Welcome to Hidden Gems of Queer Lit! This column is for those of you who found the first reflections of your desires in a dusty corner of the library, and for those of you who know that important histories and new ways of looking at the world are nestled in yellowed pages as well as flickering screens. Every two weeks I’ll profile a queer lit title that’s outside of the public eye for one reason or another: obscure, small-press, older, aimed at a different niche, or otherwise underrated. It’s my hope that you’ll connect with some of these books and treasure them as I have.
Struggles with mental health are prevalent in the queer community. If such struggles are part of your lived experience — sinking under the weight of memories, locking your door against the outside world and praying no one knocks — Autostraddler Deb Jannerson has written a poetry chapbook that’ll grab right at your heartstrings.
In 26 slight pages, Rabbit Rabbit chronicles a personal unraveling. The free verse poems’ speaker is confessional, alluding to bruises (self-injury? abuse?) and channeling anxiety into precise images: “the tiny / tinny voice in my cotton / chest pleads for a backwards / clock.” Some of Jannerson’s poems describe life with agoraphobia, an anxiety disorder that causes people to panic in unfamiliar places and social situations, and consequently to avoid them. She chronicles this condition with detail and humor. One poem’s speaker uses nightly trips to the self-checkout as a way of avoiding human interaction, preferring a tacit form of interaction with the machine: “you know my / night habits, my / closed eyes after the attack, my / brand of sausage.” The book’s emotional landscape is complex, a real feat given its brevity. No stone of its dark terrain — whether shame, powerlessness, cynicism, or shyness—goes unturned. There’s a bit of Plath in Jannerson’s sensibility, but with less grandiosity and more immediate realism: textbooks and bottles join the acrid family members and wounds. Thoughts become goblins, and gaming metamorphoses into a panacea.
Rabbit Rabbit offers insightful treatment of the intricate connections between family and trauma. Memory is a poignant theme, with Jannerson’s speakers forgetting or reframing difficult moments. In “edible,” the forgetting is intergenerational: “each generation remembering less as it / grows, an infancy in / reverse.” Some of the poems capture the struggles for control between siblings, parents and children, and teachers and students. In “the seed,” an older character striving to make a young girl conform grows angry because “she’s probably happy.” Once again, Jannerson’s keen emotional intelligence is on display. There’s a felt sense of powerlessness in the face of memory and family influence, but the poems’ lyricism and defiance signal hope.
The collection’s language and imagery offer delights. Jannerson enjoys wordplay, playing sounds off each other (elephant/element) and exploiting the sonic texture of words (“funny bone famish”). This ability is especially on display in the witty “when you write erotica,” which describes how even the sensationalism of erotic writing loses its allure after a while. I’d love to read a longer collection from this author, with more of a narrative arc. As is, Rabbit Rabbit‘s thematic focus and snapshot-like nature works well. It’s the perfect thing to read in the comfort of your room, any time you’re longing to feel less alone.