Review: 'Queer Nature' is Sublime

by Lewis Whittington

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Tuesday May 24, 2022

Review: 'Queer Nature' is Sublime

The anthology "Queer Nature" is a collection of poetry by over 200 GLBTQ+ writers who muse on our vital place on Earth, Poet/editor Michael Walsh's writes in his introduction about growing up gay and isolated on his family's dairy farm in Minnesota and wondering, "What did it mean in nature when a boy was attracted to another boy?" In his environment an animal that didn't reproduce was useless.

Of course, that canard was the stuff of cultural homophobia. But Walsh also observed that "commonplace in nature most plants are monoecies, containing both male and female parts and make ready and apt images for queer and trans poets."

Nature as documented through an evocative queer lens for, by, and about queer lives and our inviolable place in the natural world. Most of the poems writing in blank verse, but form and craft are so evident in the imagery, and specific to shared GLBTQA+ sensibilities and lived experience.

Where we "defy assumptions of feminine and masculine and write powerfully at this intersection of the human and more than human. In particular some poems exemplify the defiance is in inversions of gender that defined their speakers."

This compendium of gifted contemporary LGBTQA+ poets, representing all ethnicities, takes is place next to masterworks by queer poets of the past including Hart Crane, Emily Dickinson, Walt Whitman, Countee Cullen, Langston Hughes, Claude McKay, Frank O'Hara, Audre Lorde, Thom Gunn, Adrienne Rich, and others. Walsh obviously curates with an eye toward authentic craft, past and present.

Many of these poems have an intimacy; they reveal our world and our journeys to safe habitats. Many of the poems are raw tales of escape from oppressive environments.

Consider the fiery manifesto of non-binary writer Jess X Snow responding to the centuries of religious condemnations in their poem "Queer Earth": "Yet our queerness is an ancient persistence so tell me we be against nature and our bones will remember we've been queer for 3.6 billion springs summers falls and winters and even after your infant empire collapses into dusk we will still be queer."

Or consider the sweet taste of Dr. Mel Michelle Lewis' "Thunder Cake," a poetic portrait of two Alabama women baking a "Thunder Cake" who are "preserved like peaches together in their own sweetness/They are doused with floor/Auntie who is kin to me and Auntie who is kin to you" is the refrain as they go outside to cool off "'loosen their aprons and step out of their dresses, the rain 'saturating their thin slips/flowing over their shoulders.' Before they 'return to their kitchen/to put the icing on the Thunder Cake."

In the 1950s, Frank O'Hara paints an uncoded queer rainbow in his poem with the lines, "What is more beautiful than night/and someone in your arms/that's what we love about art/it seems to prefer us and stays." The line appears in his poem "To You" as he envisions "we are happy and stick by them like a couple of painters in neon allowing the light to glow there over the river."

These are just a few sublime samples from a volume that Walsh describes as Queer Nature's "own place for this first, wild gathering of queer and trans poets. In these pages, you will find the birds, the bees" as well as deer, gay bars, riverbanks, bedrooms, field, and forests.... habitats in which these poems lament and sing."

"Queer Nature" is available now from Autumn House Press.

Lewis Whittington writes about the performing arts and gay politics for several publications.