Happy National Poetry Month! T.S. Eliot says that “April is the cruellest month, breeding / Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing / Memory and desire,” and whether or not you agree with him, surely reading some queer poetry can help you navigate the delirium and rebirth of Spring. Here is a list of 30 outstanding books of queer & feminist poetry, one for each day of April. From ancient fragments to contemporary experimental poetry to searing canticles of resistance, these poets display the ever-replenishing possibilities of a queer poetics enjambed and emblazoned in the
now. I’ve added captions to my special favorites for your perusing pleasure — xoxo happy April — John
Part dream diary, part cultural critique, Jackie Wang’s debut book of poems first delighted me with its whimsical intelligence, and then overwhelmed me with its brilliant examination of mounting existential and political conflicts. I admire how many voices Wang includes throughout this collection, gathering a living index without compromising the singularity of her voice. This book is so infectiously cool and smart it invited me make a list of all the philosophers, filmmakers, and writers Wang references. Get on her level!
Atsuro Riley is a sound-wizard (much like his queer ancestor, Gerard Manley Hopkins) who handles words with a reverence for their sonic and material qualities. Each word here is wielded with deep knowledge of its etymological and musical possibilities: as pulled from the mythological room under the earth where the roots of every word are bound together. Writing a queer poetics while eschewing limited categorizations, Riley channels a series of songs from a chorus of outsiders in a small community of the South Carolina back-country.
Jos Charles’ second groundbreaking collection creates a new (and olde) language with a thrilling mixture of text-speak and Middle English. This kind of linguistic time-warp allows Charles to build an alternate space to explore trans worldliness and embodiment. Her forms invoke old maps, obliquely drawn, that still have the power to lead you somewhere. They are “canopies to return to”, refracting worlds of thought & affect in the reverb of what’s not spoken.
“We regret our early books for their lack of innate distortion,” confesses Cedar Sigo in this, his latest book of poems. He no longer has to worry: throughout “All This Time” Sigo uses distortion as aesthetic reckoning, one of many red threads that pulls his readers deeper in the labyrinth of his poems. With his twisted syntax and jarring line breaks, Sigo gets in your head. His dazzling collage technique unburies his readers from linear time and the chokehold of settled narratives, holding space for queer and Native American futures.
In this winding, searing lyric essay, Simone White writes the longest lines of her writing life. Given White’s new formal investment, each of her lines is able to contain a multitude of registers and moods. She is not afraid to engage with a range of conversations: personal writing, critical race theory, trap music, economics, feminism. Her poems are so analytically complex and tensile yet can still be slippery, holding intimacy and intellectual rigor in the same measure.
This is still my favorite translation of Sappho. I love how Carson uses inverted brackets to suggest the fullness of the lyric that’s been lost to time. It creates a disintegration-effect without interrupting the power and strangeness of the fragments that remain. Poets often make the best translators of poetry, and Carson’s obsessions perfectly meet the torqued erotics of Sappho’s voice. Carson extracts the essence of these serrated edges while still respecting every ambiguity.
Alejandra Pizarnik has become an almost mythological figure in Argentinian literature. Extracting the Stones of Madness displays her inimitable style and obsessions in their full range: metaphysical questions of silence, death, and rebirth are balanced against frightening images of wounds, dolls, and ruined paradise. These poems are bound to haunt you with their visceral compression, queer transformations, and musical explorations in Duende, the dark spirit that guarantees the poet is writing from “the edge of the well,” where a knowledge of death informs every line.