Read a F*cking Book: Ten Lesbian & Bisexual Poets To Fall in Love With

Hi nerds!  We were thinking today, about your needs, and we decided that some of you could probably use a little poetry in your lives.  We’ve mashed our brains together and made a list (which could never ever be complete enough!) of ten amazing queer ladysexy poets that you should check out right now, if you haven’t already.
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1. Adrienne Rich

(b. 1929)

Adrienne Rich is more or less super- famous. She’s a major feminist and queer theorist (“Compulsory Heterosexuality” anyone?) who’s written heaps of non-fiction and poetry books. W.S Merwin said this about Adrienne Rich: “All her life she has been in love with the hope of telling utter truth, and her command of language from the first has been startlingly powerful.”

From “Transcendental Etude”:

There come times — perhaps this is one of them —
when we have to take ourselves more seriously or die
when we have to pull back from the incantations,
rhythms we’ve moved to thoughtlessly,
and disenthrall ourselves, bestow
ourselves to silence, or a severer listening, cleansed
of oratory, formulas, choruses, laments, static
crowding the wires.

Get Adrienne Rich’s books, like
The Dream of a Common Language: Poems 1974-1977
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2. Eileen Myles

(b.1949)

I discovered Eileen Myles when she wrote an essay in The Believer about notebooks. I thought why did I not know about Eileen Myles before today. I asked my friend who knows everything about poetry and she didn’t understand why I didn’t know about Eileen Myles either. I don’t want this to happen to you.

Eileen Myles is “the rock star of modern poetry” (BUST Magazine) and “a cult figure to a generation of post-punk female writer-perfomers” (The New York Times) and we think that means that she’s super-honest and unafraid to get ugly or dirty or otherwise f*cked up. An East Village fixture with a working-class Boston background, she’s worked as Artistic Diretor of the St.Mark’s Poetry project, toured with Sister Spit and performed all around the world including at the Poetry Project, P.S. 122 and the WOW Café. Also she’s published like 15 books and has a “poet’s novel,” INFERNO, coming out this fall. Her memoir Chelsea Girls is one of Emily Gould’s favorites.

Some bits and pieces:

From “For Jordana”:
I think writing
is desire
not a form
of it

From “Dear Andrea”:
I love you too
don’t fuck up my hair
I can’t believe
you almost fisted me
today.
That was great.

From “Him and Others”:
Thoughts. Silly. I’d rather
sink my teeth in your neck,
seriously, knock you down
on the floor — all for love.
You’ll forget my lousy
poems but if I could just
mar you or something. Nothing
nice ever sticks but boy
a scar — If I could ever
really bruise you with
my feelings, them, so infinitely
forgettable & gone.

Get Eileen Myles: Sorry, Tree or Not Me (Native Agents).

Video Promo for INFERNO

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3. Audre Lorde

(1934 – 1992)

In addition to being a poet, Audre Lorde is a mega-important feminist and activist who was at the forefront of a new group of politically active women of all colors challenging the white middle-class hegemony and subsequent ethnocentric goals of 1960s feminism. Lorde pioneered the concept that racism, sexism and homophobia were linked in that they stemmed from people’s inability to recognize or tolerate difference.

“I am a black feminist lesbian poet,” Lorde said of her work, “and I identify myself as such because if there is one other black feminist lesbian poet in isolation somewhere within the reach of my voice, I want her to know she is not alone.”

On the topic of art as protest:

“… the question of social protest and art is inseparable for me. I can’t say it is an either-or proposition. Art for art’s sake doesn’t really exist for me. What I saw was wrong, and I had to speak up. I loved poetry, and I loved words. But what was beautiful had to serve the purpose of changing my life, or I would have died. If I cannot air this pain and alter it, I will surely die of it. That’s the beginning of social protest.”

From “Who Said It Was Simple”:

But I who am bound by my mirror
as well as my bed
see causes in color
as well as sex

and sit here wondering
which me will survive
all these liberations.

Get yourself some Audre Lorde books now.
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4. Kirya Traber

I met Kirya Traber when she toured with Sister Spit in 2009. Aside from being a killer slam poet with years of festivals under her belt, she’s also working as the Residency Program Manager for YouthSpeaks.  Her poems deal with feminism, hair, race and Nina Simone, among other things.

From “Roll Call”:

thick and road worn,
dirt stained, jacked up 4 wheeler
truck behind us
one hand
on my mother’s shoulder

“You better watch your little black bitch”

I could smell his breath
tobacco plaque tangy
from across the front seat
and even then, I didn’t know
he was talking about me

Follow Kirya Traber on twitter
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5. Alix Olson

(b. 1975)

Alix Olson is a spoken word poet / “red-hot, fire-bellied, feminismo-spewin’ volcano.” She tours the world, has been featured in practically every relevant magazine or newspaper and has put out a couple of albums – Built Like That and Independence Mealthat you should buy and eat with your ears. She interviewed Rachel Maddow for Velvet Park magazine, which is really neither here nor there, but I thought you might like to read it.

Random Book edited by Alix Olson: Word Warriors: 35 Women Leaders in the Spoken Word Revolution
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6. June Jordan

(1936- 2002)

Harlem born bisexual June Jordan was a Carribbean-American poet, novelist, journalist, biographer, dramatist, teacher and activist with lots of important super-passionate felings about the construction of race, gender, sexuality, politics, war, violence and human rights. She’s one of the most prolific African-American writers of all time with 28 books of varying genres like essays, memoirs, novels, poetry and children’s books. You know how Barack Obama was always saying “we are the ones we’ve been waiting for”? He got it from June Jordan. Or from Alice Walker who got it from June Jordan. You know.

HAY HOLLER BISXEXUALS, she’s got some words about y’all: “If you are free, you are not predictable and you are not controllable. To my mind, that is the keenly positive, politicizing significance of bisexual affirmation… to insist upon the equal validity of all the components of social/sexual complexity.”

Read this interview with June Jordan at BOMB Magazine about “I Was Looking at the Ceiling and Then I Saw the Sky,” an experimental contemporary opera made in collaboration with composer John Adams and director Peter Sellars, that tells the stories of “men and women in Los Angeles struggling to find and articulate love in the midst of moral and physical devastation, tragedy, and upheaval . . . Like all of her work, the opera strives to bear witness to the human ability to survive nightmares of injustice and embrace visions of a more hopeful future.”

“One Minus One Minus One”

This is a first map of territory
I will have to explore as poems,
again and again

My mother murdering me
to have a life of her own

What would I say
(if I could speak about it?)

My father raising me
to be a life that he
owns

What can I say
(in this loneliness)

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7. Staceyann Chin

(b.1971)

Staceyann Chin grew up in the part of Jamaica where buses full of white tourists don’t go. Her memoir, The Other Side of Paradise, deals with her mother’s rejection of Chin and her brother, and her subsequent struggle to grow up in the face of poverty and a splintered family.

From Publisher’s Weekly:
“[Chin’s mother] quickly foisted them onto other relatives for good, leaving Chin, at age nine, to fend for herself in the shack of her harsh great-aunt whose boys routinely attempted to rape her.”

Chin moved to New York several years ago and is an out lesbian political activist poet womanchild. She writes things like this, which I think you will like:

Faggot Haiku
Faggots reach into
their own asses we are not
afraid of our shit

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8. Andrea Gibson

Andrea Gibson is another spoken word American poet and activist. Her latest album, Yellowbird, features a version of one of her most ridiculously moving pieces, “Ashes,” with music from Chris Pureka. Here just watch this:

Buy Pole Dancing To Gospel Hymns
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9. Marilyn Hacker

(b. 1942)

Jan Heller Levi, who sounds pretty important, said this about Marilyn Hacker which is better than what I might say: “I think of her magnificent virtuosity in the face of all the strictures to be silent, to name her fears and her desires, and in the process, to name ours. Let’s face it, no one writes about lust and lunch like Marilyn Hacker. No one can jump around in two, sometimes even three, languages and come up with poems that speak for those of us who sometimes barely think we can even communicate in one.”

“Untitled”:

You did say, need me less and I’ll want you more.
I’m still shellshocked at needing anyone,
used to being used to it on my own.
It won’t be me out on the tiles till four-
thirty, while you’re in bed, willing the door
open with your need. You wanted her then,
more. Because you need to, I woke alone
in what’s not yet our room, strewn, though, with your
guitar, shoes, notebook, socks, trousers enjambed
with mine. Half the world was sleeping it off
in every other bed under my roof.
I wish I had a roof over my bed
to pull down on my head when I feel damned
by wanting you so much it looks like need.

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10. Mary Oliver

(b. 1935)

Mary Oliver spent a few of her teenage years living in Edna St. Vincent Millay’s old house, helping Millay’s family sort through her old papers, so you know she’s gangsta. Since the early 1960s, Oliver has published heaps of poetry and prose, including American Primitive, which won the Pulitzer prize for poetry in 1984.  Her work is heavily informed by her reflections on her natural surroundings, conjuring up images of her native Ohio and New England; the Harvard Review described her work as an “excellent antidote for the excesses of civilization.”

From “Wild Geese”:

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.

Buy Mary Oliver’s books


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Profile photo of Riese

Riese is the 33-year-old CEO, CFO and Editor-in-Chief of Autostraddle.com as well as an award-winning writer, blogger, fictionist, copywriter, video-maker and aspiring cyber-performance artist who grew up in Michigan, lost her mind in New York City, and now lives in The Bay Area. Her work has appeared in nine books including "The Bigger the Better The Tighter The Sweater: 21 Funny Women on Beauty, Body Image & Other Hazards Of Being Female," magazines including Marie Claire and Curve, and all over the web including Nerve, Bitch, Emily Books and Jezebel. She had a very popular personal blog once upon a time, and then she recapped The L Word, and then she had the idea to make this place, and now here we all are!

Riese has written 1763 articles for us.

82 Comments

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    I remember reading Marilyn Hacker’s poem in an anthology when I had just first started taking steps out of the closet. Hacker’s poems resonated so strongly, they were a great comfort in their eroticism–made it so much easier for me to stop questioning things. Like a reaffirmation of what I always knew.

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    how did i not know mary oliver was queer?!

    kelsey and i agreed we’re only allowed to bring a handful of books to san francisco, so yesterday i just plucked out all of the adrienne rich to bring along!

    my next tattoo has a 50% chance of being from “diving into the wreck.”

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      Me too, she’s my favorite on this list. She was recently in my area for her reading tour and I didn’t have the foresight to take that time off just to be able to see her. Knowing that I could have seen her and missed the chance makes me wanna cry almost as much as her amazing words do.

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    DAPHNE GOTTLIEB!

    Oh, and don’t forget all the rad poets who just performed at the Femme2010: No Restrictions conference:

    Tara Hardy
    Missy Fuego
    Sara Brickman
    Jessica McPherson
    Dominika Bednarska
    Anna Camilleri

    I will probably go home tonight and return to this after scouring my shelves for more and more.

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    This list is so good, I love Mary Oliver, but where is the original? Where is Sappho?! My classics nerd side is showing, but really, anyone who has not read ‘He is more than a hero’ must do so asap.

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      Helloo JC, nice to meet you.
      You stole my comment right out of my fingers.
      ALONG WITH MY HEART.

      I went to a school of rejects, but I was in this kind of “Latin clique” which consisted of all the funny people in my class. And there was a boy, and he was basically my best male friend, who was/is a poet, and he had a really big crush on me for a really long time and i didn’t know how to not break his heart and I wasn’t out, and I would just call him Catullus, and he thought it was because he was a poet and made sexually creepish comments (in a funny, harmless way), but really it was because he just wrote a lot of poetry about me. He understood later and thought it was HILARIOUS.

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    Gosh, thankyou for this list.

    I cannot recommend UA Fanthorpe highly enough, she is just funny and beautiful and amazing and I was heartbroken when she died last year. Her partner Rosie is a poet two and they wrote a book together and were together for like 40 years and there are lots of recordings of them reading their poetry together and being amazing.

    This is my favourite poem.

    Atlas

    There is a kind of love called maintenance
    Which stores the WD40 and knows when to use it

    Which checks the insurance, and doesn’t forget
    The milkman; which remembers to plant bulbs;

    Which answers letters; which knows the way
    The money goes; which deals with dentists

    And Road Fund Tax and meeting trains,
    And postcards to the lonely; which upholds

    The permanently rickety elaborate
    Structures of living, which is Atlas.

    And maintenance is the sensible side of love,
    Which knows what time and weather are doing
    To my brickwork; insulates my faulty wiring;
    Laughs at my dry rotten jokes; remembers
    My need for gloss and grouting; which keeps
    My suspect edifice upright in air,
    As Atlas did the sky.

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    Seriously, this is why I adore you Autostraddle. For the dork in me, I wish there was more of this kind of discourse happening on sites like this. You guys are totally my fave. My soul feels all tingly. Seriously.

    I knew a lot of the writers, but thanks for introducing me to Eileen Myles. Gonna go stock up on some of her work, I already adore her.

    I want to go sink into some poetry now.

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    I know this list isn’t exhaustive and I’m not being one of those complaining type people but you have to check out Carol Ann Duffy! She is the actual British Poet Laureate and she is AMAZING. And Bi.

    I think you will love her.

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      She’s one of my favourites. I especially love ‘Hour':

      Love’s time’s beggar, but even a single hour,
      bright as a dropped coin, makes love rich.
      We find an hour together, spend it not on flowers
      or wine, but the whole of the summer sky and a grass ditch.

      For thousands of seconds we kiss; your hair
      like treasure on the ground; the Midas light
      turning your limbs to gold. Time slows, for here
      we are millionaires, backhanding the night

      so nothing dark will end our shining hour,
      no jewel hold a candle to the cuckoo spit
      hung from the blade of grass at your ear,
      no chandelier or spotlight see you better lit

      than here. Now. Time hates love, wants love poor,
      but love spins gold, gold, gold from straw.

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      The straight-forwardness of her poetry is very appealing to me, who missed out on studying any English literature beyond the age of 16, due to a rather inflexible education system.

      Her “Valentine” I don’t think can be bettered.

      However, I am willing to give all of the above ladies a try.

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    I own quite a bit of Adrienne Rich and I have one of Kirya Traber’s chapbooks from when I saw Sister Spit, but my fav from this list is June Jordan. I’ve read Haruko/Love Poems numerous times and Sunflower Sonnet Number Two is one of my fav poems of all time. How can you not fall in love with, “But still, perfection takes some sacrifice of falling stars for rare. And there are stars, but none of you, to spare.”

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    OMG, this makes me so nostalgic for my college poetry collective days…writing vagina-centric poetry, smoking weed, watching the L Word with “straight” girls and making out with them afterwards, not because we were gay, but because we were poets (whoops, turns out most of us were gay)…oh college, how I miss thee.

    Bishop rocks, btw. Can’t get through “The Moose” without crying.

    Check out my greatest/gayest hits below(fyi I was really into wearing underwear as outerwear at the time):

    http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=2471202424409658973#docid=-7236038254028265408

    http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-7236038254028265408#

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    This list is amazing, and I have yet to check out about a third of it, so thanks, AS, I love you as always! I’d also suggest Gloria Anzaldúa as extra credit for anyone who’s interested in the kind of person who says things like, “Why am I compelled to write? Because the writing saves me from this complacency I fear. Because I have no choice. Because I must keep the spirit of my revolt and myself alive.”

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    riese and laneia,

    i want you to know that when i am a published author of novels and poetry, autostraddle.com will get the first exclusive interview. i want you to think long and hard about who you are going to bump off this list to put me on.

    love,
    emily

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    OMFG! I’m officially de-lurking to say that sometimes I see posts about things that I’m not immediately drawn to, but I read them anyway because I trust you, Autostraddle.

    You know what? Every single time that trust pays off and I discover something like Andrea Gibson, who makes my heart hurt in the most amazing way. So, thanks Autostraddle for talking about things I love, even before I love them.

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    A.S. you ROCK! I’m so glad you never dumb this site down. My inner nerd humbly thanks you for this awesome post. I love poetry… words make me happy and smiley on the inside.

    (Also, if Wild Geese wasn’t in there somewhere I would’ve had to sulk. Good job.)

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    Andrea Gibson lights up all the darkest parts of me.
    Great list you guys!
    I’d love to see a regular poetry articles here. Maybe once a month? Like Team Recommends, but poems, yanno?

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    Nice list. I want to suggest Chrystos, for those who haven’t read her. Check out In Her I Am for some super sexy and gorgeous lesbian erotic/romantic poems, and Fugitive Colors for some seriously pissed off poems about what it’s like to be a Native American woman in this country.

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    If I could ever make even one girl cry out with mournful joy at my poetry, I don’t think I’d ever top that moment. Reading Mary Oliver aloud in bed is almost as good, though, and someday someone will appreciate my nutty word needs.

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    Hi all,

    I’m looking for a poem to recite at my cousin’s wedding and I need help! Andrea Gibson just made me cry but I don’t think it’s the right setting. Any suggestions?

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    Recent U.S. Poet Laureate Kay Ryan is a lesbian! For a long time I thought she was kind of boring but then I read this wonderful funny/mean article she wrote:

    http://www.poetryfoundation.org/journal/article.html?id=171211

    which basically says everything about why I never want to go get an MFA, and then I started liking her a lot. Also I like Mary Oliver more now that I know she’s gay (but I still think she is boring).

    I am glad Autostraddle likes these Eileen Myles lines:

    I love you too
    don’t fuck up my hair
    I can’t believe
    you almost fisted me
    today.
    That was great.

    just as much as I do. Sometimes I want to say “I love you too don’t fuck up my hair” to my girlfriend but she hasn’t read it and wouldn’t understand.

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    You must know Carol Ann Duffy? I was never a big fan until the collection “Rapture”. It’s stunning! Here is one of my favourites –

    Forest

    There were flowers at the edge of the forest, cupping
    The last of the light in their upturned petals. I followed you in,
    Under the sighing, restless trees and my whole life vanished.

    The moon tossed down its shimmering cloth. We undressed,
    then dressed again in the gowns of the moon. We knelt in the leaves,
    kissed, kissed; new words rustled nearby and we swooned.

    Didn’t we? And didn’t I see you rise and go deeper
    into the woods and follow you still, till even my childhood shrank
    to a glow-worm of light where those flowers darkened and closed.

    Thorns on my breasts, rain in my mouth, loam on my bare feet, rough
    Bark grazing my back, I moaned for them all. You stood, waist deep,
    In a stream, pulling me in, so I swam. You were the water, the wind
    In the branches wringing their hands, the heavy, wet perfume of soil.

    I am there now, lost in the forest, dwarfed by the giant trees. Find me.

    Carol Ann Duffy

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    And one more, from an earlier collection than Rapture –

    Somewhere on the other side of this wide night
    and the distance between us, I am thinking of you.
    The room is turning slowly away from the moon.

    This is pleasurable. Or shall I cross that out and say
    it is sad? In one of the tenses I am singing
    an impossible song of desire that you cannot hear.

    La lala la. See? I close my eyes and imagine
    the dark hills I would have to cross
    to reach you. For I am in love with you and this

    is what it is like or what it is like in words.

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    Hey everyone soooo, I’m writing a paper about bisexuality for my anthropology of sexualities class and in the introduction to Obligatory Heterosexuality there’s this tiny paragraph where she says that while some people think in a more equal world, where men weren’t oppressors, everyone would be bisexual, but that in reality this doesn’t reflect womens’ true experience of sexuality. What do you all think about this? I’m also reading it in Spanish, so i might have missed a few of the finer points, but it was really distrubing to me…thoughts??

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