Depending on whether you are a glass half full or half empty kind of person, National Poetry Month was either six or so months ago or is coming up in less than six months. Either way, there is much to be savored in that literary genre right now.
Edited by Richard Blanco, Caridad Moro, Nikki Moustaki & Elisa Albo, Grabbed: Poets & Writers on Sexual Assault, Empowerment and Healing (Beacon Press, 2020) arrives at a turning point in our history. With a foreword by Joyce Maynard and an afterword by Anita Hill, this substantial anthology includes works by a variety of writers and includes queer voices such as Jericho Brown, Freesia McKee, Ellen Bass, Eileen Myles, Maureen Seaton, and Michael Mackin O’Mara, to name a few.
In recent years, poet and writer Margaret Atwood has become better known for her fiction, especially her 1985 novel The Handmaid’s Tale and the acclaimed and award-winning Hulu series that it inspired. But Atwood is also a poet with 15 poetry collections to her name. You may now add the 16th, Dearly: New Poems (Ecco, 2020), to that list, her first book of poems in more than a decade.
Like Atwood, Marge Piercy writes both prose and poetry. In On the Way Out, Turn Off the Light (Knopf, 2020), Piercy’s first new book of poems in five years, she touches on subjects near and dear to her, including “language, nature, old age, young love, Judaism, and our current politics.”
As in the cases of Atwood and Piercy, gay writer Felice Picano, of the legendary Violet Quill (along with Edmund White, Andrew Holleran and others), is well-known for writing both prose and poetry. In Songs and Poems (cyberwit.net, 2020), Picano’s first collection of poems since 1977’s The Deformity Lover and Other Poems, he incorporates older and more recent works in the book, separated into two distinct sections.
Opening with a couple of personal essays before moving into her poetic voice, Funeral Diva (City Lights Books, 2020) by Pamela Sneed movingly expresses her experience of her 1980s, NYC coming of age, including the effect of AIDS on the black queer community, as well as issues encompassing police brutality, queer rights, and the through line to the current COVID-19 pandemic.
Inheritance (Alice James, 2020) is the breathtaking full-length debut collection by New Orleans-based, DC-native Taylor Johnson. The addition of Johnson’s voice to the LGBTQ+ poetry landscape feels essential, and poems such as “Lincoln Town Car”, “Club 2718”, “Pennsylvania Ave. SE”, “Hunger” and “Trans Is Against Nostalgia” are proof of that.
Natch (City Lights, 2020), by queer, Oakland-based poet and educator Sophia Dahlin, is another outstanding full-length debut collection. Dahlin’s distinctive voice is at turns erotic (“Tandem”, “Legroom”), observant (“JK”, “Poem About Seedless Tomatoes That Aren’t Fruit”), experimental (“Dally”, “Fuck You”), and never humdrum.
Originally published in 1978 as a chapter in a limited-run festschrift (defined as “a book honoring a respected person, especially an academic, and presented during their lifetime”) by the late Elie Wiesel (who died in 2016), the narrative poem The Tale of a Niggun (Schocken Books, 1978/2020), which now includes illustrations by Mark Podwal and an introduction by Elisha Wiesel (son of Elie Wiesel), is based on an actual World War II event.
Winner of the Gival Press Poetry Award, judged by C.M. Mayo, The Miracle Machine (Gival, 2020) by Matthew Pennock is a 21st century book of poetry whose primary narrator is a 19th century automaton, L’Automate de Maillardet.
Gregg Shapiro is the author of Fifty Degrees (Seven Kitchens, 2016), selected by Ching-In Chen as co-winner of the Robin Becker Chapbook Prize. Other books by Shapiro include the short story collections How to Whistle (Lethe Press, 2016) and Lincoln Avenue (Squares and Rebels Press, 2014), the chapbook GREGG SHAPIRO: 77 (Souvenir Spoon Press, 2012), and the poetry collection Protection (Gival Press, 2008).
He has work forthcoming in the anthology Reading Queer: Poetry in a Time of Chaos (Anhinga Press, 2018). An entertainment journalist, whose interviews and reviews run in a variety of regional LGBT and mainstream publications and websites, Shapiro lives in Fort Lauderdale, Florida with his husband Rick and their dog Coco.