LGBT poetry roundup

  • by Jim Piechota
  • Wednesday November 4, 2015
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What Can I Ask by Elana Dykewomon; A Midsummer Night's Press, $18.95

Reconnaissance by Carl Phillips; Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $23

What the Night Numbered by Bradford Tice; Trio House Press, $16

Our Lady of the Crossword by Rigoberto Gonzalez; A Midsummer Night's Press, $11.95

Readers who enjoy the flow of words, the unsuspecting heft of intricate phrasing, and a moment or an emotion conveyed in the space of a simple page will surely enjoy four newly-published poetry offerings.

The latest title in A Midsummer Night's Press' Sapphic Classics series is What Can I Ask, a collection of new and selected poems from Oakland-based lesbian and activist Elana Dykewomon. In her introduction, Jewelle Gomez, also a local writer and activist, applauds the collection for its ability to "rekindle the spark for the lapsed poetry reader/revolutionaries of our generation and with any luck ignite a new fire in the next."

Ten new works of poetry open the volume, each with profound intent, as in "California," which describes the terror of the earthquake that is destined to decimate the land, leaving "us stuck/while what is wild/moves up/without considering/perch."

Sections of selections follow, some reflecting on the nature of foolishness within the trappings of love, or on a friend's impending surgery, or on an unborn niece. A particularly intense 11-part poem focuses on the dynamic of the author as a "fat womon," and brilliantly touches on themes of body image, self-love, self-hatred, dieting, food, and "this unease about our consumerism."

An intimately personal closing essay beautifully describes Dykewomon's history as a Jewish lesbian struggling with suicidal ideation in her early teens, how and why she adopted her present surname, and how, when alone at night, surrounded by other contemporaries' manuscripts, she appreciates "the sensation of being rocked in the hammock of lesbian words."

Carl Phillips, a prolific poet with 12 books in his oeuvre, in Reconnaissance presents a collection of more than 30 prose pieces elegantly structured and suffused with meaning and consequence. Meditations on the humanity of patience, trouble, truth, love as a "submission of power," and forgiveness give way to beautiful and powerful poems on trust and raw longing. Phillips' poetry is meant to be savored slowly and pondered by the reader. He infuses thoughtfulness and weighty emotion into each piece, as in "Discipline," which laments: "You are the knife, and you are also what the knife has opened, says the wind."

Some sections are more easily digested than others. There are several works that take time, patience, and several re-readings to appreciate. But that may just be a reflection of Phillips' subject matter and how the multi-layered canals of pleasure and pain within the human experience require a certain investment of attention and appreciation. His words beckon the reader to yield to their influence: "It could be hunger, it could be sex," he writes, "that smell, or fearfulness, or just fear itself �" tenderer hand than ours, soundlessly, as they at last unyoke us."

Dedicated to "the Stonewall girls," award-winning poet Bradford Tice's four-part poetry collection What the Night Numbered memorializes gay liberation through the beauty of language and art. In the opener "Two Falsehoods," he describes the Stonewall riots as a "hot summer night in 69 when drag queens in calf-high patent leather boots, mop-tops and hot pants formed a can-can line, high-kicked the police into submission."

Tice also delves into the myths of Cupid, who watches porn in public and describes love as having a "hefty tax, but if you know how, you can lean on the soft throat of that thing, press in until you feel the airway give, until the eyes go large, tear up, until they're ready to scream for the love that's seated on their chest." Psyche enjoys the company of a gaggle called "the Golden Rats," yet questions, "Why do you call yourself rats? Why golden? Because we are glitter washed in the sewers."

The amount of creativity and inventive, condensed storytelling here is impressive, yet for all the serious wordplay, there is also bountiful humor, as found in the poems "Cupid Bottoms for Psyche" and "How Queens Lose Their Looks." Each work becomes braided into larger themes of liberation and gay freedom and equality. "Vulgarity is a prayer we whisper to the bone of our pelvis," Tice writes in "The Wedding Night." "Mine, honey, is tired of listening." This is a fabulous and awe-inspiring collection not to be missed.

Author of 15 books and a Lambda Literary Award winner, Rigoberto Gonzalez's latest collection Our Lady of the Crossword is a tiny book able to be snuggled into a side pocket and brandishes remarkably fierce cover art by Fabian Chairez Martinez. Though there are only 42 pages here and 10 poems to savor, this potent chapbook packs a punch.

The subject matter that Gonzalez ponders ranges from a father's sacred word puzzles to a mother who doubts the survival of a son who has fled Mexico for Manhattan "for God-knows-what." There's also an ode to Mexican television in the 1980s, where the first male-to-male kiss involved a "dainty boy with a nightingale throat, his pixie cut exotic, his androgyny hypnotic."

Gonzalez's Latin cultural heritage is splashed across each page in this dazzling assortment of sizzling narratives, prayers for drag queens worldwide, and beautifully-wrought reminders that there's "nothing weird watching shark and leopard dance so gaily every evening."

This foursome feast of poetry will satisfy a variety of tastes and demonstrate the enduring power of gay poetry.