Pride Month has come to an end, but the fight for trans liberation extends beyond June. Whether you are trans, questioning, or an ally, these ten poetry collections from the last decade are must-reads. In addition to celebrating and exploring trans identity, these poems are crafted with care. Each poet inspires me to keep reading and writing in a hostile political climate. These books have helped stake a claim for transness in the wider literary world. Why not add one or two to your 2023 Sealey Challenge?
Troubling the Line: Trans and Genderqueer Poetry and Poetics
edited by TC Tolbert & Trace Peterson
This first book isn’t one poet’s collection but an anthology. The first anthology of its kind, Troubling the Line is a fantastic introduction to trans and genderqueer poetics. Following each set of poems, the poet provides a brief essay on trans poetics. Along with a beautiful introduction by editors TC Tolbert and Trace Peterson, Troubling the Line includes poems by Eileen Myles, CAConrad, Ching-In Chen, Oliver Baez Bendorf, and many others. Your next favorite trans writer might be in these nearly 550 pages.
Sympathetic Little Monster
by Cameron Awkward-Rich
Cameron Awkward-Rich’s Sympathetic Little Monster is full of lush language, stark images, and explorations of what it means to transition into Black masculinity. The fragments in this collection are haunting and magical. In his debut, Awkward-Rich’s sharp analyses are ever-present. The speaker’s introspection and lyrical voice take the reader through transition and all that haunts it.
by jos charles
Pulitzer-finalist jos charles has released two other poetry books since their debut collection, but these poems remain ever salient. In charles’ work, the lineation between political and private is blurred. For trans folks, this is often the case, when our private selves are often political fodder in the first place. The title safe space itself, and poems like “Trigger Warning,” reclaim this fraught liminal space trans people exist in. charles’ poems speak truth to her transness, her lived experiences.
There Should Be Flowers
by Joshua Jennifer Espinoza
Civil Coping Mechanisms
How long can I keep tricking you
into thinking what I’m doing
and not me begging you
to let us live?
Around the time I came out as nonbinary, my best poet-friend shoved There Should Be Flowers in my hands and told me I had to read it. I finished it that night, and I’ve been telling every poet, trans or not, to read it ever since. Meta, metaphorical, and raw, Jennifer Espinoza’s poems speak to the violences big and small enacted on trans women every day in the United States.
Advantages of Being Evergreen
by Oliver Baez Bendorf
Cleveland State University Poetry Center
Advantages of Being Evergreen is a collection full of magic, nature, and unapologetic brownness. In his poems, Oliver Baez Bendorf addresses past selves with tenderness. Instead of being ashamed of who we’ve transitioned away from, Bendorf tells the reader it’s okay to embrace our younger selves. Death is present, but it is not something to be feared. If you like fun poetic forms like abecedarians, or poems that leave a lot of empty space to breathe, this is the perfect collection for you.
by Jodi Chan
Black Lawrence Press
Through their incredible lyricism, Jody Chan’s sick weaves a story of love and loss. The speaker digs into queerness, Asian identity, and Madness, often through the lens of the medical system. These poems shed light on the sacrifices imposed on people experiencing intersectional marginalization. How does one stay true to one aspect of their body without betraying another? Chan’s work provides a necessary voice in the ongoing literary conversation surrounding these topics.
by Danez Smith
The poems in Danez Smith’s award-winning 2020 collection Homie celebrate Blackness, queerness, and solidarity with hope and precision. Both heartbreaking and healing, Homie is a love-letter to friendship, to the future, to oneself. The poem “waiting on you to die so I can be myself,” in title and content, speaks to a feeling difficult to address but so common for queer folks. Further, Homie is aware that it is a book, with poems like “my poems,” “notes,” and “acknowledgments.” This approach is a reclamation of an artform thought to be for an elite few for far too long.
There Are Trans People Here
by H. Melt
H. Melt’s 2021 collection is a love letter to trans folks in Chicago and beyond, reminding us that we are here, have always been here, and will always be here. In conversation with writers like Ross Gay, Morgan Parker, and Martín Espada, Melt carves a space for trans people everywhere. Within There Are Trans People Here, transness is not just dysphoria and discrimination. Transness is love, care, and liberation.
Bonus: Check out Melt’s 2018 VS podcast episode with Danez Smith and Franny Choi, “H. Melt vs. Trans Liberation,” to hear more about their work as a trans educator, writer, and activist.
by KB Brookins
KB Brookins’ highly anticipated poetry debut has been making waves, both in their home of Texas and beyond. Freedom House is exactly what the title suggests: a house, a manifesto, where Black queer and trans people are truly free, not just to exist, but to thrive. Brookins’ work is rooted in their political activism. These poems involve things like Winter Storm Uri and state violence, as well as the interpersonal awkwardness that can arise from ignorance of queer identity. Most of all, Freedom House is a love letter to community and oneself.
a “Working Life”
by Eileen Myles
Eileen Myles’ decades-long career has cemented their position in the canon of lesbian and genderqueer poets. Their latest collection, and first one since 2018’s Evolution, delves deeper than ever into aging, transness, and US American imperialism. It’s a must-read for readers familiar with and new to their work alike. Through Myles’ reflection on their life as an artist, a “Working Life” teaches intentionality in both making poetry and being a person in the world.
Bonus: Check out Myles’ volume of Yale’s Why I Write Series, For Now.
SG Huerta is a queer Xicanx writer from Dallas. They are the Poetry Editor of Abode Press, a new intersectional Texan press. They also serve as a nonfiction co-editor for ANMLY and memoir reader for Split Lip Magazine. SG is the author of two poetry chapbooks, The Things We Bring with Us (Headmistress Press 2021) and Last Stop (Defunkt Magazine 2023). They live in Texas with their partner and two cats in a home full of books and coffee mugs.