In We Want it All: An Anthology of Radical Trans Poetics, editors Andrea Abi-Karam and Kay Gabriel aim to amplify a politics of trans people against capitalism and empire. Both a snapshot and an archive, the book captures the experiences of generations of trans people living and breathing individual and collective struggle and dreams, with immense clarity on the systems at play. The poetry in this book centers a multi-faceted identitarian lens of trans life conscious of, living in, and in dialogue with historical and contemporary movements.
Abi-Karam and Gabriel state in the introduction, “In unmaking and making a world, the poetics of this volume attempt a series of formal and linguistic experiments with political stakes. … These experiments also disclose both senses of radical we mean to draw on, political and aesthetic.”
The anthology has immense range; radical politics and poetics are made visible in a variety of ways. One of the most striking to me being the inclusion of trans activists and writers who are no longer with us, to whom we owe a great deal, such as Sylvia Rivera and Leslie Feinberg. These inclusions in particular speak volumes about the roots of radical trans politics being self-defense, opposition, and organizing against police violence, with the understanding that trans people who paved the way for queer movements were visionaries deemed as targets and fundamentally disposable.
As Angela Davis said, “Radical simply means ‘grasping things at the root.’” Thus, pieces like Aeon Ginsburg’s “Against Queering the Map” asks, “What’s the hanky code for “I want to destroy the government before I hear it say my name?” There is an intimate and expansive “I” in this piece, somewhat interchangeable with the collective “we” and “us” affected by the “they” that represents the state. In poetic prose across four stanzas, this piece takes on the neoliberalism of visibility, while also bringing up questions around assimilation and consenting to surveillance.
Ray Filar’s “You’ve heard of Ritalin, now what if I told you governments make bodies into crime scenes for no reason at all” also uses collective pronouns representing trans people and the state while leading us through a meditative essay. Centering bodily autonomy and self-determination while grounding multiple vantage points across racial capitalism, Filar through memoir and social and political commentary explores policed bodies navigating the healthcare system, eugenics, capitalism, and the ideology behind access to and legality of various drugs: “Drugs are not just chemicals; they name a politics.”
In “Everywhere We Look, There We Are,” Cameron Awkward-Rich excavates 1903 archival newspaper language surrounding the arrest of Dora Trimble, “a Black female … masquerading as a man.”
Awkward-Rich converses with this history while creating a chilling effect of seeing and re-seeing the language of the narrative: “So to speak, she was thereupon disrobed of her cunning character.”
As the title of Awkward-Rich’s stunning piece indicates, “Everywhere We Look, There We Are,” points to an undeniable history of Black gender non-conforming ancestors, and in tow their criminalization and punishment.
What feels like a central component to the radical poetics of the book is to be able to see oneself through the historical ideological lens of the state and to respond with access to the true fullness of that lens. A fullness of perspective, analysis, fantasy, sarcasm, grief.
Andrea Abi-Karam’s “To the Cop Who Read My Text Messages” is poem in all caps, evoking the style of a text message and a visceral rage as the poem talks back to a police officer and exudes power through remembering and imagining revenge.
Cyrée Jarelle Johnson’s poem, “harold mouthfucks THE DEVIL.” also holds a vivid story of revenge but is told through a very queer and graphic magical realism. Exquisitely descriptive, this piece echoes a familiar pain of abjection while deconstructing its very logic.
While this book is for anyone invested in trans literature and (political) literature in general – writers, students, and teachers – in and out of the academy, I believe the primary audience for the anthology is trans poets – searching for lineage and for kin.
Whether speaking directly to the state, to family, or to each other, there is a sense of intimacy that arises from this collection. An intimacy rooted in an embodied and cultural lens; in a politics of being part of and shaped by generations of community fighting, speaking, writing.
Indeed, We want it all. The dead and the living. Desire and freedom. Our history and our future.