellars Award from the Academy of American Poets and was a Poetry Fellow at the Prague Summer Seminars. Suzanne’s creative non-fiction is published in the travel anthology Something to Declare: Good Lesbian Travel Writing by the Univ. of Wisconsin Press. Suzanne is the managing editor at MEAD: A Magazine of Literature and Libations.
From Silverchest by Carl Phillips
After the Afterlife
Bones, for sure. Feathers almost the white
of an eagle’s undershaftings in its first year.
Any wind, that stirs. Punishment in death
as it is in trembling: how it lifts, descends,
though – like having meant to be kind, yet
failing anyway – it can do no good. After
the afterlife, there’s an afterlife. A stand of
cottonwood trees getting ready all over again,
because it’s spring, to release their seeds that
only look like cotton; they’re not cotton, at all.
What we lose, without thinking to; what we
give, for free. Distinctions that, if they even
did before, now don’t matter. Any shadows
that break break randomly across these waters.
Excerpted from Silverchest by Carl Phillips. Copyright 2013. Excerpted with permission by Farrar, Straus, and Giroux.
Carl Phillips is the author of eleven books of poetry, including Speak Low (FSG, 2009), which was a finalist for the National Book Award, and Double Shadow (FSG, 2011), winner of the Los Angeles Times Book Prize. He teaches at Washington University in St. Louis and lives in St. Louis, Missouri.
From Chopper! Chopper! Poetry From Bordered Lives by Verónica Reyes
The Queer Retablo Series: Butch-Femme Dialogue
I. The Kiss
In a black vestido, she leans over to kiss her,
a short-haired woman wearing creased Dickies,
a slick-white dress shirt, and smiles to herself.
II. Custom Frame
Gold trimmings line burgundy-framed edges
crowned in pine green bougainvillea swirls,
mount an evening, a girl to boy-girl kiss.
Black-white still image presses a tender beso.
Las malfloras, gaze in, sit facing the center
and a friend, the camera mujer, shoots la foto.
IV. The Lips
The lips linger partway in the warm air
and the soft static passes between them.
They lean in more and the photo snaps.
V. The Shoes
Spit-shined black men’s zapatos waxed and
black-velvety tacones wiped down for la noche.
Estrellas glint, obsidian sky gleams like shoes.
VI. The Energy
Around them rainbow particles burst open flying,
friends dance salsa, play ’80s music, sing “Tainted Love.”
Their jota lives thrive in their red home, their red altar.
VII. The Dialogue
The lovers whisper words swimming in the cool air.
They float over the barrio, over the glistening lake.
In Silver Lake before the kiss, she says, “Te quiero.”
Excerpted from Chopper! Chopper! Poetry From Bordered Lives by Verónica Reyes with permission from the author. Copyright 2013. Published by Red Hen Press/Arktoi Books.
Verónica Reyes is a Chicana feminist jota poet from East Los Angeles, California. She earned her BA from California State University, Long Beach and her MFA from University of Texas, El Paso. Her poems give voice to all her communities: Chicanas/os, immigrants, Mexican Americans, and la jotería. Reyes has won AWP’s Intro-Journal Project, an Astraea Lesbian Foundation Emerging Artist award, and was a Finalist for the Andrés Montoya Poetry award. She has received grants and fellowships from Vermont Studio Center, Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, Ragdale Foundation, and Montalvo Arts Center. Her work has appeared in Calyx, Feminist Studies, ZYZZYVA, and The New York Quarterly. She is a proud member of Mujeres Activas en Letras y Cambio Social (MALCS) and Macondo Writers’ Workshop. She is also a Finalist for the 2014 International Latino Book Award for poetry and book design.
From Chord Box by Elizabeth Lindsey Rogers
Duet in E Minor 2002
Cold weather, we agreed, was bad
for the instrument. All winter long
you’d driven me to my car, as if
dark Capricorn evenings, almost
sinister, could split a soundboard
in a single, seismic instant.The truth is
January’s mild in our town; often I wore
that scarf just because you’d smooth it
with the back of your hand, then drift
up to my girl-glossed lips: Sweetness, you
look so good in brown.Come March,
there were fewer excuses. Every day I drove
with my windows down, the air blowing
both ways, like the high E and the low,
struck at the same moment—their ringing
enveloped me. I called you
and asked, is it possible for you to love
two at once, and your yes was like your arm
when it conducted the ensemble—a clear
source of authority. I knew Anna,
the woman you’d loved for eleven years;
she was my dance teacher. On Fridays
after my music lesson, I’d wear
her helmet, two sizes too large, riding
on the back of your Honda.That spring,
I learned wind from all sides.
Excerpted from Chord Box by Elizabeth Lindsey Rogers with permission from the author. Copyright 2013. Published by The University of Arkansas Press.
Elizabeth Lindsey Rogers was born and raised in Greensboro, North Carolina, received degrees from Oberlin College and Cornell University, and spent several years living and teaching in rural China. Her debut collection, Chord Box (University of Arkansas Press, 2013), was a finalist for the Miller Williams Prize. Her poems can be found in The Missouri Review, FIELD, Crazyhorse, AGNI Online, and many others. Her nonfiction recently appeared on The Rumpus. She is a 2012-2014 Poetry Fellow at The Kenyon Review, where she writes, edits, and teaches. You can find her at elizabethlindseyrogers.com.
From The Apartment of Tragic Appliances by Michael D. Snediker
When one decides past certain hours to go to
SUBWAY (eatfresh) despite a decent earlier
serving of asparagus vichyssoise, one thinks,
I’ll feel a little less abject about the excursion
if I travel with a nice accessory, for instance an
envelope-sized Louis Vuitton satchel on whose
veracity one has insisted on past occasions,
although not this particular night. Less junket
than one is junk, raccooning down the sidewalk
to where one’s students might be gorging,
shoulder-slung with an object Hawthorne might
describe as a citizen of somewhere else. Oh Louis,
strung between the Actual and the Imaginary,
like something in moonlight, cobwebbed or
embroidered with the enthusiasm of an allegorical
crazy person shriving for someone else’s bungle.
And so one embarks, +more or less sober, maybe
further sobered by the unfolding event, or as
likely, sobriety floundering in the Hawthornian
threshold as though this kabuki gravitas could
help the other more glaringly deflating elements
of a binge-before-sleep pass unnoticed. As though
the seriousness emanating from the bag might
not, in fact, lead to further pathos, one’s seeming
by others, employees and otherwise, slightly
deranged: Aschenbach bringing a little LV bag
down to the Lido. When one arrives at SUBWAY
(eatfresh), one hopes for neither recognition nor
blandishment beyond the sandwich. One is
unprepared, entering such an establishment past
midnight with the shredding dignity of a heroine
at the end of a Wharton novel, for comments
about the bag, comments that seem to interpellate
the bag as a romantic shibboleth. This isn’t the
idea. Dear reader, I brought the bag for dignity,
underestimating the extent to which such a bag
might flag me as more than an appetite on the
other side of a hygienic counter. And so: when
one of the workers says to one upon arriving at the
front of the hygienic sandwich-making counter,
I really like your bag, one is a little thrown off, as
one was wishing to seem formidable, not needing
to be there, as though meeting a lesser relative
at an unfortunate train station, who me, no you
must have me confused with one who comes
here often. I’m waiting for someone. If one had
made the mistake of wearing a large puce hat with
plumes, one would readjust the hat, reminding
him of the larger Darwinian scaffolding from
which one only temporarily had dropped. One
would say something minute in acknowledgment
of the appreciation, even as one couldn’t know
the degree to which one’s reply missed or matched
the flavor of his comments. In the splendid ides
of humanism, Cavafy might say yes, it’s a nice
bag; or, yes we have found each other like shelter
animals on opposite sides of a hygienic counter,
and this is just the beginning of an unavoidable
Proustian dance only superficially for the sake
of a sandwich. Or, yes, it is a nice bag—and how
bolstering in the epiphany of one’s humiliation
to be interested in this boy’s unexpected spume
of interest, as though interest were the accessory
with which, from the outset, one might have
traveled, even as proleptic interest in the moment
seemed not only implausible but its own problem.
To walk into a SUBWAY (eatfresh) at so late an
hour anticipating that something of interest
would occur, because the excursion might be
interesting, hence bringing along the bag—no,
this was unreasonable. We were naked in his
fawning, which added to the prescient sense of
disgrace (insofar as one can anticipate disgrace
more easily than one can track interest), in the
way one seasoning disrupts seasonings from a
different region. One is a vichyssoise in need of a
little tarragon, and despite his Anglo-Saxon milky
countenance, his observation about the bag is a
festive sneeze of paprika. One debates whether
one spoons it out fast, or stirs it in, or just watches
it like swamp guck settling on the surface before
sinking. Maybe even inadvertently signaling more
paprika, as though this was what the soup had
always wanted. At which point the employee
asks what one wants, as though this under such
circumstances were an unloaded question. My life
had stood a loaded gun, but never had Dickinson
waded through such a congerie of irrelevant
feelings. She wouldn’t have brought the bag,
rowing in Eden, deliberating turkey over meatball.
Does one say turkey to be the stronger one, with
an ear for the decorous or didactic, Saint Francis
and his lewd bird across the hygienic counter,
sent by the Lord for this lesson alone? Neither was
learning. His hands, in gloves the size of plastic
bags, were a reminder that the situation called for
prophylactics. And then the further harassment
of what would you like on that. At this point (to
keep from weeping), one says lettuce. One orders
something, oh heartbreak for everything, without
recalling what it is. One wants this over with. And
like a boulder dropped from his pelvis into one’s
own, or near it, the employee says you know I have
the wallet. One doesn’t know what to say, and like
Dickinson on the verge of death one’s metaphors
crash and burn; as critics suggest, sometimes
her metaphors just break off when they least
understand themselves. Whatever she says at this
point is up to whoever finds me holding you in
hand, satchel over shoulder, Aeneas raccooning
through the dungeon gates.
Excerpted from The Apartment of Tragic Appliances by Michael D. Snediker with permission from the author. Copyright 2013. Published by Peanut Books (an imprint of punctum books).
Michael D. Snediker is a poet and American Literature professor at The University of Houston. In addition to The Apartment of Tragic Appliances, he is the author of two chapbooks, as well as Queer Optimism: Lyric Personhood and Other Felicitous Persuasions. He is the recipient of Yaddo fellowships and the James Merrill Writer-in-Residency, and serves on the board of Flying Object (South Hadley, MA).
From Companion Grasses by Brian Teare
I gather the rain
in both noun
and verb. The way
the river banks
its flood, floods
its banks, quiver’s
grammar I carry
over my shoulder.
To aim is—I think
of his mouth.
Wet ripe apple’s
scent : sugar,
leather. To aim
is a shaft tipped
with adamant. Angle,
grasp, aim is a way
to hope to take
what’s struck in hand,
mouth. At the river
flood so lately laid
down damage by,
geese sleep, heads
turned under wings
wind tests tremor
in like archery’s
to kinetic : flight—
but not yet :
this grammar’s time
to string a bow, draw
taut the air, send rain
from quiver to verb
to aim to pierce
the scent of such red
flesh. Hope’s arrow’s
anatomy : thin,
crests to end
Excerpted from Companion Grasses by Brian Teare with permission from the author. Copyright 2013. Published by Omnidawn Publishing.
A former National Endowment for the Arts Fellow, Brian Teare is the recipient of poetry fellowships from the MacDowell Colony, the Headlands Center for the Arts, and the American Antiquarian Society. He is the author of four books—The Room Where I Was Born, Sight Map, the Lambda Award-winning Pleasure, and Companion Grasses, one of Slate's 10 best poetry books of 2013 and a finalist for the Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award. An Assistant Professor at Temple University, he lives in Philadelphia, where he makes books by hand for his micropress, Albion Books. He maintains a web presence at brianteare.net.
Poem by Samuel Ace from Troubling the Line: Trans and Genderqueer Poetry and Poetics, edited by TC Tolbert and Tim Trace Peterson
I met a man
I met a man who was a woman who was a man who was a woman who was a man who met a woman who met her genes who tic’d the toe who was a man who x’d the x and xx’d the y I met a friend who preferred to pi than to 3 or 3.2 the infinite slide through the river of identitude a boat he did not want to sink who met a god who was a tiny space who was a shot who was a god who was a son who was a girl who was a tree I met a god who was a sign who was a mold who fermented a new species on the pier beneath the ropes of coral
I met a man who was a fume who was a man who was a ramp who was a peril who met a woman who carried the x and x’d the y the yy who xx’d the simple torch
I rest (the man who) a woman who tells the cold who preferred a wind a chime who was a silo who met a corner a fuel an aurora a hero a final sweep
I sleep the planet I call my face scorched
It’s been 10 years without a name an ordinary life
Excerpted from Troubling the Line: Trans and Genderqueer Poetry and Poetics edited by TC Tolbert and Tim Trace Peterson. Copyright 2013. Published by Nightboat Books.
The first-ever collection of poetry by trans and genderqueer writers, Troubling the Line: Trans and Genderqueer Poetry and Poetics gathers together a diverse range of 55 poets with varying aesthetics and backgrounds. In addition to generous samples of poetry by each trans writer, the book also includes “poetics statements”—reflections by each poet that provide context for their work covering a range of issues from identification and embodiment to language and activism.
Trace Peterson‘s two favorite things are sex and literary criticism. Author of the poetry book Since I Moved In (Chax Press) and numerous chapbooks of poems, she is also Editor / Publisher of EOAGH, Co-editor of the new anthology Troubling the Line: Trans and Genderqueer Poetry and Poetics (Nightboat Books), and Co-editor of the forthcoming Gil Ott: Collected Writings(Chax Press). From 2009-2012, she curated the TENDENCIES: Poetics & Practice series inspired by Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick at CUNY Graduate Center in NYC, where she is currently a Ph.D. Candidate.
Trans and genderqueer poet TC Tolbert’s work includes Gephyromania (Ahsahta Press, 2014), Troubling the Line: Trans and Genderqueer Poetry and Poetics (Nightboat Books, 2013, of which s/he is co-editor along with Tim Trace Peterson), and chapbooks spirare (Belladonna*, 2012), and territories of folding (Kore Press, 2011). I: Not He: Not I is forthcoming from Pity Milk Press (June, 2014). TC is currently completing What is Found There: Architectures of Intimacy in Public Space, a collection of lyric essays and meditative investigations of trans experiences and constructions of community, to be published by Kore Press in 2015. www.tctolbert.com
Poem by George Klawitter from This Assignment Is So Gay, edited by Megan Volpert
We got him after he retired from Warren Easton,
Lee Harvey Oswald’s old high school
where, rumor had it, the kids hung Vernoudi
out the window one day. Funny how I like
to think of him dangling there, his feet
far above the bougainvillea and oleander,
his white hair going whiter in the sun,
the New Orleans heat boiling in his ancient veins.
Well, over he came to us with his wooden compass
and a tongue nasty enough to suck through steel
on the horde of boys who sat at Holy Cross
waiting to see if this old guy could teach geometry
any better than torrid Brother Vincent who’d been at it
forty years already in the same classroom, wearing,
so we thought, the same black habit and shoes,
doing Euclid rote by rote, angle by angle.
Vernoudi had his favorites, as all teachers are not
supposed to have but do anyway. Valery Cavalier was
his special prey, every day up at the board
with his vigorous red hair to be embarrassed
by the vicious heart of the man who returned to the boy
every filthiness meted out to him for years on end,
every scream his mother screamed at him,
every smash his father landed on his head.
Valery was a beauty, but not above the tears which came
nearly every time he was forced to parade
his lack of geometric skills while the rest of the boys
snickered at his fate, praying they would not be next.
Valery was gay. We didn’t know. But did Vernoudi
sniff it out? The red-haired martyr died of AIDS
half a century later and was buried in a cemetery
lost to Katrina’s hungry hungry heart.
Even in death the boy’s humiliated, washed down
the Delta to a Gulf where little fish await him
and take him home, recycled not for stars
but for our mother-water, the loving one,
the only one who understands that Valery
belongs among the great ones of the Deep,
at last the prince. He always was, no doubt,
the secret lover of our adolescent hearts.
Excerpted from This Assignment Is So Gay: LGBTIQ Poets on the Art of Teaching edited by Megan Volpert. Copyright 2013. Excerpted with permission by Sibling Rivalry Press.
With an international roster of 75 queer poets writing about and from the teacher's perspective, this ground-breaking book examines the joyous burden that is the experience of LGBTIQ teachers—an clearly valuable and until now quite invisible piece of the educational puzzle. Whether elementary or collegiate, public or private, the school is an institutional battleground for representations of queer culture. This anthology is sparking important conversation among young adults, parents, administrators, legislators, future teachers, and everyone else concerned about the future of education. Wayne Koestenbaum said this “immensely lovable anthology...confirms how odd, sublime, scary, and heartbreaking a classroom can be.” It's already been honored by The American Library Association's “Over the Rainbow” list as one of the best LGBTIQ books of the year.
Editor Megan Volpert is the author of five books on communication and popular culture, most notably about Andy Warhol. She teaches English at a public high school in Atlanta, where she was just awarded Teacher of the Year.