“100 Queer Poems”, a “landmark” awarded anthology

A queer book being awarded in a general category is not unheard of, but now we have a poetry anthology receiving such recognition. This is a rare encounter indeed. “100 Queer Poems,” edited by Mary Jean Chan and Andrew McMillan and published by Vintage Books, was awarded Best Poetry Book of the Year by The Guardian and shortlisted for the Books Are My Bag Readers Awards 2022. We believe it is the most notable anthology of last year and, maybe, one of the best ever. Răzvan Ion, our editor-in-chief, with a doctoral degree in poetry, explains in non-academic words why that is.

At its core, 100 Queer Poems is a generous and expansive definition of queerness that finds room for poets such as W.H. Auden, John Ashbery, and Elizabeth Bishop, while including modern, innovative voices like Verity Spott and Harry Josephine Giles. With a thematic arrangement ranging across relationships and families, the urban and natural world, and queer histories and futures, there is a great sense of kinship running through the poems.

100 Queer Poems is a beautiful anthology of LGBT+ poets, undoubtedly one of the best poetry anthologies ever published. It has radical importance for the history of poetry and mechanisms relating to different styles and time periods.

McMillan and Chan are both acclaimed poets themselves. McMillan has won the Guardian first book award, the Somerset Maugham award, and the Polari prize for his work, while Chan’s debut collection, “Flèche,” won the 2019 Costa poetry award. It is no wonder, then, that “100 Queer Poems” is such a good collection.

More than a landmark volume, “100 Queer Poems” offers a golden opportunity for readers and writers to check in, refresh, and reconnect. Old favourites sit alongside emerging stars and some surprises, gifting us with an anthology that marks the present moment and ushers in a new one.

The power of the anthology is that it “showcases each poem and poet doing something interesting with the subject in their historical context,” said Jay Bernard to The Guardian. They hope that people reading the book will “understand that queerness is not a discrete sexual category separate from everything else but something that changes colour and texture in relation to history, economics, nationhood, geography.”

I really loved this.

Curriculum Vitae by Norman Erikson Pasaribu
translated by Tiffany Tsao
The world I lived in had a soft voice and no claws. 
– Lisel Mueller

1) Three months before he was born the Romanian dictator and his wife were executed before a firing squad. To this day his mother still talks about it.

2) When he was little he fell from a tree. Ever since, his first memory of his father was himself in school uniform, squatting on the toilet. This stemmed from his first day of school – he was five and right before they set off he told his father he needed to poop.

3) The first thing he learned at school, as he watched the girls during break, was that there was a girl inside him. He believed that when he grew up his penis would expire and her breasts would sprout.

4) He didn’t say much and only learned to read when he was finishing second grade. In front of a friend of his mother’s, the mother of one of his friends dubbed him ‘the stupid one’. His mother’s friend told his mother and when he was grown up, his mother told him.

5) He was awful at making friends and spent most of his time reading or playing Nintendo and Sega. The first book he read was a book of Japanese folktales.

6) Some of the neighbours forbade their kids from playing with him and his brothers because his family was Batak and Christian.

7) He had no friends and didn’t realise how sad this was.

8) His father punished him with beatings. One day he eavesdropped on his parents – his father was worried because according to him their firstborn son acted like a girl. He peered into the mirror, to the little girl inside. And he saw it was good.

9) Once his father kicked him – and sprained his ankle. His father had to take a day off work. His mother said all the trouble in their house flowed from him.

10) One Sunday morning, his father took him and his brothers to jog and play soccer on a badminton court nearby. You banci! his father screamed in front of everyone.

11) He accepted that he was a mistake. His first suicide attempt occurred the day before he started middle school.

12) He made it into the best high school in the city – where the government officials sent their kids. His only friend from middle school started avoiding him. The bud of loneliness blossomed into first love.

13) Not long after he graduated from college, he discovered the rest of the Batak community called him ‘si banci’ behind his back.

14) When he was twenty-two depression hit. One night his mind went entirely blank. His brother found him sitting in a stupor at a gas station by a mall.

15) He ran away. In a bookstore in Jakarta he discovered a book by Herta Müller. Herta wrote about Ceausçescu’s Securitate. It reminded him of his mother. He read every English translation of her work and loved them all.

16) As he approached his twenty-third birthday, for some reason he felt that he was male. And he saw it wasn’t bad.

17) He moved back in with his parents.

18) He went back to work and began writing again. In a novel-writing class he met you, the man who loves him.

19) To marry his mother, his father had sold a motorbike he’d been leasing from his employer. He hopes to use the royalties from his books to marry you.

20) He will grow old. You will grow old. Together you both will grow old, and be wed before the Three-Branched God – the tree-like god – and have a child named Langit. Your descendants will fill the Earth so that whenever anyone is walking alone in the dark they will hear from every window in every building on both sides of the street, voices reaching out, ‘Salam!’ ‘Salam!’ ‘Salam!’

Also extremely subjective, there are all the poems that are exceptional. One of my favourite poets is Jay Bernard – the laureate of the T.S. Eliot Prize 2019.

You can find the anthology in print or ebook format on Amazon.

Răzvan Ion is the founder of GAY45. A professor of curatorial studies and critical thinking in Vienna, he is passionate about technology, comic books, the stock market, art, alternative music, movies, literature, and blockchain.



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