One of the most universal feelings we have as readers is to see ourselves reflected in literature. To quote one of my favorite films, The History Boys: “The best moments in reading are when you come across something – a thought, a feeling, a way of looking at things – that you’d thought special, particular to you. And here it is, set down by someone else, a person you’ve never met, maybe even someone long dead. And it’s as if a hand has come out, and taken yours.”
This feeling is why we discuss the importance of diversity in literature. While some human emotions may be universal, the reality is that life is complex and nuanced, and that people relate to literature very differently. Plus, it can be disheartening to be handed book after book where all the characters look and act the same. It’s as if you’re being told that your stories aren’t interesting or worthy enough.
Poetry is a medium of stripped down, raw, and intense emotion. More so than fiction, poems capture a moment and a feeling in a very specific way. If you’re of a marginalized group, it can be very powerful to read poetry by someone like you and to have that feeling of not being alone, of being seen.
As a young queer person, I never saw those feelings I was having reflected in the poetry I was handed in school until a teacher gave me Allen Ginsberg, and it opened up a whole new world of LGBTQ+ poetry. If you’re looking for poets that can speak to the queer experience, you’re in luck: there are lots of LGBTQ+ poets working today that write about queer experiences. Here are some good places to start:
Ocean Vuong’s powerful collection Night Sky With Exit Wounds is the recipient of so many awards (most recently, the T.S. Eliot prize) that it would take forever to list them. He is a Vietnamese-born American poet, currently teaching at Umass-Amherst.
Alex Dimitrov is a New York City poet, co-writer of the popular twitter @poetastrologers, and Senior Content Editor at the Academy of American Poets. His collections include Together and by Ourselves and Begging for It.
Native American poet Tommy Pico is the writer of several collections including IRL, Nature Poem, and Junk. In addition to being a tour-de-force in the poetry community, he is a co-host of popular podcast Food 4 Thot.
Joshua Jennifer Espinoza
In addition to writing her debut When My Brother Was an Aztec, Natalie Diaz is a former professional basketball player and works with native speakers of Mojave to revitalize the language in Arizona.
Up and coming poet Chen Chen’s collection When I Grow Up I Want to Be a List of Further Possibilities was longlisted for the National Book Award, as well as receiving several other accolades. He also edits poetry journal Underblong