Best 5 Queer Poetry Books For Your Collection
That said, poetry is a pretty polarized topic: folks either love it or they don’t. I was originally on the hate team, because I simply didn’t understand how to read it. Introduced to older pieces of poetry, which had older language and felt disconnected to my reality, didn’t help my first impressions. My feelings only changed during a college class I took on writing poetry, which also meant reading some. My professor introduced us to modern poetry books that had a conversational tone but vividly relevant imagery. It changed my entire outlook, and I’ve been reading poems ever since.
Of course, this curated list is personal and open to suggestions, but below is a top X of queer poetry books to add to your collection (if they’re not there already). If you’re not into poetry, I would consider all books listed here as accessible to read.
1. Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza by Gloria E. Anzaldúa
Let’s start with a classic, must-read piece. This semi-autobiographical book seems inescapable when talking about the modern understanding of social identities, particularly for the queer POC, and that is for a good reason.
I read this one in a class on Latinx identity in the United States. However, this book covers so much more than that. It is one of the most intersectional pieces of literature I’ve ever read, finding a way to weave not only queerness and race, but gender, nationality, ethnicity, ability, socio-economic status, language to name a few. The overarching theme is of borders, literal ones and metaphorical ones that separate us constantly in society.
This is an incredible read with deeply layered elements of experience. To this day, I still haven’t read anything quite like it. It incorporates Spanish and English (but even as a non-Spanish speaker, I found it accessible), mixes prose with more traditional poetry forms, and leaves a moving impact on how complex human identity and experience truly is.
While I didn’t want to add too many classics that are present in other lists, this one still felt important to mention due to its cultural impact on our understanding of identity, even in academic settings. This book is heavily recommended in educational spaces, but I think its reach goes far beyond an academic environment.
2. Shame is An Ocean I Swim Across by Mary Lambert
Some may know Mary Lambert as the voice in Macklemore’s hit promoting same-sex marriage “Same Love” in 2012 (wow, has it really been that long?), but on top of being a singer/songwriter, she also writes and performs her poetry. I found this piece from a Goodreads list I believe -- and by the way, that’s a great place to find books similar to the ones named in this list -- which focused on queer readers.
This collection of poems mostly tackles queerness, mental health and body image. All three are interwoven through vivid storytelling of personal accounts. Mundane activities become a vessel for more complex feelings about life and childhood memories to emerge. It has a slam poetry feel to them, although the formula isn’t so pronounced. Since she has performed her poetry on stage too, I’d recommend checking those videos out to get a good feel for her way with words.
The greatest strength of this collection, in my opinion, is not only how conversational it is, but its use of humor. I routinely have laughed at titles of poems or a line nudged between serious thoughts. It feels friendly, and reads easily, despite how heavy the themes can be (trigger warning: sexual assault is a heavy component of the book).
3. Black Girl, Call Home by Jasmine Mans
Full disclosure: this is a book I’m currently getting through. But so far, I can only recommend it to others. I haven’t been as quick to read it, not because it isn’t interesting, but rather because the themes are quite emotionally heavy for me. Jasmine Mans is tackling not just race, but Blackness very head-on, and its intersectionality with gender, queerness and family dynamics.
It is beautifully written, with sections of poetry and prose, embracing code-switching. It also has a way of placing Blackness first in the narrative; a recounting of intersectionality that I personally relate to in regards to my different social identities. It is rather refreshing to see a piece of work that places social identities on uneven pedestals of importance to the person living them. And this may just be my reading of it, but while it does talk about queerness, it does so through the lenses of Blackness.
The way that Mans is confronting taboo topics of various kinds floating in the aforementioned communities just feels authentic but frustrated. I am thoroughly enjoying it, but I have found the need to be in the right headspace to really grasp it fully.
4. Water I Won’t Touch by Kayleb Rae Candrilli
Finding books about and destined to a trans audience has been surprisingly difficult (maybe I’m not looking in the right places), but this one was repeatedly recommended, especially in regards to its approach on transmasculine folks. So I did check it out; and wow, there are some really powerful moments.
This collection of poems focuses largely on queerness/being transgender, but what surprised me was how much intimate family dynamics and mental health topics came up with as much intensity. The theme of violence, the fear of it from being a minority as well as a father obsessively displaying it, felt particularly personal. To me, this is when poetry becomes really rich as all layers are working into painting a far more vivid picture.
Due to the lack of general representation, I was pleasantly surprised to have found a collection of poems that appeal to transmen and transmasculine folks. I’m really hoping that more pieces from this poet and others will receive more attention!
5. Nepantla: An Anthology for Queer Poets of Color (edited) by Christopher Soto
I cannot in any shape or form recommend this book more. It is a great introduction to some fantastic queer poets, both older and newer, huge names and newcomers. And that’s its appeal. I bought this book because I was early in my poetr journey and I knew I wanted to find books about queer life, particularly its intersectionality with race, ethnicity and nationality.
I found an incredibly diverse group of poets with pieces about such a variety of themes, that I was a bit overwhelmed looking up all the authors I enjoyed. Thankfully, among that variety of content, there is some consistency. Not only in the themes of intersectionality with queerness through the lenses of POCs, but also in tone. All of the poems are mostly accessible to all, and enjoyable to read during a commute. That isn’t to say that the poets don’t have their own unique style; poems range from more traditional forms to prose. The order of the poems is refreshing as well.
Overall, of all the books listed here, this is the one I’d recommend the most, for its sheer versatility. I discovered incredible poets here that described elements of my experience with such poignant intimacy that shocked me a bit.
And there you have it! Since this is a personal list, feel free to send in your favorite poetry books, both recent and older, for others to enjoy and empower these artists who give us words to explain the most personal experiences.