A few months ago, I was in Portland, Oregon for the annual Association of Writers and Writing Programs Conference. Three days can feel like an eternity in those conference centers, with their fluorescent lights and endless rows of booths all trying to get your attention. (In a day and a half of sitting at the Lumina both, I perfected the we’ve-made-eye-contact-for-so-long-you’re-obligated-to-come-talk-to-me eye contact). So I set myself a goal: I was going to find as many queer woman poets as I could! And I found plenty. So, dear reader, it’s no longer Pride, but here’s some sexy, inspiring, and provocative queer poetry to take you through the rest of the year.
“Soft Science” — Franny Choi
In “Soft Science,” out now, Franny Choi asks what it means to be a woman, a daughter, or a cyborg. The book began, she says, from watching Oscar Isaac boss around a silent, sexy, cyborg named Kyoko in the 2014 blockbuster “Ex Machina.” Choi takes Kyoko’s “language files” and lets us hear what she wants: autonomy. There is no easy, clean kind of loving in these poems. They are intermittently erotic and repulsive. In one poem, someone’s daughter “left church; spilled seed; licked a rock till its skin / sloughed off…/ killed time / with fingers; fiended; fell for another / daughter; mixed up the signs; got welded; whined; /….kept showing / up in new clothes, new names; then leaving.”
It’s a book that never lets us forget the cultural influence of longing, how “hunger has both hard and soft parts.”
“All Its Charms” — Keetje Kuipers
It isn’t the most lovely or sensual beginnings, but Keetje Kuipers’ “All Its Charms” starts when the speaker, in a grim act of mercy, collapses a one-winged meadowlark into the ground. From this beginning grows a book about raising babies and building a queer family. That’s never, as Pride season can attest, an easy task. It’s not often bloodless either. Kuipers’ poems speak to the sweetness that survives violence. In “Shooting Clay Pigeons After the Wedding” she writes
Up the snow-slicked hill, the truck’s tracks behind
us like the drag of our twin wedding trains,
until through the something-blue windowpane
the valley floor opened, clear as my mind
just after I’d lifted your veil’s tulle blind.
The shotgun’s recoil shivered its dull pain,
and yet what pleasure taking my sure aim
as disk after gold clay disk flew and whined.
“All Its Charms” is available now
“& More Black” — t’ai freedom ford
“& More Black,” ford’s second book, is comprised of two beautiful back-to-back books for black butches about dyke dowry’s and other gay dynamics and against a culture that relentlessly perpetrates anti-black violence. These are poems that know sometimes silence is safety but will not be told to shut-up. They are powerful homages to radical lineage, as in “everything out our mouth magic” where ford writes “we be makeshift/ bodies got too many mouths hear how we walk/ what better we know but it looked good/ we don’t remember what we remember/ but damn if tongue don’t be an heirloom.” They are poems that so sexy you could stay up all night reading them so I’ll just leave you with this teaser from “riding dead in my sleep.”
my crotch–nothing more than a saddle
for her to climb atop & giddy up
black beauty thoroughbred: watch me gallop
find my stride in a field of daffodils
wet pussy honeysuckle i am all
muscle & rhythm–a sped-up heartbeat.
“& More Black” is out now.
“Odes to Lithium” — Shira Erlichman
“We are sisters in the army of almost,” writes Erlichman. “it is the / way we flirt. we are never bored. Bjork uses a can-/ opener to open the bathwater. it’s working.” She carries the same wonderful lyricism found across all six of her previous albums into her debut book of queer poetry, a series of odes and artwork dedicated to the medication for Bipolar Disorder. Of course, illness features prominently in the book. Erlichman traces the disorder and its stigma through different circles of community. She runs her brilliant tongue across eugenicists, and family, and girlfriends—seeming almost to find a romance with some and with herself. In “I’m sitting with Bjork in my bathtub” she writes:
she doesn’t flinch. just sucks a jawbreaker. I
see her tongue change color & exhale a fuck of rivers.
there are so many ways to crown yourself. a perfect nipple glaciers thru. she has no reason to judge me. we
are sisters in the queendom of self.
“Odes to Lithium” comes out in September from Alice James Press.
“Here All Night” — Jill McDonough
It’s not often that I come across any poetry, let alone queer poetry, so conversational that it feels like the poet is talking to me and I’m not actually just sitting in a diner reading quietly to myself, but “Here All Night” does just that. I was sitting there reading, laughing, and, at times, squirming because this book is sexy! These poems make me want—want everything and want jubilantly. Wanting is at the heart of this book, and its objects are wide-ranging. In “The Women in the Shoe Store Ads Are All in Love With Each Other, But Not Really They Are in Love with Shoes Thousands of Shoes” the transference happens so quickly. “Sly, sexy music; great deals; no Men. Endless lunches,” she writes, and already I would do anything for this utopian dream.
“Your caress of your friends gleaming shoulder, / your beautiful friend laughing, leaning in to whisper in slow// motion in your ear….Huge eyes bashful with need, the need// to share. Legs now flung into the air: Look, my dear, dear friend,/ the women say, look at my glossy bare legs, the brand new shoes I got// on sale.” Along with shoes, this queer poetry wants tacos and Magnum PI when Rockford Files gets old, and to be able to call your friend a “gay freaking asshole” without needing to teach teenagers that that language isn’t okay.
“Here All Night” is available in September.