10 Poetry Collections by Black Queer Women

Poetry has always been an artistic expression. From declarations of love to contemplating the meaning of life, poetry has a way of putting the human experience into words. It’s also an effective way to take a political stance or spark compassion for others’ cultures and ways of life. Here are 10 poetry collections that delve into the experience of Black bisexual, lesbian, and queer writers.

How to Get Over by T'ai Freedom FordHow to Get Over by T’ai Freedom Ford

Ford’s debut collection of poems reads like a lyrical train of thought. Jumping from one piece to the next, each poem holds a life of its own but remains connected to the collection’s overall narrative. Ford’s writing has a melodic sense that will make you stop and listen, not just read the words on the page.

 

 

Crossfire by Staceyann ChinCrossfire: A Litany for Survival by Staceyann Chin

Full of feminist rage, Chin’s collection of poetry Crossfire is aptly named. It brings forth the activist’s voice, full of power, anger, and sass, the very qualities for which the white patriarchy condemns black women. Chin and her work are the definition of noncompliance. Her poetry raises her voice with no apologies for justified anger.

 

 

The Works of Alice Dunbar Nelson by Alice Dunbar NelsonThe Works of Alice Dunbar Nelson by Alice Dunbar Nelson

Nelson was among the first generation born free in the South after the Civil War. Born in New Orleans, Nelson became a prolific poet that influenced the blossoming of the Harlem Renaissance. The Works of Alice Dunbar combine poetry, novellas, and autobiographical stories, giving one point of view of Black women’s lives during her time.

 

June Jordan's Poetry for the People: A Revolutionary Blueprint by June JordanJune Jordan’s Poetry for the People: A Revolutionary Blueprint by June Jordan

The Caribbean-American Jordan inspires poets and readers far and wide to this day. Her program Poetry for the People was highly innovative and successful, inspired by her work as a teacher. This poetry collection is a combination of poems for the people who took her class and by the people who participated.

 

American Dreams by SapphireAmerican Dreams by Sapphire

Mixing poetry and prose, Sapphire creates a collection of poems that are at once a lesson on sensuality and allusions to prophecy. No matter what topic she takes on in her work, she does so with brutal honesty. Born to the name Ramona Lofton, Sapphire took on her pen name after becoming entrenched in poetry in New York City in the late 70s.

 

 

Inventory by Dionne BrandInventory by Dionne Brand

Inventory isn’t so much a collection of poems as it is one long story written as a poem. This long-form poem turned story takes stock of the ongoing violence that comes from upheavals and wars within a community’s own streets. It makes an account of the horror that has become commonplace and no longer holds the sensation it once did.

 

 

Living as a Lesbian by Cheryl ClarkeLiving as a Lesbian: Poetry by Cheryl Clarke

Clark’s work pays tribute to the very subject in the title. Her work ranges from jazz music to her childhood in Washington, D.C. to singing the blues. This collection of poems is filled with rhythmic and lyrical lines that convey Clark’s adept hand at poetry. It’s intimate and personal and yet universal in its themes.

 

 

The Complete Works of Pat ParkerThe Complete Works of Pat Parker by Pat Parker

This poetry collection compiles all of Parker’s pieces from two complete books of poetry and three chapbooks, plus other previously unpublished work. Parker’s work as a Black lesbian feminist poet has influenced and inspired others across generations. Her poems have had such a lasting influence, that even artist Solange has paid homage to her in her music.

 

Proxy by R. Erica DoyleProxy by R. Erica Doyle

This collection tells the story of an unrequited love through prose poetry. Doyle’s poems tell the story of love as landscape. It traverses the likes of New York City, the Caribbean, and North Africa. In a collection of poems that tells all by proxy, nothing is as it seems. There are always countless layers to each piece.

 

 

Head Off & Split by Nikky FinneyHead Off & Split by Nikky Finney

Finney’s work examines Black life through various lenses, including the real and surreal. Her work focuses on studies on Rosa Parks and civil rights marches to a closer look at former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Political and personal, Finney’s work is intimate and exacting.

Meagan Kimberly reviews Gender Flytrap by Zoe Estelle Hitzel

Gender Flytrap by Zoe Estelle Hitzel

For National Poetry Month I chose to read this collection I’d picked up from Sundress Publications, an independent press. It’s a fascinating collection of poems about the interconnected nature of gender, sexuality, sex, and identity.

The poems’ forms start as stanzas and lines written in fragments, but as the speaker gains a greater sense of clarity of who they are, the images and statements become more solid. A few in between bolly back and forth between this fragmented style and coherent thoughts.

It seems as though the purpose of this structure is to literally indicate the speaker’s growing anxieties and uncertainness about their gender, sex, and identity. Hitzel shows an adept hand in using and creating structure that works perfectly in conjunction with the language and emotions of each individual poem.

While the poems’ structures vary between fragmented and complete, the word choice always creates a precise and purposeful rhythm and sound. It gives the feeling that even in the most turbulent of moments of doubt, the speaker knows for certain who they are and where they stand, somewhere beneath the insecurity and anxiety.

Hitzel delivers heartbreaking lines in the simplest language, like this one:

“the television showed what it was capable of showing
and my father heard what he was capable of hearing…”

Lines like the two above depict the common way discussions and discourse about transitioning and transgender individuals are often perceived and treated. The speaker throughout the poems often analyzes and talks about others’ perceptions about their identity, and how those perceptions affect their perceptions of themselves.

In another poem, “Dial-up Internet — Diagnosis” Hitzel delivers a gut punch of emotion that anyone who’s ever questioned their identity has felt. The speaker’s tone approaches the subject from an analytical perspective but still manages to send a shock of pain to the heart.

Hitzel excels at this juxtaposition of using a neutral tone of rationale to describe the turmoil of feelings on the subject matter. The poem “Math Problem” is another standout piece that takes an analytical eye to the topic of transitioning.

The titular poem is another standout piece in the collection as the speaker delineates all the different labels and names she’s been given. Its ending line packs so much in such a matter-of-fact statement: “I appreciate how the silence calls me nothing.”

There are so many poems to choose from with powerful lines and emotional messages. It’s easy to keep flipping from one piece to the next and savoring each word. Sometimes a second and third read is necessary to fully appreciate Hitzel’s brilliant use of language and lyricism.

Sheila reviews Disintegrate/Dissociate by Arielle Twist

Disintegrate/Dissociate by Arielle Twist

I wanted to read something shorter, that I could put down and come back to as my attention comes and goes these days. I was very happy to pick up (or download, whatever) this work of poetry, Disintegrate/Dissociate by Arielle Twist.

This isn’t to say that these poems are of a lighter subject manner. Many of the poems deal with sexual trauma and the ramifications of racism, so readers should be aware of that. But Arielle’s words are so impactful that there doesn’t need to be many of them to be moving. I also don’t mind reading about the hardships of others, especially when I myself am going through a harder time. It was comforting to read these poems, which reflected upon themes of grief, trauma, identity and metamorphosis. I understand that many readers won’t find these appealing during a global pandemic, and ultimately what is happening in the world right now is probably shaping the way that I am reading Arielle’s writing as well.

Particularly, her poems “The Girls,” “In Dying I Become” and “Who Will Save You Now?” really stood out to me as gripping and emotional. Of course, “Who will save you now?” is a question that may have crossed many of our minds since the current pandemic started. That piece really got me to thinking about how our interpretations of events and art can change depending on where and who we are at the time. This collection of poetry has many themes of changing and rebirth, which I found very meaningful. If you can, I encourage you to not only read this work but to also consider purchasing her book, especially during this time.

Sheila Laroque reviews Holy Wild by Gwen Benaway

Holy Wild by Gwen Benaway

As I’ve said in previous reviews; I haven’t widely read a great deal of poetry. Nor do I have the lived experience of a trans person. However, reading this collection of poetry by Gwen Benaway I felt drawn into her world and stories, and I felt like I could understand a little bit better. The stories that are told within these poems are powerful and raw, and I felt like I was being taken on a journey with the author. Gwen is able to take her readers along for a ride, as she narrates her experiences as being both trans and Anishinaabe in these poems. The poems are at times grappling with difficult subject matters, but we are also left with the feeling of how difficult it must have been to live through these experiences from Gwen’s perspective.

There is an honesty within these poems that immediately draws in the reader, and while this is a relatively short book I found myself reading these quite quickly. Her discussions of the complexities that can arise when dating in a transphobic world; as well as what it is like to navigate the health care systems while being Indigenous gave me some more insight and understanding. I say ‘gave’ intentionally, because her writing is so illuminating and full of her own personal experiences and trauma that it is a gift to the reader.

Sheila Laroque reviews Calling Down the Sky by Rosanna Deerchild

Calling Down the Sky by Rosanna Deerchild (affiliate link)

I’m not much of a poetry person. I never have been. I’m the type of librarian who only took the required English courses; and I definitely don’t have an English literature degree. However, I wanted to challenge myself to diversify my reading beyond what I usually go for. I admit that I avoid poetry because I often fear that I won’t understand what it’s about. Calling Down the Sky is a work that I was able to understand on a deeper level, and I’m grateful to have had the chance to read such poetry.

Rosanna Deerchild is a Cree broadcaster, who also identifies as Two-Spirit. Personally I’m most familiar with her work through the CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation)’s radio show Unreserved. It was an interesting experience to read the poetry of a writer whose voice I was already familiar with.I could hear her saying the words on the page to me. In that way, it made me relate to what was written had already meant; both because I was familiar with how she was saying the words, but also understanding the tone and experiences in the book.

The lasting impact of residential schools within Canada is ongoing, and all of the complexities that come with intergenerational trauma will still be worked out for years to come. Deerchild explores how her mother’s trauma has affected the relationship that they have; but also for other members of the family too. It is all of our complexities and traumas that can shape and create who we are, and that can be seen throughout this work.

This was a quick read for me, and I was surprised by how much of it allowed me to see my own family experiences within her poetry. The most powerful poem in the collection is the title poem, “Calling Down the Sky.” No spoilers, but the acts of resistance give moments of hope, which makes this a powerful poetry collection.

Megan G reviews Nepantla: An Anthology for Queer Poets of Color edited by Christopher Soto

Nepantla: An Anthology for Queer Poets of Color edited by Christopher Soto

As soon as I came across this anthology and its haunting cover I knew I had to pick it up. As soon as I realized that the title of this anthology (and the journal it originated from) came from a quote from Gloria Anzaldúa, I knew I’d made the right choice.

The poems in this anthology cover quite literally every topic you can imagine. While this makes for quite a trigger-heavy piece of work, it also makes for incredibly raw and passionate art. Just as much anger and love spills from the page onto the reader, to the point where I often felt breathless after finishing a piece.

Poetry is, of course, deeply subjective, and relies just as much on the reader as it does on the poet. A big reason I felt these poems resonated with me were that they manage to draw the reader in and immerse them so deeply in the experience of the poem that the reader cannot help but want to invest their all into reading. After all, it’s beyond clear that each and every poet has put their everything into these poems. Reading these poems, I really felt it was necessary to respect them by doing the same.

Homophobia, transphobia, racism, police brutality, rape, murder, fatphobia, internalized racism, internalized misogyny, abuse. These are all issues dealt with within these poems, never sugar coated. They demand your attention, grip your arm and shake you until you understand the reality that the poet has faced. Because of this, I cannot recommend this anthology to anybody who may be triggered by these issues. This isn’t an anthology where you can just skip the poems you feel uncomfortable with. The poets don’t allow it.

Still, despite its heavy subject matter, I would go so far as to call Neplanta required reading for not only queer people, but anybody who will not be negatively affected by the triggers listed above. The stories told in this anthology are painful in their truth, gripping, and eye-opening. I felt different after reading it.

Too often we judge literature and poetry by our own ability to relate to the story being shared. Yet, Nepantla contains such a varied array of poets that it’s quite literally impossible to relate to every single one — and that’s kind of the point. We don’t have to see ourselves reflected in a piece of art to make it beautiful. It is beautiful because it is what it is, and even if it’s messy, or damaged, or hurt, it endures. It’s here to share it’s pain and mess with those of us who can relate and those of us who cannot, and to force us to see it’s worth despite everything the world has thrown at it. These poets deserve to be read by as many people as possible. I greatly encourage you to be one of those people.

Mars Reviews “My Mother Says Drums Are For Boys: True Stories for Gender Rebels” by Rae Theodore

In this short autobiographical essay and poetry collection, Rae Theodore offers a frank and panoramic perspective on growing up butch. The titular term “gender rebel” is entirely accurate here as Theodore recalls a childhood and young adulthood where classic femininity chafed. All the outer accoutrements of fashion and stature were as complicated to her as the mental tightrope that so many butches walk, between a female-bodied experience and an intimate mental relationship with the masculine self. In the author’s case, performativity, or ‘walking the walk’ of socially-acceptable womanhood, was never enough, and was made extra complicated by the realization of her own homosexuality after having already married and built a life with a man.

Reading through this piece was a real pleasure. I haven’t read much LGBTQ+ work that centers the butch experience, and I can’t quite express how powerful and charming it felt to read simple anecdotes packing a reflective punch on the heavy burden that gender can be. I don’t know that I expected to identify so much with it either, but I suppose that’s the power of sharing diverse stories. The weaponization of clothing, jealously observing the freedom of boys, childish yearning for a father’s approval of a son, the immediate and intangible connection that a queer gender rebel feels when encountering one’s elders: Theodore recounts this and more in an honest and straightforward manner that keeps readers glued to the page.

I would highly recommend this book to anyone who has ever been made to feel ashamed for their tomboyishness, or gender expression in general; to anyone who has ever needed to contain multitudes of softness and hardness towards the world and towards themselves; or to anyone who in any number of ways has ever felt like a late bloomer.

Disclaimer that there are mentions of violence in certain stories, and a lot of working through deep shame and internalized homophobia, especially earlier on. I will also add that while this is a serious (and sometimes very fun) recounting, the book summits with comforting self-actualization, and this butch seems to have attained a really lovely life. In a book like this, the nice thing about a happy ending is that it makes you believe you can have one too.

Karoliina reviews Women of Resistance: Poems for a New Feminism by Danielle Barnhart and Iris Mahan

 This poetry collection, edited by Daniella Barnhart and Iris Mahan, opens with Denice Frohman’s poem ’a woman’s place’, and the first lines set the scene for the whole collection:

i heard a woman becomes herself
the first time she speaks
without permission

then, every word out of her mouth
a riot

The collection is huge in scope and has all in all 67 poems from 49 different contributors. This is the main strength of Women of Resistance: it collects together a large cast of diverse voices that all share something about their daily experiences. The collection includes poems by LGBTQ+ authors and writers of colour. The topics covered by the poems range from politics to personal, intimate moments, and the authors talk about sexism, racism, history, motherhood, and marriage, to name just a few. Although the poems differ from each other vastly in style and subject matter, they still form a unified whole. Each poem points out something that is wrong with our world, something that needs to change. As the backgrounds and life experiences of the poets are all different, what they pick up on and what they see in their lives are also different. When read side by side, the poems give you an in-depth look into what it means to exist in the margins of society.

Although the topics the poems cover are bleak, there is an overall feeling of hope, of resistance. It makes you feel connected, and it helps you believe that things can change. The collection reminds you that there is a lot of power in unity. That said, some of the poems can be painful to read, especially the ones that deal with assault and childhood sexual abuse. Therefore I would recommend this collection with a trigger warning for sexual violence.

The collection is split into four untitled sections, and to be honest I didn’t really understand what the connection between the poems in each section is. It’s very possible that I just missed it because I was focusing more on taking in each individual poem and didn’t actively look for overarching themes. However, what I did really like about the way the collection is laid out is that multiple poems by the same author are presented together one after another. It was nice to get a feel for each poet’s style and voice by reading multiple poems by them in a row. I had not heard of any of the poets who contributed to this collection before reading it, and it has definitely introduced me to some new favourites.

I think I found this collection so powerful partly because it is a collection of poetry, and it is difficult for me to imagine that a short story or an essay collection would be quite as effective. Poetry is special in the way it can make abstract concepts tangible and personal experiences universal. It also allows you to take in a lot of information and emotion in a short amount of time without exhausting you to the bone. I think that makes this collection more accessible than many other books on feminism, and I like the idea that the voice of a new feminism is poetry by a genuinely diverse mix of writers.

Marthese reviews The You I’ve Never Known by Ellen Hopkins

”Is there such a thing as promiscuous love, or dies it only apply to sex?”


The You I’ve Never Known by Ellen Hopkins is a 500+ page book, written almost entirely in poetry form. It was such an intense read! It leaves an impression; I couldn’t help not think about it when I was not reading it. I read this book thanks to RivetedLit 25 Reads of December. They do have free Queer YA books almost every week (although with the different identities within the Queer spectrum).

This book is dark, and fast to read. The poems are in different forms that read more like prose but shorter than if it were prose. They were my type of poetry so great. I have to take time though to process so it took me a while.

This books is about ‘Ariel’ who lives with her father. For the first time, they’re sort of settled somewhere instead of going round the country on an incessant road-trip. She’s friends with Monica and Syrah – her first friends since ever. She’s actually more than friends with Monica. There’s a connection there and Monica is ever-supportive and ever-patient. Ariel doesn’t know how to feel, she’s confused. But that confusion increases when Gabe, her father’s partner’s (Zelda!) nephew comes to Sonora. She likes both Monica and Gabe and has to figure out what to do.

More than that though, this book is about Ariel’s relationship with her father – who’s probably the most despicable character ever but whom she cannot help but love because he’s been the only constant in her life. He is so abusive though! A lot of trigger warning here! Including a rape attempt. And lots of violence all around.

Soon, her mother – it was kind of predicable who that was and how she found her- comes into her life again and tells Ariel that her father has been lying to her all her life. More confusion and identity crisis ensure.

I liked how abuse was shown, in the sense it’s very realistic. Gaslighting was mentioned by name and it was shown clearly how her father did it. The value of honesty is given a lot of importance. That was refreshing as it reduced the usual teenage drama found in books. Although there was a lot of drama, nothing major was about dishonesty – at least apart from her father’s lies. Maya was very honest and open even when writing about small things, which her father had withheld from her. Zelda, although we didn’t see a lot of her, was another nice character that supported Ariel, though a bit alcoholic, which goes to show that punches don’t need to fly when someone is drunk.

I also appreciated the Spanish but like why did there have to be a direct translation right after? Footnotes could have been used. The translations were a bit out of place.

Although Gabe seemed like a really nice person (when not blood-driven) I didn’t really like his connection to Ariel. It’s like ‘boy-next-door’ connection, or maybe just teenage lust. Monica was a really enjoyable character and Ariel, I was both worried and upset with. However, I know it’s wrong to feel upset since she was groomed from a young age and couldn’t see the abuse.

Apart from Ariel and Monica there was more queer women representation.

Ellen Hopkins writes beautifully and this book is partially inspired by real events!

This is a noteworthy book but you must have stomach for it. It’s dark because these things could happen to anyone and in plain sight.

Julie Thompson reviews Don’t Date a Writer by Maj al-Yasa

Inspired by a summer spent swirling between Germany, Spain, and Iowa City, Iowa, poet Maj al-Yasa explores the vagaries of love. This poetry collection is organized as a journey in four parts: Unrequited Love (I don’t understand); Requited Love (why you loved me once); Loss (and then let me go.); Vices (Asshole). Or, read more directly together as “I don’t understand why you loved me once and then let me go. Asshole.” In the foreword, al-Yasa ruminates at a bus station about the journey that resulted in these verses. The poems reveal a traveler, warts and all, as she makes her way through different continents, bodies, and memories. al-Yasa conveys a muddled romanticism, optimism, and cynicism, which renews in short cycles: infatuation and hesitation, finally getting what is desired, fleeing from connections like it’s a house on fire, but then loathe to leave.  al-Yasa exudes joyful abandon, insecurity, indecision, and a wanderlust that itches her mind like fiberglass. Despite the collection’s structure, I got the sense as I read that there isn’t a single beginning or end on this emotional journey; there’s just a past, present, and future tense. It also resonates with the sense that adulthood, and other mythical states, don’t exist as such.

A few of my favorite poems blend contrasts. For example, you encounter fragile confidence dressed up in boi-ish bravado, which falters and stammers at the sight of a beautiful woman in “she said nah (freestyle”. There are two acrostic poems that I stumbled upon like Easter eggs. An acrostic poem, for those who may be unfamiliar with this form, uses the first letter of a word in a line to eventually spell out a word. If you’re not paying attention, you can easily miss them. While I will leave it to you to find them (because that’s part of the fun in stumbling upon them), they stand out because the letters are in bold text. The imagery is straightforward, but at times there are artistic flourishes. “Our Colors” refracts a relationship through a ROYBGIV lens. You may not always like what is reflected in these pages, but it is honest and accessible.