July Patreon Update: Still Collecting Survey Answers from YOU on Your Thoughts and Suggestions about Casey the Canadian Lesbrarian

In last month’s Patreon update—click on that link if you don’t know what I’m talking about—I gave you a link to a very quick Google forms survey so I could get some feedback from you, dear readers, on what directions you think I should take with my blog in the future. I’ve got 26 responses so far, which is honestly more than I thought I would get since I did only the bare minimum of promotion for it. I’m going to leave it open for another month and put a little more effort into putting the word out there so I can hopefully get some more responses. So far there have been some really rad suggestions! There are only 4 questions that shouldn’t take more than 5 minutes to fill out, so if you have a few free minutes, I’d love it if you could take the survey. If you have thoughts about the kind of content that is already on the blog or if you have ideas for new stuff that you would like to see, this is your chance to tell me!

This month the winner of the queer book draw was one of my brand-new patrons! Congrats, Amy! Here were the choices this month:


In case you missed them, my favourite posts from June were: “The 8 2017 Lammy Winners I’m Most Excited about, Including 3 Canadians!” “My Favourite Queer Books of 2017 (So Far”—featuring A Place Called No Homeland by Kai Cheng Thom, The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin, Things to Do When You’re Goth in the Country by Chavisa Woods, and more!—and my review of Alec Butler’s 2spirit, trans, intersex book Rough Paradise, which reminded me a lot of queer classic Stone Butch Blues. Also, did you know I had TWO articles on Autostraddle last month? I had my usual Ask Your Friendly Neighbourhood Lesbrarian column, 8 Books That Feature Bisexual Women (And Don’t Focus On Their Sex Lives), AND I did a combo book review and author interview with SJ Sindu about her debut novel Marriage of a Thousand Lies. It’s an amazing book and Sindu had lots of interesting, smart things to say. Check it out!

And as always I want to individually thank all of the people who’ve signed up to be patrons. You lovely humans are: Danika, Leigh, Anna Marie, Kim, Jane, Jakelene, Emmet, Madeline, Heather, Carla, Naz, Laurita, Kirsten, Jason, Jillian, Anton, Shelagh, Priscila, Allison, Ang, James, Seed, Julie, Katherine, Rachel, Samuel, Amy, and Sarah! If any of you new (or old) folks are interested in being a part of the Interview with a Queer Reader series, write me at stepaniukcasey [at] gmail.com.

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Interview with a Queer Reader: Julie Thompson Talks Lesbian Pulp Novels, Queer Book Awareness Overload, ANNIE ON MY MIND, and More!

julieJuly’s queer reader of the month is Julie Thompson, who describes herself as a “thirty-something, Jane-of-all-trades, bisexual/queer librarian in the Pacific Northwest (US).” She grew up in small towns in the Pacific Northwest and always enjoyed weekly trips to the local library. She was lucky that, despite living in an evangelical Christian household (among other things), books, movies, and TV shows that she borrowed were never restricted. As many queer people know, that is one thing to be appreciated when you’re young. For Julie, who was “a quiet kid who loved sports and studied hard, but didn’t really have many close friends,” books were her gateway to other worlds and experiences. But her first exposure to anything LGBT came from TV: namely, Willow and Tara on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, as well as free HBO weekend showings of the movie Gia. She says: “I remember feeling excited when Willow and Tara smiled at each other before joining hands to fend off The Gentlemen in ‘Hush’; and flushed when I saw “Gia”. If I had to say how I felt (and still feel) about my sexuality is that it’s…well, complicated.”

julie recordsObviously, Julie is a voracious reader. She likes historical fiction, contemporary romance, hard science fiction, and a wide swath of nonfiction subject areas. She also has a queer book blog, Omnivore Bibliosaur, where she writes a few posts a month (I LOVE the name of her blog, much cleverer than mine) and she also contributes to the fabulous Lesbrary. As a commuter, Julie is an especially avid devourer of audiobooks, and just submitted her first review for AudioFile Magazine! Like any librarian who knows her stuff, she lives for books and “actively advocate[s] for the power that they have to expand and change lives.” Keep reading to hear about Julie’s experiences reading 50s lesbian pulp fiction, Annie On My Mind, and how knowing about so many of the queer books coming out these days can be a little overwhelming.

What was the first LGBTQ2IA+ book(s) you remember reading? How did you end up reading it (i.e., were you searching for queer books or did you just happen across it?)

Two of the first LGBTQ2IA+ books I read were reprinted lesbian pulp fiction novels: Spring Fire by Vin Packer and Twilight Girl by Della Martin. The Babeland store near my college campus was selling them and their colorful, sordid covers pulled me in. After reading these books, I wanted to know more about the authors behind the pseudonyms and the history surrounding queer culture in the 1950s in the United States. Whenever I finally make it to New York City, I plan on visiting The Lesbian Herstory Archives. It sounds amazing!

What is/are your favorite LGBTQ2IA+ books and why?

This is my shortlist of absolute favorites. They are the stories that I re-read over and over again. I’m leaving a bunch out, but then I’d be writing until the …

Curious Wine by Katherine V. Forrest (1983)         

I’m plagiarizing from myself since I’ve written about this book a couple times on my blog. The first copy I acquired was via a forum on AfterEllen.com.  Someone was trying to interest people in free lesbian fiction and, surprisingly, there were no takers.  Free + Lesbian + Books, arguably one of the most tantalizing equations ever constructed. I love Katherine V. Forrest’s use of language.  She paints a vivid, textured world with her descriptions of the setting, choice of words, and rich, fluid dialogue.  It’s beautiful and genuine. The story takes place in the late 1970s and was originally published in 1983 by Naiad Press.  Diana and Lane find themselves at a cabin in Lake Tahoe, as part of a small gathering of women, most of them either strangers to or acquaintances of the two protagonists. The story is also full of subtlety – a look, a touch, an observation made in the moment…  Diana and Lane bond over “their poet”, Emily Dickinson,  Peggy Lee’s Pretty Eyes, and shared humor. It’s my warm blanket (be careful, though, because there is a rape scene) and I try to read it every year around December. I’m a little bummed that the audiobook version is narrated with an English accent, since that pops me out of time and place. This book makes me all wordy.

Annie on my Mind by Nancy Garden (1982)

Annie and Liza came into my life after I had graduated from college. I was in the midst of devouring all of the lesbian novels that I could find, via online booklists and the public library where I worked. I have read (and listened) to it countless times. The girls live in New York City in the early 1980s and meet one day at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. As they fall in love, they grapple with what it means and face a blow-up at Liza’s private school, Foster Academy, when they’re discovered. Garden creates an atmosphere that is warm and rich and sweet and poignant, with memorable characters and dialogue. It’s a book that I wish I had known about in high school… The audiobook version is perfectly narrated by Rebecca Lowman and features a recorded interview with Nancy Garden about her experiences as a lesbian in the 1950s and her thoughts on the book.

I Know My Own Heart, edited by Helena Whitbread (1992)

I stumbled upon Anne Lister’s journals several years back (though I can’t remember where, all I know is that it was one of those serendipitous moments!). Anne was an 18th/19th century English woman of land and means in Halifax, West Yorkshire, who kept a series of diaries, the more private portions written in what she called “crypthand” (a code she devised using a combination of algebra and the Greek alphabet). It amazes me that these journals survived time and censorship! That’s one of my favorite things about history: all of the layers and nuances that have existed all along and are breaking through the dominant narratives.

Which LGBTQ2IA+ have you read that best reflect your experiences as an LGBTQ2IA+ person?

Dear John, I Love Jane — I can’t remember if I came across this book at work or if I searched for it because I needed it. … Probably a little bit of both. The personal essays reflect so many variations of women’s experiences as they fall in love with women and acknowledge facets of their sexuality that they suppressed or discovered for the first time. I also really value how the stories show a range of outcomes. Some women create new stories with their partners and some end up in polyamorous relationships, as well as other paths. This book is important to me because it illuminates possibility and hope, even when hearts are breaking open.

Which LGBTQ2IA+ book do you wish you could read but can’t because it doesn’t exist yet?

For me, I think it’s more a case of I haven’t read the books yet, rather than they don’t exist. Based on some of the essays from Dear John, I Love Jane and Diana Jean’s novella The Warrior, The Healer, and The Thief (a fantastic fantasy adventure story set in the Old West with three badass women), I would like to read more stories about women involved in polyamorous relationships in which discovery of other parts of themselves doesn’t automatically spell the end for their relationships or aspects of their identity. I definitely want to read more bisexual stories.

How do you find LGBTQ2IA+ books? How easy or hard is it in your experience finding the ones that you want to read?

Since I work at a public library and participate in the online queer book-o-sphere, there are more books than I have free time to enjoy. Scouring new and used bookstores is one of my favorite kinds of treasure hunting, too. Most of the time I feel like Templeton at the fair in Charlotte’s Web, singing about the smorgasbord of culinary delights to be found! As a kid, I had no awareness of LGBT books. Now, as an adult having taken a bite of the apple, I have awareness overload.

Do you know other LGBTQ2IA+ readers or participate in any LGBTQ2IA+ reading communities (in person or on the internet)? Why or why not?

My work schedule and commute leave me with precious little free time. I’ve signed up for a Meetup.com group that discusses lesfic once-a-month, but I haven’t attended yet. Their book club selections always end up on my TBR shelf, though! I’m also a member of two Facebook groups, “The Lesbian Review Book Club” and “Lesbian Audiobooks”; and a (mostly) nominal member of a handful of Goodreads groups, “Mostly Lesfic”, “Queereaders”, and “Lesbian Mysteries”. I’d like to figure out a way to participate more, but I’d also like to discover more hours in a day for sleep, WNBA basketball, hiking, chilling with my cats, …

Thanks for sharing with us, Julie! I can definitely sympathize with the queer book awareness overload problem. I wish the misguided idea that all librarians do all day is read were true!

Posted in Bisexual, Fiction, Interview with a Queer Reader, Lesbian, Non-Canadian, Non-Fiction, Queer, Young Adult | Leave a comment

3 Queer Poetry Collections for Tough Times

There’s nothing better than poetry for tough times. Here are three queer poetry collections to get you through.


Bodymap by Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha

This visceral, evocative collection is Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha’s writing at its finest. Lyrically these are an incredibly tight set of poems, filled with gorgeous, haunting images and precise, expertly used language.  They’re tough and soft, just like the hard femmes some of the poems are about. A lot of Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha’s writing in this book is emotional, raw; she writes about hard times, but there are also some really inspiring, comforting poems.  The kind of words that you could put on your fridge to look at and remind yourself that you’re going to get through things, that you’re strong. Playing off other queer poets like Amber Dawn and Qwo-Li Driskill, Piepzna-Samarasinha writes tough ideas about love, relationships falling apart, mental and physical illness, disability through a queer lens, queer brown femmeness, being poor, and friendship. She writes about queer brown femme friendship:

the gratitude that is rust brown laughter and a million hair flowers and a million broken beautiful bitches in a clothing swap, stripper heels and space heaters on high and yes girl, get that, you need that, yes. it’s the taco truck and the tea garden, it’s homegirl laughter on a couch is where you can always come home.

And she tells it to you straight but also gives you hope in the closing poem “the worst thing in the world”:

    this is the truth: every worst thing you can imagine will come true.

you and your ex bff will be asked to keynote a conference together,

and both of you will say yes.

your daughter will indeed hate you. mothering and living are

both losing propositions. that’s

no reason not to do them. the answer is in what comes after. what

you answered the worst thing in the world with. already in the

afterfuture. breathe in breathe out. everything is not going to

stop changing on you.

hey you sicksauce survivor stunner

you who asked a lot will not always have the right answer.

we’ve always come on boats. we’re going to keep coming. we

know the waves and rough water.

bless the rough water and the small boats.

bless the worst thing


For Your Own Good by Leah Horlick

For Your Own Good by Leah Horlick is full of the kind of writing that inspires superlatives.  It’s one of the best books of poetry I’ve ever read. This is not because For Your Own Good is in itself prone to any grandiose gestures or excess, but because it is truly a near-perfect, devastating collection of poetry. I do not say devastating lightly.  These poems are about an abusive lesbian relationship, violence in a supposedly safe queer space.  There is plenty of triggering material: racism, colonialism, physical, sexual, and emotional abuse.  But there’s a lot more than that, too. The poems follow a kind of trajectory, moving from misunderstanding to healing, sometimes back and forth.  What I loved was how Horlick speaks from a calm, present moment to her past self.  She is gentle, kind, while possessed by a quiet strength, honesty, and poise.  As if she’s tenderly whispering, it’s okay. There’s coming back into herself, into trusting new people, into magic:

You don’t ask questions, unless

I want them, and I want anything

but these red eyes that look out


from mine like the forest, anything but

this silence. When you tell me that this

looks like strength to you, how you love this


about me, I almost hate you. Why do you

have to be so good? This has to be magic, how

you hold me while I turn into a snake and fire


and grief itself beneath you. Good magic,

you tell me, and don’t ask questions

until I want them.

The collection ends with the most gorgeous, hopeful poem.  She has healed but not forgotten:


It has taken five years and fifteen hundred

kilometres to get away, and closer


to the mountains. I can see them—

every day, like I always wanted. Near,


and distant. Every day I can ask people

not to touch me—


on the bus, on the beach, or in my new kitchen.

Or, I could ask them to—


which, lately, is harder. How can it still

feel so soon? She has never been


near this new body of mine—

short-haired, tattooed, very strong


and very, very fast, now. I carry a chunk of rose

quartz the size of my thumb for safety.


I have sworn to myself a life of people

who know when to stop. I promised—


and spent my first night in the new apartment drawing

circles in salt and rain, whispering


to my old self, come here. I built this

    for you. I promised.

where the words end and my body begins

Where the Words End and My Body Begins by Amber Dawn

Have you ever heard of something called a glosa poem? If you haven’t, you’re like me when I picked up Amber Dawn’s debut poetry collection Where the Words End and My Body Begins, which is comprised of these things called glosa poems. So what are glosas? It’s a cool concept, an explicit acknowledgement of the intertextuality of all writing and poetry in particular. A glosa starts with a four-line quotation from another poem. The poet, then, incorporates these four lines into their own poem, but not all at once: the borrowed lines are used as the final line in ten-line stanzas of the new poem the poet is writing, losing their original context and becoming part of their new poem home.

If you’re at all familiar with 20th century queer, lesbian, feminist, and survivorship poetry (especially from Canada), you’ll recognize a lot of the poets Amber Dawn has chosen for her glosas: Trish Salah, Gertrude Stein, Rachel Rose, Lucille Clifton, Adrienne Rich, Leah Horlick, Sina Queyras, Jillian Christmas, Lydia Kwa, Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarashinha, and more! I love the idea that Where the Words End and My Body Begins is an ode to being a reader and writer, and a conversation between women poets. Despite the fact that writing can be about as isolating as work can get, these glosa poems create a kind of community on the page. Reading the collection makes you feel soothed, less alone, and a part of the community too. One of the most powerful poems is “Queer Infinity.” It’s a queerifesto of sorts and a testament to the power of queer art:

Queer grief is a blueprint. We got this shit wired tight.

Maybe we’ve become too good at losing? Are we trauma

bonded? I can’t speak for the whole, only myself

I’d sooner howl at a wounded moon, yes, I might

swoon at a questionable light


but at least I still swoon—my scabby kneecaps

may always weep pink, I’m so often floored.

I’ll never be a two-feet-on-the-ground girl. Let me guess

age didn’t temper your passion either? Your passion, like mine,

only became more strategic.


Posted in Amber Dawn, Canadian, disability, femme, Jewish, Lesbian, Poetry, Queer, Sex Work | 2 Comments

My Favorite Queer Books of 2017 (So Far)

It’s halfway through the year, so I was checking up on how I was doing so far in my Goodreads reading challenge. It turns out I am doing AWESOME: my goal is to read 140 books this year and I am apparently 19 books ahead of schedule at 86 books. (Some of these are, admittedly, picture books). When I was looking over what I’ve read in 2017, I was reminded of how many great (queer) books I’ve read already—some published this year, some older. I decided I needed to share them with you! So here are my six favourite reads from 2017, so far. Three are Canadian!

small-beauty_cover_rgbSmall Beauty by jia qing wilson-yang

This debut novel was one of those glorious reading experiences for me where I had no real expectations and wasn’t even sure what the book was about and I ended up loving it. Small Beauty is a quiet, meditative, introspective novel, that I read a lot of when I was in the bath, and that seemed like the perfect place. Small Beauty invites you to be in that kind of space, because that’s exactly where the main character Mei is. Mei is a young, queer, mixed-race trans woman dealing with some big stuff: her cousin—who was like her brother—recently passed away and now she has to deal with all of that aftermath of a relative’s death, including leaving the big city she lives in and going to the small town and living in the house she has now inherited. While Mei is at her cousin’s house, she is slowly unravelling some of the details of his and her aunt’s life, including unearthing some secrets that show she’s not the only queer person in the family. She especially reflects on being trans and on having Chinese and white ancestry. Flashbacks also take us to her city life. It’s a beautifully authentic, natural, own voices story about the kind of person who isn’t the protagonist of a piece of fiction nearly often enough. Read my full review here.

Things to Do When You’re Goth in the Country by Chavisa Woods

This was stunning short story collection: beautifully written with honesty, generosity, insight, inventiveness, and a strong sense of voice. These stories hit me in that sweet spot that the rarest of fiction does for me, where the characters and the world and the feel seem at once intimately familiar and as if I’m seeing them for the first time. I guess that’s the definition of uncanny, actually. Most of the stories feature queer characters although refreshingly none are focused on queerness. (Including the most speculative of them, which is about a trans guy who wakes up one morning with a miniature version of a piece of the Gaza strip happening on his head). It’s so lovely to read strange, sometimes science fiction stories about various stripes of queer characters that aren’t about coming out or being queer, where most often being queer is entirely incidental, but also casually present when it’s relevant. Most of the stories are also set in rural, white, poor America. Here’s a taste of what these stories are about: Baptists over 60 talking (group) sex. Tweens make friends with a homeless woman living in a cemetery mauseleom. A queer writer returning to her Midwest home to crime and strange floating green orbs. A lesbian takes ecstasy with her schizophrenic girlfriend at a Mensa gathering of people with super high IQs.

A Place Called No Homeland by Kai Cheng Thom

I just ADORED this debut poetry collection. These are poems with strong roots in oral traditions and spoken word: you can really hear them in your mind and heart. So many of them I could picture being performed on stage; there were moments where I wanted to clap or snap my fingers, as if the poet was right there in front of me. These are the kinds of poems that make you want to pump your first in the air and yell, “fuck yeah,” or “preach!” But they weren’t the kind of poems that seemed lost or out of place on the page, as if by taking them from the context of spoken word they lost some of their power or immediacy. No, they just seemed alive and present, as if Kai Cheng Thom was right there in front of you. Thom’s words are tough and tender meditations on family, race, being trans, femininity, trauma, relationships, community, sex, books, and love. (All of the important and intense and complex and mostly beautiful things in life). She writes: “you got to forgive yourself for hurting. you got to remember that your heart is not a clenched fist your heart is not a bruised face your heart is a mango full to bursting with sunlight oh sticky heart, smooth substance, there is joy in your aching, refuse to forget. boy, you got to love the girl in the boy in the girl in the boy in you in you in you.” See my review here.

I’m Just a Person by Tig Notaro

I have listened to a ton of audiobooks this year, but this is so far my favourite. I’m Just a Person is an intense, darkly funny, inspiring memoir about a pretty unbelievable year in the life of comedian Tig Notaro. Over the course of a single year—2012—“Tig Notaro was hospitalized for a debilitating intestinal disease called C.Diff, her mother unexpectedly died, she went through a breakup, and was diagnosed with bilateral breast cancer.” That synopsis makes this sound like a horribly depressing book, but I promise it is not. There’s also a fair amount in the book on her earlier life before the year of hell. I can’t quite put my finger on what exactly it is that I love about how she puts things. I think it’s her sense of humour, for sure, but also her deadpan voice and her generosity and her honesty and her vulnerability. A lot of those qualities that make her a great comedian are at work in this book, which is chronicling unbelievable loss and terror crammed into such a short period. This is a book best experienced as an audiobook read, because Tig Notaro is a great performer. The humour is subtle and dark, and especially if you don’t know what her voice sounds like and what her delivery is, I think you could miss a lot. This book made me cry a few times, but at the end she manages to emerge from the darkness thriving, in a thrilling happy lesbian ending that felt, at that point, so completely deserved.

Next Year For Sure by Zoey Leigh Peterson

This debut novel by Vancouver trans author Zoey Leigh Peterson was one of those books that I devoured, unwilling to leave the world of the novel for the “real” one unless I absolutely had to, and resentful at the daily existence of life like making food and going to work that interrupted my ability to read non-stop. If you like character-driven books that make you think, then this is the novel for you. It’s an intensely character and relationship-focused novel set in a vaguely Vancouver-like city about a long-term (cis straight—although one is maybe discovering their asexuality) couple named Kathryn and Chris in their early thirties. They’re best friends: endlessly supportive of each other, anticipating each other’s needs, completing each other’s sentences, taking showers together. But something isn’t right, in both their relationship with each other and in their own senses of self. The journey of the book sees them exploring polyamory as well as new versions of themselves as they try to work against the gnawing loneliness of adulthood. Next Year For Sure is also stunningly written, and full of beautifully understated turns of phrase that reveal so many simple truths about the characters and life, as her writing also continually propels the quiet narrative forward. The way Peterson presents the characters in all their intricacies in particular is just stunning. This is probably the book that I’ve read this year that has stuck with me the most and whose characters and stories still show up in my mind, asserting their relevance to my life. Read my full review here.

The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin

The Fifth Season is an incredibly unique, inventive fantasy with a cast of complex, fascinating characters (human and sort-of-human). I almost hesitate to even call it fantasy, since it’s leagues ahead and more innovative and imaginative than any other fantasy I’ve ever read that it’s hard to even compare to any of the run-of-the-mill medieval Europe inspired fantasy. It’s one of the few books I’ve read (Octavia Butler’s and Nalo Hopkinson’s are also among them) that makes me just marvel at the capabilities of the human imagination. It takes place on a continent where “Father Earth” is angry, very angry, and the people who live there are under threat of extinction via earthquakes, volcanoes, and other natural disasters often enough that the idea of apocalypse hangs over them like a cloud all the time. Some people in this world, including most of the main characters, have a gift or curse, depending on how you look at it, of being able to move and control the forces beneath the earth’s surface. They are the people in this world “who have to fight for the respect that everyone else is given without question” (Jemisin’s dedication). Three interlocking narratives take place at different times and places, following different characters until the stories come crashing together. Not only has Jemisin achieved incredible world building, but the plotting is also so tight. Also, surprise! Significant characters include a trans woman, a bisexual man, and a gay (ish?) man. I cannot WAIT to read the next book.

What are your favourite queer books you’ve read in 2017? Were any of them published this year as well? Are any of them by Canadian or Indigenous authors? Let me know!

Bonus! Did you enjoy this post or find it useful? Consider supporting me on the Patreon for Casey the Canadian Lesbrarian! Patreon is a site where creators of all sorts of things can make some money via subscription payments from their readers/etc. It can be as little as a dollar a month! Help me continue to be able to devote time to this site and you can win stuff like queer books and postcards with personalized book recommendations! Click on the link for more details and to sign up.

Posted in Asian, Bisexual, Black, Canadian, Fantasy, Fiction, Gay, Lesbian, list, memoir, Non-Canadian, Non-Fiction, Queer, Short Stories, Vancouver | 2 Comments

A Poetry Collection on LGBTQI History that Throws Today’s Young Queer People Under the Bus: A Review of ACQUIRED COMMUNITY by Jane Byers

acquired communityWell, readers, I’m sorry to say it’s time for another review of a book I didn’t like! I pride myself on writing fair but honest reviews, and it’s especially important to me that readers know they can trust my reviews (in so far as it’s only my personal experience and opinion of the book). So here we go with the honesty and fairness. Acquired Community is a poetry collection by Jane Byers, a writer who lives in Nelson, BC. I was excited when I got this book in the mail, because, damn, look at that cover! This is definitely some great book design and cover art by Suzo Hickey. I was also really keen on the topic of queer history: the back cover describes Acquired Community as “a collection of narrative poems about North American lesbian and gay history, mostly post-World War II, and a series of first person poems that act as a touchstone to compare the narrator’s coming out experience within the larger context of the gay liberation movement.” It’s so important to record and be able to hear the stories of queer elders and especially for eras like the AIDS crisis to not be forgotten. It’s something I’m really interested in as a thirty-something queer person.

Unfortunately I don’t think this book delivers what it says it does, and it certainly didn’t present what it did in a way that felt lyrically compelling. What type of poetry you enjoy is certainly a very personal thing, and even though the language in this book didn’t do much of anything for me, it might for you! (In fact, it’s not surprising I didn’t enjoy this book, as one of the endorsements is by Arleen Paré, whose book of poetry I viscerally disliked). My experience with the writing was mostly that it didn’t feel like poetry; you can break prose up into lines, but that doesn’t make it poetry. Where are the powerful images? Where is the play with language? The blurb does specify that these are narrative poems. But what justifies making these narrative poems? What is the effect? Why bother with this form? For me, there wasn’t an effect. There were many poems that I felt would have been stronger writing if they had simply been written as prose stories. For example, in a poem set at a high school health class:

One student asks, “What do lesbians wear to the mall?”

It was the pinnacle of lesbian-fashion-meets-mainstream,

When Birkenstocks were “in.”

I chuckle but dare not say “I wouldn’t know.”

I joke, “Birkenstocks” and they all look down,

some tuck their feet beneath their chair.

Somewhere in here is a funny and interesting story about being asked to speak on being gay to young people and feeling like you have to be an authority. But this poem isn’t really getting at it. It’s a frustrating experience to be reading poetry and feel like you’re reading minimalist prose broken into lines. It’s not giving me what I want from prose or poetry.

So I didn’t jive with the writing, but more troublesome for me were a few of the political implications in the book. I mean, any book declaring it’s about “gay and lesbian” history as if that’s an inclusive term is getting on my nerves before I even open the book. I’m not sure if it’s worse or better that Acquired Community actually features historical bi, trans, and intersex people in the poems but then erases them on the back cover. To be fair, there is also an LGBT on the back cover blurb, but a) “gay and lesbian” does not equal LGBT and using them interchangeably perpetuates the idea that it is and b) nowhere is there any mention of intersex people. For a book about the history of our movements, it’s pretty bad that the promotional material is erasing the historical people who were actually at the forefront of the Stonewall Riots and the first Pride parade (trans women of colour like Marsha P. Johnson, Sylvia Rivera, Miss Major and bisexual activist Brenda Howard). I get that in some contexts, like for SEO or if you’re choosing pre-defined categories like from Library of Congress, you have to compromise and choose language that isn’t ideal. But this is just in the narrative description of the book!

More upsetting for me was some of the content that depicted the only young queer person as an apolitical person who doesn’t know anything about queer history and doesn’t want to. (This is in the long poem “Keen,” which is imagined as a conversation between a young gay university student and Michael Lynch, a Canadian AIDS activist, writer, and scholar). I LOVE the concept for the poem. But damn, the portrayal of the young person really rubbed me the wrong way. It felt ageist, particularly because he’s the only young queer person featured in the collection.

Like, I know a shit ton of queer and trans young(er) people doing amazing political work. What about Morgan M Page’s podcast One from the Vaults, which is about trans history? What about the queer Black founders of Black Lives Matter, Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi? Why are these kind of people absent from the book? Of course there are LGBTQ2IA people today who don’t know much about the history of our movements and who aren’t actively involved in activism. But this isn’t all of us. If you don’t know about young people engaging in amazing queer activism today, do some research! Writing about past queer activism and implying that today’s LGBTQ2IA people don’t know their queer history and don’t care about activism is insulting, especially the Black Lives Matter activists who are working in the name of folks like Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P Johnson to work against racism and transphobia in our communities and to bring back Pride parades to their roots as protests as well as celebrations. Wouldn’t it have been great if the conversation in “Keen” had been between Michael Lynch and one of today’s activists? What a missed opportunity.

Well that’s it for a fair and honest review! If anyone else has read this book, I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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Posted in Canadian, Poetry, Queer | 1 Comment