Pure Poetry #6: Staceyann Chin

Pure Poetry Week:

#1 – 2/23/2011 – Intro & Def Poetry Jam, by Riese
#2 – 2/23/2011 – Eileen Myles, by Carmen
#3 – 2/23/2011 – Anis Mojgani, by Crystal
#4 – 2/24/2011 – Andrea Gibson, by Carmen & Katrina/KC Danger
#5 – 2/25/2011 – Leonard Cohen, by Crystal
#6 – 2/25/2011 – Staceyann Chin, by Carmen

Staceyann Chin has very good hair. I know this because when I saw her at the Campus Progress Conference in 2009, I was taken aback by the sheer power of her hair. I was later wooed by her words, but I still love her hair. For reference, she looks this way:

I brought Chin to my own campus last year, and am continually on a crusade to bring her back. Her writing reflects a fearless spirit and an optimistic soul, and her spoken word performances only echo and emphasize her powerful pen. She’s also queer and a person of color, and an outspoken feminist and activist. I really don’t think she could get better.

Chin’s writing covers a lot of topics- so I’m going to share excerpts of two very different pieces with you. Because I love you.

This is the first thing Staceyann Chin ever said to me. It is an excerpt from her novel, The Other Side of Paradise. She performs it A LOT. There is a good reason:

But there is also a poem that I saved after reading it and read over and over. A poem that I traced over and saw myself in each line of. This poem is called “Her Body.” It is the only thing you absolutely need to read today. (Beside the rest of autostraddle.com.)

I am afraid she already knows I am not
who I pretend to be
I do not know how to tell her about these poems
leaking scared and angry from my pen

But we are going to see a therapist this week
love and basketball
and best friends in seasons keep us from killing each other
we tread safe like the way we love
I don’t know if this will be enough
I cannot lose her a second time
I am not certain I could bring her back for another go-round

Her body
is the exact opposite if mine
sandbags at water level we prevent one another
from drowning

Her body is the exact
opposite of mine
I am desperately trying to complement her

’nuff said.

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Carmen spent six years at Autostraddle, ultimately serving as Straddleverse Director, Feminism Editor and Social Media Co-Director. She is now the Consulting Digital Editor at Ms. and writes regularly for DAME, the Women’s Media Center, the National Women’s History Museum and other prominent feminist platforms; her work has also been published in print and online by outlets like BuzzFeed, Bitch, Bust, CityLab, ElixHER, Feministing, Feminist Formations, GirlBoss, GrokNation, MEL, Mic and SIGNS, and she is a co-founder of Argot Magazine. You can find Carmen on Twitter, Instagram and Tumblr or in the drive-thru line at the nearest In-N-Out.

Carmen has written 919 articles for us.


  1. I love Staceyann Chin! Her memoir is one of the most gut-wrenching memoirs I have ever read. I read it in two days and only put in down to sleep.
    Her poem “Litany of Desire,” has got to be my favorite thing by her. Watch for it after “Catalog the Insanity.” (If you’re really impatient let the video load and skip to 2:04.) You will need a cigarette after it’s finished.

  2. When I am sad, I go on youtube and watch ‘feminist or womanist’ by Staceyann Chin. It makes life that much better.

  3. Every word she writes is etched in my skin, those swirling lines that wind across scarred wrists and sad eyes.

    Staceyann Chin is a poet’s poet, a woman’s woman, a queer’s queer. Her memoir is the first book I bought after the first job I had, and the most tattered thing I own. She grew up in Jamaica where they sing “boom-boom batty boy” and I’m from South Africa, where they rape lesbians to “correct” them.

    I love her. I love her. I can’t even explain.

  4. autostraddle you are making me feel so many feelings tonight and that is a-ok.

    when staceyann chin said it wasn’t my fault, i felt like it wasn’t. i actually cried. and it felt so good.

    also she looks like barack obama to me which makes me love her that much more.

  5. Yay!!!!! Staceyann TOTALLY deserves this publicity yo’.
    I too worked to bring her to my campus last year and that shit was so amazing that I skyped in from abroad. Anyways, yeah, her memoir, “The Other Side of Paradise” is amazing. Her passion in her poetry is amazing. She is, without doubt, one of the most powerful poets of our time. But her most important poem, which is surely not to be overlooked on this website especially, is called “All Oppression is Connected.” It speaks to the racist, classist, sexist divides in our queer communities. It’s not just a college-aged thing to think about intersectionality, but it definitely hurts when some of the most racist and classist things are said to me from people that I share this wide queer community with. That whole, “I can’t be _____, because I’m gay/queer/bi/lesbian/transgendered/etc” is for the birds. Granted every community in a movement isn’t perfect, but Staceyann’s ability to call that shit out is what makes me love her time and time again.


    “the horizons are changing
    to keep pace with technology and policy alike
    the LGBT manifesto has evolved into a corporate agenda
    and outside that agenda
    a woman is beaten every 12 seconds
    every two minutes
    a girl is raped somewhere in America

    and while we stand here well-dressed and rejoicing
    in India
    in China
    in South America a small child cuts the cloth
    to construct you a new shirt
    a new shoe
    an old lifestyle held upright
    by the engineered hunger and misuse of impoverished lives

    gather round ye fags, dykes
    trannies and all those in between
    we are not simply at a political crossroad
    we are buried knee deep in the quagmire
    of a battle for our humanity

    the powers that have always been
    have already come for the Jew
    the communist
    and the trade unionist
    the time to act is now!
    Now! while there are still ways we can fight
    Now! because the rights we have are still so very few
    Now! because it is the right thing to do
    Now! before you open the door to find
    they have finally come
    for you”

    • MBLGTACC in Ann Arbor? I was there too! She was so amazing, definitely the best reading I’ve ever been to. I kind of wish I’d gotten her book..

  6. i’d never heard of her before…i’m out of every loop, i swear to god.

    thank you for bringing her work/words into my world.

  7. I had the privilege of hearing Staceyann Chinn speak at the Western Regional Conference at UCR in 2007 and wow. I’m not sure I have words to encompass how powerful the experience was – her writing is amazing, and to hear her share her poetry and her writing in person was just… awe-inspiring.

  8. Staceyann Chin is a badass. Her strength reminds me of my own strength and her fearless, unwavering dedication to social change is beyond inspiring. “Feminist or Womanist” is one of my favorite performances. I also quickly fell in love with her memoir.

  9. She is insanely inspirational. Major props to y’all at AS for this pure poetry feature in general, too. As someone who reads and writes a huge amount of poetry, I’m always disappointed by the minimal recognition of incredible writing in the public sphere. Leave is to AS to be way more awesome than everyone else… oh wait that’s just normal. :)

  10. So I just needed to share this with you guys— I just met Staceyann at my college, and I turned in to such a fan girl. I started to awkwardly mumble and my voice was sounded like I was 10 years old. The best part was the way she looked at me like you’re so adorable and started laughing at my star-struck apparence.
    So not smooth at all! But, she was so worth it.

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