Poetry is one of the best mediums to express oneself and to offer a critical examination on topics related to social justice, historical events, self-identity, and sexuality. One of poetry’s beautiful features is its flexibility. Poetry can be traditional and serious, free and non-rhyming, eloquent and cryptic, or explicit and demanding. Similar to how poetry can take on many forms and styles, poets themselves are also highly individualistic and encompass their own perspectives and experiences within their words.
In Bookstr’s continual celebration of Pride Month, here is a list of ten incredible LGBTQ+ poets whose works have not only received numerous, prestigious awards, but have also inspired and resounded with people across various generations, from different countries, of many sexualities and genders, and coming from numerous cultural backgrounds.
Described on their website as “a trans, Arab-American punk poet-performer cyborg,” Abi-Karam is the author of Extratransmission and Villainy. According to Abi-Karam’s website, Extratransmission critiques the United States’ role in the War on Terror through the lens of poetry. It was a finalist for the 2020 Lambda Award for Transgender Poetry. Villainy will be published in September of this year and “exhibits the desires that bring queers into public space,” focusing on the emotional and mental states queers undergo during street protests.
A “writer and academic from the Driftpile Cree Nation,” Belcourt was awarded the “highest” honor his Indigenous community offers in 2019: the Indspire Award. He is the author of three books. This Wound is a World received the 2018 Griffin Poetry Prize and the 2018 Robert Kroetsch City of Edmonton Book Prize. Within his poetry, Belcourt “issues a call to turn to love and sex to understand how Indigenous peoples shoulder sadness and pain like theirs without giving up on the future.” His second work,
NDN Coping Mechanisms: Notes from the Field, received the 2020 Stephan G. Stephansson Award for Poetry. Within this poetry collection, Belcourt “takes on the political demands of queerness, mainstream portrayals of Indigenous life, love and its discontents, and the limits and uses of poetry as a vehicle for Indigenous liberation.”
3. Rick Barot
Barot was born in the Philippines and grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area. Three of his four poetry collections have won awards; the fourth and newest collection, The Galleons, made the New York Public Library’s list of top ten poetry books for 2020 and was longlisted for the National Book Award. Barot is also the recipient of several fellowships, including ones from Stanford University and the National Endowment for the Arts. The Galleons “[contextualizes] the immigrant journey of his Filipino-American family in the larger history and aftermath of colonialism.”
4. Staceyann Chin
Chin is described on her website and by the Poetry Foundation as a poet, writer, performer, activist, and artist. She is a “proud” woman and lesbian, with Caribbean, Asian, and Black heritages. Her 2019 poetry collection Crossfire: A Litany for Survival won the American Book Award. Her performance in Def Poetry Jam on Broadway earned her a Drama Desk Award in 2003. Aside from appearing on the Oprah Winfrey Show and 60 Minutes, Chin has also been featured on television and radio. She’s performed at multiple universities, including Harvard, Yale, Princeton, and the University of the West Indies. The Dartmouth College Center for Women and Gender selected Chin as the “Visionary in Residence” in 2007.
Corral’s 2012 debut poetry collection, Slow Lightning, earned him the Yale Younger Poets Prize; he was the first Latino to receive the award. Throughout his work, Corral interweaves English and Spanish, incorporates a “tender treatment of history,” and explores sexuality. He’s received multiple awards and honors, including a Whiting’s Writers’ Award and a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship. His second poetry collection, Guillotine, was published in 2020.
6. Mai C. Doan
Doan is from Southern California. Her poetry collection water/tongue was a nominee for the 2020 Lambda Literary Awards. She received her MFA from Mills College, where she also “attended as a Community Engagement Fellow.” Throughout water/tongue, Doan discusses the intergenerational effects of colonialism, violence, and the American empire. Doan considers how these factors negatively impacted her family, and how they caused her family so much pain. The poetry also incorporates parts of Vietnamese culture and history, as well as experiences of migration and racism in the States. Doan “subverts” readers’ expectations of poetry, “disarming” and “unsettling” readers in order to make them comprehend the context of these poems.
7. Xemiyulu Manibusan Tapepechul
According to her post on Cultural Survival, Tapepechul is a “Two Spirit Trans Womxn from Kuskatan (El Salvador).” Her goal is to continuously uplift Two-Spirit voices, especially where they are often silenced. Aside from being a playwright, Tapepechul is also one of the editors for Anthology of Two-Spirit Healing, which contains the works from over twenty Two-Spirit artists. Her poetry collections include Indigenous: Heart of a Womxn Writing and My Woman Card is anti-Native & other Two-Spirit Truths. She is passionate about educating others about Two-Spirit Indigenous people, and also protecting Two-Spirit people from violence, discrimination, and colonialism. She encourages Two-Spirit youths to have faith in their ancestors and to believe in their Spirits.
8. Mary Oliver
Her poetry focused on the “quiet occurrences of nature,” as well as the margins between various entities, like sky and land, or humans and animals. She won various awards for her poetry, including a Pulitzer Prize and a National Book Award. When she was younger, Oliver was deeply influenced by Edna St. Vincent Millay; she even lived in Millay’s home for a brief time and helped Millay’s sister, Norma, organize Edna’s papers. Although Oliver was private about this period in her life, she met her life-long partner, Molly Malone Cook, during this time. The couple moved to Massachusetts, where Cape Cod served as a great inspiration to Oliver’s poetry. She is often compared with classic American poets including Ralph Waldo Emerson, Walt Whitman, and Edna St. Vincent Millay. Among many others, some of her most iconic works include American Primitive, New and Selected Poems, and Felicity. She passed away in 2019.
9. Danez Smith
Self-described as a “Black, Queer, Poz writer and performer,” Danez Smith has earned themselves much distinction for their poetry. They have received various fellowships, including ones from the Poetry Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts. Their work [insert] boy won the Lambda Literary Award for Gay Poetry, while Don’t Call Us Dead won the Forward Prize for Best Collection and was a finalist for the National Book Award. Smith’s poetry has been featured on platforms including The New York Times, Buzzfeed, PBS Newshour, and the Late Show with Stephen Colbert.
10. Saeed Jones
Throughout Jones’ poetry, you’ll find traces of power, race, intimacy, and even mythology. He is a recipient of the Pushcart Prize and fellowships from both Cave Canem and Queer/Art/Mentorship. According to the Poetry Foundation, Prelude to Bruise was his debut poetry collection and Publisher’s Weekly described the work as, “Using a personal symbology of femininity, violence, and the history of black America [to weave] a coming-of-age tale that is both terrible and revelatory.” This work was also a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle award. According to his official website, The New Yorker, GQ, and The New York Times are just a few of the publications that have featured Jones’ work. From 2013 to 2019, Saeed worked at BuzzFeed News and was the “founding editor” for BuzzFeed LGBT, later becoming BuzzFeed News’ Executive Cultural Editor.