Category Archives: GLBT poetry

“Villiany” by Andrea Abi-Karam— Coming-out in Public

Abi-Karam, Andrea. “Villainy”, Nightboat Books, 2021,

Coming-out in Public

Amos Lassen

In beautiful poetry, Andrea Abi-Karam explores “protest as a poetic formation’ and shows us that it is “desires that bring queers into public space.” Seeing poetry as a destination to being oneself, we go into the admonition that does not allow us to be real. We are taken through
emotional states and the desires of the queer community for acceptance. and desire to which queers must tend during protest. This is not easy and Abi-Karam demands of us to break the influence of today’s fascism and take on the antifascists, street medics, and queer exhibitionists  as we risk the safety of our lives. We must act directly through demand and disruption and engage everyone. The goal is to bring down the  hierarchy in order to “establish a participatory, temporary autonomous zone in which the targeted other can thrive.”

This is poetry that is anti-poetry that is very wise and confrontational. To make a new way we must “unmake” an older way and suffering comes with this. Andrea Abi-Karam uses language and the body as ways of becoming and unbecoming that lead us to new futures and possibilities. Here is the language for a new world and a new activism. It is intense, vital and relevant and impossible to define in a review of this kind.

“once upon a twin: poems” by Raymond Luczak— Would It Have Been Different?

Luczak, Raymond. “once upon a twin: poems”, Galludet University Press, 2021.

Would It Have Been Different?

Amos Lassen

Growing up deaf in a hearing Catholic family of nine children, Raymond Luczak’s mother once shared conflicting stories about having had a miscarriage  either after or around the time he was conceived. Now he has written an elegy to his lost twin, this book asks wondering how different his life would have been had his twin survived.

Luczak takes us into his hopes for connection and belonging. He believes he has a twin even with the mystery around his mother’s pregnancy. He does not fit into hid family since he is deaf from a young age and was not allowed to use sign at home. He was sent out for speech lessons, and stayed with several different families. He is laughed at and bullied at school and finds that he is attracted to his own sex  and this was something his family could not and would not accept.  He felt that the only one who loved him was his grandmother who had a stroke and died.  He writes that twins have a deep bond yet his family created a toxic atmosphere for him and no one listened to him. His twin would have provided for his needs

I have always loved Luczak’s poetry and the fact that he goes into unconventional territory with this new collection makes him love it even more. We see that memory  and cannot always be trusted and that our visions of childhood change over time. Loneliness is emphasized as all of us seek connection at different times in our lives. Looking for a twin is looking for another self that mirrors who we are and it has continued throughout history and it metaphorical for how memory and reality come together. The poems become part of a method for searching for identity and while the idea of a twin is romantic, it is also present in our lives and part of who we are.

For me, reading poetry is an emotional experience and a way for me to look deeply within myself and introspect. I really found that here. The poems here are very real and relevant and as the poet here delves into his own personal memories so do I. Lyrical and beautiful writing emerges on every page and I am not likely to forget “Once Upon a Twin” anytime soon.

2021 Lambda Literary Award Winners Announced

2021 Lambda Literary Award Winners Announced

Author: Brian Gentes

June 1, 2021

New York, NY, June 1, 2021 – Lambda Literary, the nation’s premier LGBTQ literary organization, announced the winners of the 33rd Annual Lambda Literary Awards (a.k.a. the “Lammys”) this evening at a live Zoom ceremony hosted by Rakesh Satyal, who won a Lambda Literary Award for his debut novel, Blue Boy.

As they have done for over three decades, this year’s Lammys again celebrate powerful, necessary writing that centers the LGBTQ experience. With last year’s award ceremony cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this year’s virtual celebration was a welcome return for an organization dedicated to honoring the very best in LGBTQ literature. Throughout the evening, presenters and winners highlighted the impact the Lammys have had in uplifting queer voices. Novelist Torrey Peters, author of Detransition, Baby, kicked off the festivities speaking of her joy to be presenting for “an organization for which trans writing and trans authors aren’t an afterthought.” Alex Gino, who won a Lammy in 2016 for their middle grade debut, George, highlighted the importance of the explosion of books featuring queer characters for young people while noting that across the country just one in five queer students experience course work that includes positive representations of LGBTQ people and history. John Paul Brammer, author of Hola Papi: How to Come Out in a Walmart Parking Lot and Other Life Lessons, began his presentation by noting, “As a gay person from rural America, books were some of the only community I had growing up,” while Ryan O’Connell, creator and star of Special, joked, “I love books and I love gay, and I love it when books and gay go together.”

Representing the diversity of the LGBTQ experience, this year’s Lammy winners once again highlight Lambda Literary’s reputation for recognizing queer literature in all of its many forms, and many winners acknowledged that diversity in their speeches. In accepting the Lammy for Transgender Nonfiction for The Black Trans Prayer Book, J Mase III & Dane Figueroa Edidi said, “We hope that this work is a tool that helps to celebrate and heal our community.” Mohsin Zaidi, whose A Dutiful Boy: A Memoir of a Gay Muslim’s Journey to Acceptance won the Lammy for Gay Memoir/Biography, noted that he had been told there wouldn’t be much interest for his book in the U.S., but continued, “Stories don’t have a nationality and I think that’s even more true of our stories, of stories from the queer community.” Joshua Whitehead, winner of the LGBTQ Anthology Lammy for Love after the End: An Anthology of Two-Spirit and Indigiqueer Speculative Fiction, ended his speech with a joyous, “welcome to the Two-Spirit Indigiqueer, fem glittery, fantastic, trans, Indigenous future we deserve,” while Mike Curato, winner of the LGBTQ Young Adult Lammy for Flamer claimed his award for “all the sissies, all the queers, all the Pinoy boys who feel unseen, I see you. And for anyone who has dwelt in darkness, there is light inside you even if you can’t see it.”

The evening’s celebration, which has always doubled as a fundraiser to help support Lambda Literary’s programs, concluded with a performance by Grammy Award nominated artist and lesbian icon, Meshell Ndegeocello. “This year’s ceremony was a true celebration for us after what has been an unimaginably difficult year for so many,” said Sue Landers, executive director of Lambda Literary. “While we couldn’t be together in person again this year, we are so excited to be back honoring LGBTQ literature and all of the wonderful writers who make up our community.  Congratulations to all of this year’s winners.”The Lammys are the most prestigious award in LGBTQ publishing. Please join us in celebrating the following authors and their literary accomplishments.

 Lesbian Fiction

Gay Fiction

  • Neotenica, Joon Oluchi Lee, Nightboat Books

Bisexual Fiction

Transgender Fiction 

Bisexual Nonfiction

Transgender Nonfiction

LGBTQ Nonfiction

 Lesbian Poetry

Gay Poetry 

Bisexual Poetry

Transgender Poetry

 Lesbian Memoir/Biography

 Gay Memoir/Biography

Lesbian Romance

Gay Romance

 LGBTQ Anthology

LGBTQ Children’s/Middle Grade 

LGBTQ Young Adult 

  • Flamer, Mike Curato, Henry Holt Books for Young Readers

LGBTQ Comics

 LGBTQ Drama

LGBTQ Erotica

LGBTQ Mystery

LGBTQ Science Fiction/Fantasy/Horror

LGBTQ Studies 

During this year’s ceremony, Lambda Literary announced a new honorary award, the Randall Kenan Prize for Black LGBTQ Fiction. Kenan, who won a Lambda Literary Award in 1992 for his novel Let the Dead Bury Their Dead, passed away in August of 2020 and the prize bearing his name honors writers whose work explores themes of Black LGBTQ life, culture, and history, with its winner receiving a $3,000 cash prize. Ana-Maurine Lara is the inaugural recipient of the prize. Other special prizes announced throughout the evening included Brontez Purnell and Sarah Gerard winning the Jim Duggins Outstanding Mid-Career Novelist Prize, a $5,000 prize given annually to two LGBTQ-identified authors who have published multiple novels and show promise to continue publishing high quality work for years to come. Nancy Agabian won the $2,500 Jeanne Córdova Prize for Lesbian/Queer Nonfiction, granted to a writer committed to nonfiction work that captures the depth and complexity of lesbian and queer life, culture, and history. The Judith Markowitz Award recognizes two writers whose work demonstrates exceptional potential, and T Kira Maddenand Taylor Johnson were awarded this year’s $1,000 prizes. More information on these winners and their prizes is available here.

“Selected Poems of Emanuel Xavier” by Emanuel Xavier— Reviewing a Friend

Xavier, Emanuel. “Selected Poems of Emanuel Xavier”, Queermojo, 2021.

Reviewing a Friend

Amos Lassen

I first met Emanuel Xavier in person some 14 years ago at the Saints and Sinners Literary Festival in New Orleans. I was already familiar with his poetry and I loved it so meeting him was a highlight of that weekend. We became friends immediately this making it difficult for me to be objective about what he writes but I soon found no need to let how I personally felt about the man influence his poems. Each and every poem, in his “Selected poems of Emanuel Xavier” is a gem and I as I sat rereading many that I had either read before or heard him read made me realize just how important he is, not only to the LGBTQ community but to the larger world of literature.

Xavier came to us after being homeless and a victim of a hate crime and was soon recognized as both important and controversial. His poems fill the reader with inspiration and give us a sense of power. Seeing one of our own become so respected is very special yet he has never lost where he came from. Here he brings us 28 of his poems that are personal, political and social. He shares what he went through as a gay Latino in a world that was often homophobic. We cannot help but feel the pain he suffered and rejoice at his success. He had been sexually abused in childhood, grew up in a one bedroom apartment with his mother and her boyfriend. He came out as a teenager during the AIDS epidemic and soon found himself living on the streets. Returning home, he was not allowed to discuss his sexuality and had to lead a life filled with secrets. It was not until later that he found gay New York along with the drugs that were part of it. Working at a gay bookstore, he had the chance to meet people, including gay writers and was introduced to the works of those who frequented the store and discovering that much of what he read was a reflection of his own life. Discovering a community of people pf color, he became a “pier queen” and began to put his thoughts into words. The rest of this you can read in the preface to the book. I wanted to emphasize what he came out and for us to be ready to see what that background brought to us. Through the collected poems here, we follow Xavier’s journey and we feel his pain and rejoice in his successes. In the very first poem, Xavier sets an unexpected tone for what is to follow, “We will keep on smiling, from the dancefloor, and we will keep on smiling from the bar…”.

I am so pleased that we have “Deliverance” here in all of his brutal honest verse. I remember my reaction when I first heard Xavier read this and then my reaction when I read it at home by myself. It was then that he became a literary and personal hero of mine.

“Where were you when I was three

Getting fucked up the ass by older cousin…”

“After all I am still your son

I am still your little boy

Aren’t I?

Daddy?”

You can clearly see how personal this poem is as it reflects the poet’s journey but we see something else in this collection. In sharing his voice, Xavier also lets rise the voices of those we do not often see or hear, those who have been cast aside by society. Desire and compassion merge as we read and we find ourselves checking our inner feelings. At the same time, the past, the present and the future merge within us just as the poet moves from the poetry of anger and rage to the poetry of wisdom. It seems that Xavier does not know the meaning of the word fear as he writes about our community of the queer, the transgendered, those who do not fit into what the American Dream came to represent. That dream is for all of us as we see in the final pem, “Beside Myself”. “Yes worry. Your time has come and gone…”.But we can resurrect that time and make sure that our community is one for all of us especially after reading what it has cost us. Let Xavier’s prophetic voice guide you are you read and reconsider who you are by looking at the truths of the poet’s life. We immediately feel that humanity exists and it is ours to claim.

 

“Selected Poems of Emanuel Xavier” by Emanuel Xavier— Reviewing a Friend

Xavier, Emanuel. “Selected Poems of Emanuel Xavier”, Queermojo, 2021.

Reviewing a Friend

Amos Lassen

I first met Emanuel Xavier in person some 14 years ago at the Saints and Sinners Literary Festival in New Orleans. I was already familiar with his poetry and I loved it so meeting him was a highlight of that weekend. We became friends immediately this making it difficult for me to be objective about what he writes but I soon found no need to let how I personally felt about the man influence his poems. Each and every poem, in his “Selected poems of Emanuel Xavier” is a gem and I as I sat rereading many that I had either read before or heard him read made me realize just how important he is, not only to the LGBTQ community but to the larger world of literature.

Xavier came to us after being homeless and a victim of a hate crime and was soon recognized as both important and controversial. His poems fill the reader with inspiration and give us a sense of power. Seeing one of our own become so respected is very special yet he has never lost where he came from. Here he brings us 28 of his poems that are personal, political and social. He shares what he went through as a gay Latino in a world that was often homophobic. We cannot help but feel the pin he suffered and rejoice at his success. He had been sexually abused in childhood, grew up in a one bedroom apartment with his mother and her boyfriend. He came out as a teenager during the AIDS epidemic and soon found himself living on the streets. Returning home, he was not allowed to discuss his sexuality and had to lead a life filled with secrets. It was not until later that he found gay New York along with the drugs that were part of it. Working at a gay bookstore, he had the chance to meet people, including gay writers and was introduced to the works of those who frequented the store and discovering that much of what he read was a reflection of his own life. Discovering a community of people pf color, he became a “pier queen” and began to put his thoughts into words. The rest of this you can read in the preface to the book. I wanted to emphasize what he came out and for us to be ready to see what that background brought to us. Through the collected poems here, we follow Xavier’s journey and we feel his pain and rejoice in his successes. In the very first poem, Xavier sets an unexpected tone for what is to follow, “We will keep on smiling, from the dancefloor, and we will keep on smiling from the bar…”.

I am so pleased that we have “Deliverance” here in all of his brutal honest verse. I remember my reaction when I first heard Xavier read this and then my reaction when I read it at home my myself. It was then that he became a literary and personal hero of mine.

“Where were you when I was three

Getting fucked up the ass by older cousin…”

“After all I am still your son

I am still your little boy

Aren’t I?

Daddy?”

You can clearly see how personal this poem is as it reflects the poet’s journey but we see something else in this collection. In sharing his voice, Xavier also lets rise the voices of those we do not often see or hear, those who have been cast aside by society. Desire and compassion merge as we read and we find ourselves checking our inner feelings. At the same time, the past, the present and the future merge within us just as the poet moves from the poetry of anger and rage to the poetry of wisdom. It seems that Xavier does not know the meaning of the word fear as he writes about our community of the queer, the transgendered, those who do not fit into what the American Dream came to represent. That dream is for all of us as we see in the final book, “Beside Myself”. “Yes worry. Your time has come and gone…”.But we can resurrect that time and make sure that our community is one for all of us especially after reading what it has cost us. Let Xavier’s prophetic voice guide you are you read and reconsider who you are by looking at the truths of the poet’s life. We immediately feel that humanity exists and it is ours to claim.

“Home Is Where You Queer Your Heart” edited by Arisa White, Jeffry Miah and Monique Hero-Williams— Negotiating Feelings About Home

 

White, Arisa, Jeffra Miah and Monique Mero-Williams, editors. “Home Is Where You Queer Your Heart”, Foglifter Press, 2021.

Negotiating Feelings About Home

Amos Lassen

 “Home Is Where You Queer Your Heart” is a new anthology from Foglifter Press thatlooks at how “queer writers negotiate their feelings of home when their nation has further precluded them from a place of comfort?” It includes poetry, prose, hybrid and concrete works as it introduces us to a diverse group of authors from queer and trans life. Edited by Miah Jeffra, Monique Mero-Williams, and Arisa White, the anthology is organized around the four cardinal directions, north, south, east and west.

Many LGBTQ+ people, leave home to find a world where they fit in. They search for “family” because their own biological families and the places where they lived do not recognize, accept, and protect them. Liberation movements have changed the course of LGBTQ history but life continues to evolve with changing economies, environment, and technologies. With the passage of time, what was more equitable then is somewhat less today. Queer writers must “negotiate their feelings of home when their nation has further precluded them from a place of comfort.” Our communities today are filled with memoirs of journeys and arrivals and these have found their sources in “radical acts “ of “queer homemaking.” Yet there are still places in this country where opportunities are limited or do not exist at all. Home becomes not where you are from but where you are at.  It is up to us, the queer individual and community to change the present so that we can achieve a sense of “home”. We must deal with the status quo of the times that affect the way we find or create a home an d how we write about it. We face complicated questions about what is “home” as we work at a new definition of the concept. It is from the need and the desire to find or create chosen families even as we face the issues of gentrification and displacement. This is a look at something that is quite needed and eye-opening.

Included in the anthology are selections by Andrea Abi-Karam, Sam Ace, Anastacia-Renee Jubi Arriola-Headley, Daniel Barnum, Kay Ulanday Barrett, Carson Beker, Britt Billmeyer-Finn, Luke Dani Blue, Cooper Lee Bombardier, Sionnain Buckley, Marcelo Hernandez Castillo, KJ Cerankowski, Dorothy Chan, K-Ming Chang, Erica Charis-Molling, Jason B. Crawford, J DeLeon, Robin Reid Drake, C.W. Emerson, Joshua Jennifer Espinoza, t’ai freedom ford, Soma Mei Sheng Frazier, Alexis Pauline Gumbs, Suzanne Highland, Luther Hughes, Kenan Ince, Stacy Nathaniel Jackson, Marlin M. Jenkins, Laura Jones, Michal MJ Jones, Bettina Judd, Donika Kelly, Jahan Khajavi, Benjamin Naka-Hasebe Kingsley, Afieya Kipp, Keegan Lawler, Juli Delgado Lopera, Joey Mancinelli, Maya Marshall, Airea D. Matthews, Clara McLean, Kate Arden McMullen, Gabriel Juan Membreno, Rajiv Mohabir, Tomas Moniz, Michael Montlack, Alicia Mountain, Gala Mukomolova, Mel Nigro, Romeo Oriogun, Holly Painter, Shelagh Patterson, James Penha, Baruch Porras Hernandez, Joy Priest, Claudia Rodriguez, sam sax, Maureen Seaton, J.G. Siminski, Kevin Simmonds, Benny Sisson, Christopher Soto, Travis Tate, Michael Todd, Milo Todd, Jason Villemez and Yanyi.

“A Better Life: Poems” by Randall Mann— A Look Within the Poet

Mann, Randall. “A Better Life: Poems”, Persea, 2021.

A Look Within the Poet

Amos Lassen

Observing modern life, poet Randall Mann gives us an authentic look at gay life from the point of view of a multiracial person who explores how he has faced life. It is a haunting exploration of what makes a person who he is through satire and honest reflection. As we know, poetry plays on the emotions more than any other literary form. It draws us in, chews us up and then spits us out. It is often raw as we see in “A Better Life” and it uses words to express feelings that often are dormant in our daily lives. The choice of words is primary, the sound of words is what makes verse sing and the thoughts we gain from poetry make us think. Randall Mann shows us how he uses the three ideas. He does so by exploring the concept of time as he looks within himself. He is tender and nostalgic and not afraid to share the bad times alongside of the good times.

I find it especially interesting that the title of the collection, “A Better Life” is so fitting to how we are living through the virus that has affected us all so deeply. A better life is what we yearn for and this period has caused so many of us to introspect. Mann publicly introspects and we find that so many of us share his thoughts on what he has found. Our relationships have changed since the advent of Covid and what was before the pandemic seems to be now so far away. In becoming estranged from the past, we look within for signs of the future. Memory does strange things as we look back and for many of us, looking forward is very difficult.

To thumb through these poems, written a few years ago now, is to feel a kind of knowing estrangement, like a place imagined into existence through memory. The phrase “a better life” is used so casually, so obliquely, in the parlance, but it’s always seemed to me quite fraught: It’s aspirational, but there’s something slightly suspect, or hollow, in that aspiration—in all aspiration, really—which is part of, I hope, the complication, the “latent double,” to quote Stevens, in the word “better.” Better, indeed, than whom? Who is quantifying what? I love taking quotidian phrases, and idioms, and trying to breathe new life into them. Culture has changed and so have we. We have begun to wonder about things that we once looked at only on the surface.

Mann’s poems are extensions of his ideas and his obsessions. Being locked in has brought him to self- discussion about joy and sorrow, success and failure. As he writes about lust and love in queer life, corporate employment, remembering those who have preceded us, he examines his own past life and the obsessions that have brought him to where he is. Change is everywhere and makes me think of the first sentence of James Joyce’s short story “Eveline” that simply says, “Everything changes”. For so many life has become a reverie. We attempt to find ways to lose ourselves; Mann does so through his poems.

Each poem stands on its own with form and content of its own long conversation yet when taken together we become involved in an intense conversation through short powerful lines. In looking at queer culture, Mann reflects of the art of the poem through some of his favorite poets and how they look at sexuality. He shares with us the enormity and richness of the queer universe. That sense of community that we now share even when it is under threat as it has been recently. Poetry is a way to escape the mundanity of everyday life, a haven away from the threats around us. Politics has invaded our lives including the life of poetry and we really see that creating art is a political activity. Writing has always been a subversive activity, personal writing such as the poems of Randall Mann are subversive as they explore who we are. In the title poem, “A Better Life”, Mann writes,

“It’s silly to think

fourteen years ago

I turned thirty.

How I made it that far

I’ll never know.

In this city of hills,

if there was a hill

I was over it. Then.

(In queer years,

years

are more than.)

Soon it will be fifteen

since the day I turned thirty.

It’s so remote.

I didn’t think I’d make it

to fourteen years ago.

Fear lives in the chest

like results.

You say my gray, it makes

me look extinguished;

you make me cringe.

I haven’t cracked

the spines of certain paperbacks,

or learned a sense of direction,

even with a slick device.

But the spleen doesn’t ask twice,

and soon it will be fifteen years

since I turned thirty.

Which may not sound like a lot.

Which sounds like the hinge

of a better life:

It is, and it is not.

“I Wish My Father” by Leslea Newman— A Gorgeous Tribute

Newman, Leslea. “I Wish My Father”, Headmistress Press, 2021.

A Gorgeous Tribute

Amos Lassen

I always look forward to a new poetry collection from Leslea Newman and now she writes about her father in a companion volume to her earlier “I Carry My Mother”. Newman knows how to awaken emotions which makes her poetry not just personal for her but for her readers as well. If you have lost a parent, you know how difficult it is to put words about him or her down on paper and with Leslea, we feel her loss with every verse she writes. She begins with the death of her mother and the separation between her parents and goes through the death of her father which brings them back together again but this is also a tremendous loss for her. During the five-year period that her father was without his wife, he went through difficult times and through the poet’s voice we feel his sense of loss (as well as her own), his anger and his longing. The couple had been together for sixty-plus years and with his wife gone, Newman became a caretaker for him. She learned so much about the man who raised and loved her. At the same time, she learned more about her mother and herself.

I was so reminded of my own father who was like Leslea’s— both were strong Jewish stubborn men for whom the word “compromise” was foreign and acceptance was difficult. Both of our fathers lost their wives before their own deaths and had difficulties being lonely and separated from the mates upon whom they doted. We really see that changes of time and loneliness bring. The strength they held as married men evolved to something else as widowers. Because of the similarities between our fathers, this was a rough and highly emotional read and I often had to stop and dry my eyes. At the same time, I found that as I wept, I better understood the man who had been something of a stranger in my life; a man who had no idea of how to deal with a son who was “different”.

Many of you may know Leslea Newman as an author of children’s books and not as a poet. If that is the case, you have missed some of her best writing. Pick up this book and its companion. “I Carry My Mother” and sit back and enjoy the profundity of her wonderful poetry.

 “I Wish My Father” looks at the relationship between a daughter and a father in gorgeous ways. Grief is a rough emotion to deal with and an even rougher emotion to write about. Here we see grief from two sides— the grief of a man losing his wife and the grief of a daughter losing her mother. While their grief is often shared, it is also very personal and hurts. It is a feeling that we all will face one day and have to deal with. Newman here has done so with grace and beauty. We are introduced to Newman’s father through those that he loved and we feel his pain at their loss.

Choosing to concentrate on her father’s last few years. Newman does not avoid the man who he once was when he was a vibrant attorney and together with the sad feelings of loss, we also get bits of humor and what it means to be a father as well as what it means to be a daughter.

There are things we do not realize about the ones we love when they are still alive and this is perhaps the most difficult thing to deal with when they are gone. I certainly felt this having moved away from my folks and not seeing my father for thirty years when he died. The memories I had about him were usually negative until he was no longer here. To this day, it has been a very long time since I saw him last, I have trouble remembering what he looked like. With Newman, it was very different as she took care of her father during his final days but it is important to remember that near the end, our parents are not what we once thought them to be. It is very hard to reconcile what was with what is yet Newman has done so with such beauty that she provides a lesson for all of us.

“The Book of Anna” by Joy Ladin— Empathy, Trauma and God

 

Ladin, Joy. “The Book of Anna”, EOAGH Books, 2020.

Empathy, Trauma and God

Amos Lassen

Joy Ladin writes in the voice of Anna Ach Asher, a fictional Czech-German Jew who spent her teen years in a concentration camp and now lives in 1950s Prague. She answers phones for the secret police.

In “The Book of Anna”,  she writes about her present and past, living under a totalitarianism and having experiences the horrors of a concentration camp. She deals with the issues of empathy and suffering, trauma and God.  These are the same issues  that many of us face today especially because we never thought that they would be part of our present lives.  She keeps a prose diary in which she writes autobiographical poems that examine her present state and how she has to deal with it. She shares her process of writing as well as details about her life including sharing thoughts about how she interacts with neighbors, her obsessive sexual behavior, her smoking, and how she explores Jewish tradition.  We read about her attempts to deal with horror, survival, and what comes afterwards.

She reflects onher pre-war love of a Heidegger-reading yeshiva student, on the women who saved her life in Barracks 10 and on the Biblical “song made of songs” where she finds the absence of God yet where the rabbis see God everywhere. She attempts to find a reason to live after having experienced the horrible fates that she dealt with and says that the reason that she has written these poems to rise above having had her poetry rejected for publication. “I can’t blame him for finding my lyrics unattractive… My muse is rage, not beauty”. We are punched in the gut with that very first diary entry.

I am totally in love with the way that Ladin uses the language and imagery of sacred Jewish texts including the Biblical story of Tamar, Talmudic disputation, the imagery of the Song of Songs, mystical texts about golems and psalms that we use for the celebration of Sabbath.

While Anna experienced the atrocities of the Holocaust, this is about so much more and is really about what it takes to survive after one has lost all; every shred of faith and humanity. Naturally we feel the bitterness in Anna’s voice but we also sense the brutal honesty with which she writes. She deals with an omnipotent, omniscient God who seems not to understand the creation and yet who accepts prayer of praise and lament.

This is the second edition of a book that has become one of theclassic texts of trans literature and it has a new afterword by the author in which Ladin looks at her reflecting on this book’s importance for her own development of poetics and identity. And as Anna reflects on her life so does the reader reflect. Memory after memory came rushing back to me as I read and I was both shattered and uplifted at the same time. Anna is an unforgettable person yet she adds so much to how we value the poetry of Jewish America.

Ladin follows Anna’s as she tries to find something  that will let her continue to live. She ultimately does but only after a heart-wrenching journey that lets her become whole. What you might not expect is that this is a love story in which Anna learns to live. We are all so lucky to have had the chance to travel with her. She responded to the Jewish ideal of “CHOOSE LIFE”. I understand that Joy Ladin wrote “The Book of Anna” during her gender transition and faced the same questions that she did and herein is the book’s total relevance for today.

“Suitor” by Joshua Rivkin— Desire, Family, Memory and Forgiveness

Rivkin, Joshua. “Suitor”, Red Hen Press, 2020.

Desire, Family, Memory and Forgiveness

Amos Lassen

In “Suitor” Joshua Rivkin’s writes of desire, history, memory and forgiveness. He examines maleness as it is in the world today and how he sees it.Divided in two sections with a lyric essay, “The Haber Problem”; we read of suitors as an observer in the first section and in the second section, the observer becomes the subject.

It begins with a group of poems abouta mother’s boyfriends and lovers, and how these relationships influence the poet’s  understanding about Eros and masculinity. The essay, “The Haber Problem,” retells the story of the scientist Fritz Haber. Other poems then deal with the past with erotically and through desire and longing  directness, longing, and lyric intensity. We are led to think about what it means to be a suitor and to follow and chase our desires.

Rivkin’s mother had quite a collection of boyfriends and we read of them in the opening poem. We also read how the poet perceived them. We then move on the essay where the subject is compared to the writer’s father, who left his family in the name of science. Even with that we see that the poet still loved his father. We then move to the second section which is a collection of the poet’s sexual relationships with men and women, real or imagined and human desire.

Taken as a whole, the poems are an exploration of desire, history, family and memory. Rivkin looks at the psyche through poems about sex. He looks at the relationship between parents and children and how their stories make up the story of civilization as it is. Rivkin studies behavior to show the yearning for connection with others. We are all waiting for that connection.