Which Queer Poet Should You Read? Based On Your Favorite Track from ‘The Tortured Poets Department’

Contrary to popular belief, contemporary poetry is alive and well in the world — every year there are new and beautiful books of poetry to consume, both from established and emerging poets.

With the release of Taylor Swift’s eleventh album The Tortured Poets Department, poetry has been on the mainstream mind more than usual (which is pretty unusual). For most folks, Swift’s music is much more readily available than access to good poetry — with this post, I seek to remedy that! For those interested in Swift’s lyricism and arguable “queerbaiting,” I raise you out-and-proud queer poets with books that are revelatory, revolutionary, and/or just plain good. While I’m happy Swift has increased the use of the word “poet” in my life tenfold, which is hard to do, I don’t want the people in my life to only associate poetry with her album. There is such a ripe orchard of poetry by queer poets of all styles and backgrounds, and whose books are a much more worthy investment than four different vinyls with slight variations on a sad sepia portrait of a rich blonde white woman (I said what I said).

So, which queer poet should you read based on your favorite song from TTPD? Also known as, which queer poet should you read instead of listening to TTPD — whichever feels more accurate. Hey, I’m just the messenger.

Track 1: “Fortnight”

If you can ignore the cringey forced use of the word “fortnight” when she could’ve just said “two weeks,” and even more so if you enjoy this track’s humor laced with a sense of desperate reality, you may enjoy Chen Chen.

Chen, author of When I Grow Up I Want To Be A List of Further Possibilities and Your Emergency Contact Has Experienced An Emergency, as well as several fabulous chapbooks, is full of poetry that is as funny and light as it is cutting and grief-laden. Think of a sharp kitchen knife slicing into a decadent chocolate cake, and you have a sense of how it feels to read Chen: at once humorous, at once dangerous, altogether a naughty, joyful experience with no lack of honesty in the deepest sadnesses of a queer life.

Track 2: “The Tortured Poets Department”

Swift is right to say she is “not Patti Smith,” and while I’m unsure who is “not Dylan Thomas,” none of her past boyfriends fit such a bill. Whether or not you’d like Swift to go gently into that good night, one poet you may want to spend a long evening with is Tommy Pico.

The author of four books, each an epic poem, Pico’s work is deliciously referential, and engaged with romantic and sexual frustration. IRL, which hinges on the experience of sending a risky sext and then distracting oneself from potential rejection, and Junk, a breakup poem turned epic narrative, are two specific recommendations I would give to people also sick of faux art bros as Swift criticizes in this song. But Pico is more than levity and pop cultural references — his books are also meditations on the reality of living a queer Indigenous person in the contemporary United States. The wit of Pico’s references are by no means a cheapening of his words — if anything, it brings his compelling, rich world into robust color.

Track 3: “My Boy Only Breaks His Favorite Toys”

In his poem, “Meditations in an Emergency,” Frank O’Hara says: “Each time my heart is broken it makes me feel more adventurous (and how the same names / keep recurring on that interminable list!), but one of these days there’ll be nothing left with which / to venture forth.” An idea Swift plays with in this track (and many others), O’Hara feels a natural suggestion. While O’Hara’s seminal Lunch Poems was published a mere two years before his death, it has left an undisputed mark on contemporary poetry. I have seen “Having a Coke with You” reposted on Twitter/Tumblr so often it is easy to forget how it made me feel the first time I read it. But I assert it is one love poem not even Swift could write a comparable emulation of.

Track 4: “Down Bad”

If you’re interested in (and potentially confused by) the tragic-love-affair-as-alien-abduction analogy used in “Down Bad”, you may want to read Franny Choi. Both Choi’s chapbook Death by Sex Machine and later full-length Soft Science play with the “alienness” of gender and race, often through a cyborg speaker. The works ask of us what does it mean to be a machine, and how is the body — as it struggles to navigate man-made societal conventions — both like and unlike the literal machines it seeks to dominate? With tender ruminations of intimacy and consciousness, specifically as they appeal to queer Asian-American femininity, Choi’s works are unlike anything I’ve read.

Track 5: “So Long, London”

Who among us has been unable to walk down a street, into a restaurant, or even fly into a city because of its associations with a past lover? Hell, after my last breakup I couldn’t look at a pair of clogs without crying.

While time heals all wounds, when you’re in that waiting period before the healing when it just hurts, a song like “So Long, London” might do the trick. And if that’s the case, I think you should read Alicia Mountain. While Mountain’s work is not all about breakups and cities, there is a reverence for landscapes and what they can hold of us. Her debut High Ground Coward, followed by her revelatory book of four crowns of sonnets Four in Hand, both concern themselves with queer ecology: how is the beloved like a rock, a stream, a “tectonic shift?” How is the queer body the space it occupies and the space it leaves behind?

Track 6: “But Daddy I Love Him”

A song less about a doomed love affair, and more about Swift’s complicated experience with fame (she really hates being famous, but she really loves being famous). Or rather, “But Daddy I Love Him” is about being perceived, being assigned a certain way of being by others without consideration for how Swift thinks of herself. What queer person is not familiar with being scrutinized and judged, and thrown into perceptions by others that do not feel that they fit?

I could put a lot of queer poets here, but the one I’ll choose is Eileen Myles — why? Myles is prolific in the literary scene, not only a poet but a fiction and nonfiction writer with numerous publications. All of Myles’ work, including their fiction, deal with a particular persona of theirs. Every piece of writing is told to us through a strong I, a speaker by the same name of Eileen, and so the blending of reality and fiction in their work is hardly ever distinguishable. Any point in their vast catalog is worthwhile, but when it comes to poetry, I recommend starting with their latest Evolution, or I Must Be Living Twice: New and Selected Poems for a more thorough exploration.

Track 7: “Fresh Out the Slammer”

I would be remiss not to mention Richard Siken and his pivotal Crush somewhere in this article. If you’ve been in any poetry Internet circles, the three poets you’ve likely been most subjected to are Mary Oliver (also a great one), Rupi Kaur (no comment), and Siken. Crush in many ways is a queer keystone to contemporary gay poetry — while oft-quoted and at times mischaracterized out of context, the work stands as a gateway drug of sorts for many into contemporary poetry. You yourself, dear reader, have probably heard lines from such poems as “Litany in Which Certain Things Are Crossed Out” and “Scheherazade” without even knowing. A collection deeply entrenched in gay longing and loss, I couldn’t recommend it more. Though I must say, Siken’s second lesser-known collection War of the Foxes, is just as compelling a work. And I anticipate his forthcoming I Do Know Some Things will solidify itself similarly as a Siken classic.

Track 8: “Florida!!!!”

I’m not sure how Taylor Swift managed to get Florence & the Machine on this track, but she elevates “Florida!!!!” from a simpler breakup song to an orchestral swamp ghost anthem. That being said, I’d use this song as an excuse to recommend K Iver.

While not a Florida native, Iver’s work is exquisitely and importantly Southern. Their debut book Short Film Starring My Beloved’s Red Bronco catalogs a history, both literal and metaphysical, of the speaker’s old lover, a trans man who dies by suicide at 27. The poems follow the speaker’s own later-in-life trans journey, adjacent to this relationship and its influence years and years later. Situated in Mississippi, the influence of the South strengthens the vivid, gorgeous, sorrowful world of this book, where grief and gratitude dance a complicated dance.

Track 9: “Guilty as Sin?”

While Swift’s version of a sexy song is still very much aligned with heterosexual modesty (to each their own), the eagerness to engage with the illicit leads me to sam sax.

sax, admittedly one of my personal core poetic influences, is a strikingly prolific contemporary poet. In their three books and assorted chapbooks, they are consistently interested in the excavation of queer desire and intimacy, and the shame that often follows. From their book madness, which examines the history of homosexuality-as-mental-disorder, to PIG, which conceptualizes the pig as many things but specifically a stand-in for queer sexuality, they are no stranger to the shame and disgust that can come from existing as a queer person. Where Taylor Swift struggles to place herself in an unflattering light, sax has no qualms about dancing with the grotesque, the ugly, the grieving — that is, with all aspects of the queer experience, whether palatable or not.

Track 10: “Who’s Afraid of Little Old Me?”

Admittedly, I feel a strange resistance to assigning this poet to this song, because it almost feels insulting to stoop their work down to a Taylor Swift song comparison (no offense, Swifties). But I would be remiss to not include them in a list of essential queer poets. So forgive me, spirit of Audre Lorde — but I must recommend her work here.

If you’ve never familiarized yourself with Lorde’s work, first off, that proves you never took a Gender Studies class in college, and secondly, in a way I’m jealous you get to experience her brilliance for the first time. A pioneer in lesbian (especially Black lesbian) theory and writing, Lorde is an essential pillar to any engagement with queer poetry or activism. The book I most want to recommend is The Collected Poems of Audre Lorde, but given that that book is a veritable tome of 500 pages, and even I find that intimidating, instead I recommend The Black Unicorn, a beautiful, essential book of the Black lesbian experience.

Track 11: “I Can Fix Him (No Really I Can)”

With a robust bibliography of poems that tangle themselves with longing, lust, spirituality, and mortality, Carl Phillips is, in my opinion, one of the contemporary greats. The first time I read his book Riding Westward in a graduate school course, I was blown away.

Described on Goodreads as: “What happens when the world as we’ve known it becomes divided, when the mind becomes less able–or less willing–to distinguish reality from what is desired?” Riding Westward — and much of Phillips’ work — engage with an abstract, questioning syntax, a speaker who is at once unsure and so certain. It’s hard to recommend just one book (similar to Myles), but if I had to pick, I’d also behoove you to read Reconnaissance, and/or Pale Colors in a Tall Field.

Track 12: “loml”

Forgive me, but at this point in the article, I must engage in what I can only call good faith friend nepotism — good faith in that trust me, just because this poet is my friend, doesn’t mean they’re not also a brilliant light in poetry. Matt Mitchell, an intersex bisexual culture critic and poet, may be a dear friend, but they are also one of the smartest people I know.

Mitchell writes beautiful poems with juicy cultural references, as well as meditations on masculinity, gender, sexuality, and home. However, they are also the head music editor for Paste Magazine (which may be a faux pas to include mention of, considering the current Swiftie political climate), where they have interviewed and reviewed artists as varied as Mitch Rowland, Girl Scout, Faye Webster, Bob Dylan, and more. Mitchell’s poetry, in particular, has been a personal and professional grace for me to engage with. While (for now) they have retired from poetry (we’ll see about that), their books Vampire Burrito and The Neon Hollywood Cowboy are still available for purchase.

Track 13: “I Can Do It With a Broken Heart”

Again, another friend of mine, but again, yet another voice you should be reading if you want the next breakout thing in contemporary queer poetry. In this track, Swift laughs that she’s “miserable, but nobody even knows!” And that through her devastating misery, she can still accomplish what many of us can only dream of. When I asked my friend, the poet Rob Macaisa Colgate, what song he’d claim, he picked this one, saying “It’s literally me having a psychotic episode, taking a deep breath, and opening the Zoom link.”

Colgate has dedicated his writing not only to the queer experience, but to the Filipino and disabled experiences — what does it mean to move through a world that is not built for you thrice over? His brilliant work can be read all over the internet, and his debut play My Love Is Water and debut poetry collection Hardly Creatures are both set for publication in 2025.

Track 14: “The Smallest Man Who Ever Lived”

Swift’s martyr complex jumps out in dazzling colors in this track (“I would’ve died for your sins / Instead, I just died inside”… is certainly something a person can say). Whereas for Taylor Swift the most essential danger is a “small man,” for Jericho Brown in The Tradition, danger is a mutable force within everyday life as a Black queer American. According to its publisher Copper Canyon, “beauty abounds… despite and inside of the evil that pollutes the everyday.” The Tradition is one of those rare books that demands to be read slowly, so one can take in the entire wealth of emotional complexity of a human spirit in its minute stanzas. Brown’s formal, technical skill is outstanding, and his control of the body and its images even more so.

Track 15: “The Alchemy”

“The Alchemy” was a hard song to find a good poet to recommend for, because, well, the song is bad. However, there is a silver lining: while Swift seems unironically to elevate the all-American good boy and girl-football-Super Bowl narrative to a nauseating degree, another poet dismantles such ideas expertly and deftly.

In an interview published in Guernica, Morgan Parker says, “My work is focused on Americana. But I also hate it, and it hates me back.” The Black American experience is taken apart and put back together by Parker in her work, and her books There Are More Beautiful Things Than Beyonce and Magical Negro are particularly some of the most captivating poetry collections you could get your hands on.

Track 16: “Clara Bow”

And finally, we’ve reached the last track on the album (because I refuse to acknowledge the second half of the release in this article, I might go bonkers if I do), a track in which Taylor Swift laments the inevitability of her star waning, as happened with Clara Bow and Stevie Nicks. She fears which young starlet will enter into the space Swift leaves, however involuntarily. Who to put here? Well, as a song deeply concerned with one’s self and being seen as a star, I would like to plug: me.

Okay, okay, a little silly, but in the spirit of Swift’s entrepreneurial #girlboss spirit, how could I not plug my own work? If you’re interested in reading my lesbian poetry, I have two chapbooks: Soft Obliteration and Love Me With the Fierce Horse Of Your Heart, and have several poems published in various literary magazines. You can find them on my website gabriellegracehogan.com.

If you’ve made it to the end of this article, congratulations! You are now privy to 15 amazing, essential, and/or just plain good names in poetry (and my one shameless self-promotion). Whether you think The Tortured Poets Department is pop music’s saving grace, or a fall from grace, you’re sure to find at least one poet on this list that will remind you that poetry is alive and well, and very, very gay.

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Gabrielle Grace Hogan

Gabrielle Grace Hogan (she/her) received her MFA from the University of Texas at Austin. Her poetry has been published by TriQuarterly, CutBank, Salt Hill, and others, and has been supported by the James A. Michener Fellowship and the Ragdale Foundation. In the past, she has served as Poetry Editor of Bat City Review, and as Co-Founder/Co-Editor of You Flower / You Feast, an anthology of work inspired by Harry Styles. She lives in Austin, Texas. You can find her on Instagram @gabriellegracehogan, her website www.gabriellegracehogan.com, or wandering a gay bar looking lost.

Gabrielle has written 10 articles for us.

1 Comment

  1. I opened this article thinking “Ugh I don’t really care for Taylor Swift but I *do* like queer poets, guess I should—”

    > There is such a ripe orchard of poetry by queer poets of all styles and backgrounds, and whose books are a much more worthy investment than four different vinyls with slight variations on a sad sepia portrait of a rich blonde white woman (I said what I said).

    I FEEL SO SEEN. <3

    Also because more queer poets = better, Natalie Diaz and Eduardo Corral are both fantastic!

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