10 Poetry Books by LGBTQ Asian Authors To Read Right Now
Anti-Asian hate is on the rise lately, and I’m not only talking about racist incidents. During the pandemic, many Asians were assaulted and killed, like Michelle Alyssa Go, who was pushed in a Times Square subway station. Even elderly people were not spared. In two separate incidents, two elderly Filipinas were pushed down the stairs and in a train platform.
In a report by Stop AAPI Hate, there were 10,905 hate incidents against Asians between March 19, 2020 and the end of December 2021. Moreover, in a report by the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism, it was revealed that anti-Asian hate crime increased by 339% in 2021 compared to 2020.
Unfortunately, many still blame Asians for the catastrophic COVID-19 pandemic.
I myself have dreams of moving to New York in the near future. But it got me thinking, when I go out there, would I be safe?
As Asian Pacific Heritage Month is next month and National Poetry Month is still in full swing, here are ten poetry books by LGBTQ Asian authors as a form of solidarity. In this list, you can find poetry collections from authors across the LGBTQ spectrum: gay, transgender, lesbian, and nonbinary, among others. The list also features works from both Asians and Asian Americans.
Poetry Books by LGBTQ Asian Authors
Besiege Me by Nicholas Wong
Wong is a Hong Kong–based poet. In this collection, which is his second after the Lambda Literary Award–winning Crevasse, he delves into the tension between China and Hong Kong. He noted in an interview with Lambda Literary that Besiege Me was inspired by personal and political events in his life, particularly the situations in Hong Kong and Taiwan, as well as by his family. Indeed, most of the poems here are about the tensed situation in the two countries whose democracy declined when China enforced its controversial security law in Hong Kong.
Three of my favorite poems in this collection are “Apology to a Besieged City,” “Apologia of the Besieged City,” and “Alone.”
Here’s an excerpt:
Alone in the sitting room, so much to dust.
I neared the window, the jagged skyline.
What if demolition is the true form
of permanence? A nest is a storm in drag.
My family don’t live with me anymore.
Things are either are or aren’t.
Happiness is a notion that rejects
pretending. I corrected my texture to fit in.
Furniture has a reputation of being hard.
Why did people still ask why I acted like a countertop?
Flèche by Mary Jean Chan
Chan’s debut poetry collection was a finalist for 2021 Lambda Literary Award under Lesbian Poetry. Here, the poet writes about her fraught relationship with her mother — her nonacceptance of Chan’s sexuality. “Do you ever write about me? / Mother, what do you think? / You are always where I begin. / Always the child who wanted to be / a boy, so you could be spared / by your mother-in-law,” writes Chan in “Always.” In one entry, she even writes about having a fantasy mother who takes her coming out as calmly.
I personally find “Notes Towards an Understanding” and “To the Grandmother Who Mistook Me for a Boy” so powerful and raw.
When I Grow Up I Want to Be a List of Further Possibilities by Chen Chen
This is Chen Chen’s debut poetry collection. It was a finalist for the 30th Lambda Literary Award for Gay Poetry and was longlisted for the National Book Award in 2017.
In an interview with Lambda, Chen Chen said that this collection is about his mother and his “messy, messy relationship with her” and his tough life as young gay man among other things. “When my mother slapped me / for being dirty, diseased, led astray by Western devils, //a dirty, bad son, I cried, thirteen, already too old, / too male for crying,” writes the poet in one entry. Most of the poems are powerful that it’s difficult not pause for a while and take them in.
My favorites from the collection are the sensual “Song With a Lyric From Allen Ginsberg” and the moving “Race to the Three.”
BKL/Bikol Bakla: Anthology of Bikolnon Gay Trans Queer Writing, Edited by Ryen Paul Sumayao and Jaya Jacobo
This is an anthology that features writings from 24 queer Filipine writers in the Bicol region of the Philippines. And though it’s not exactly a poetry collection, the book packs 42 poems. Anthologies like this are a big contribution to LGBTQ literature in the Philippines, considering the dearth of these kinds of books in the said country.
Some poems in BKL/Bikol Bakla are in English, Filipino, and Bicolano, the regional language.
My favorites from this collection are “Men In a Pool,” “Gerald Flies From Nagoya To Manila To Legazpi As A Woman,” and “Talahiban Blues,” which are sensual. The downside is that, though some entries are in English, international readers need to have knowledge of the aforementioned local languages.
recombinant by Ching-In Chen
recombinant is the winner of the 30th Lambda Literary Award for Transgender Poetry. Ching-In Chen incorporates history and social issues in their poems. I find the form experimental and unconventional, and it can be a bit jarring to read the poems at first. But eventually, it would make sense as you get the full picture. It’s fresh and enlightening.
My favorites are “diagram a ghost” and “dear island letter writer.”
Gaze Back by Marylyn Tan
This is the debut collection of Singaporean poet Tan. The collection challenges the idea of femininity, as with the poem “Blades Named Delilah.” Tan even admits in her note that the collection was “borne out of disgust, loathing, disillusionment, and a certain embodied fatigue of being hyperscrutinised, by the self and society.”
Like recombinant, I find the poems experimental and bold. My favorites are the entries from the section Sexts from the Universe, which are sassy and delightful.
Tingle: Anthology of Pinay Lesbian Writing by Jhoanna Lynn B. Cruz
Though it’s not exactly a poetry collection, there are many poems interspersed between the pages. As a Filipino, this kind of collection is rare and treasured. We get a lot of books from others in the LGBTQ spectrum, but rarely we get something from lesbian writers. “In all these years of the feminist and gay rights movement, where was the Philippine lesbian writer? She was there, but not there,” writes the editor.
The authors of the collection aim to answer this writing prompt: “What makes you tingle as a lesbian?” My favorite poems from this are “Brrroom,” “For Mama,” and “Coming Up for Air.”
Poems of a Penisist by Mutsuo Takahashi
Published in 1975 and written by one of Japan’s most famous poets, this one is regarded as an important work on homosexual desire. Here, the author lets us in in the Japanese gay scene. For Takahashi, desire is something that is sacred and not something to be ashamed of. The poems can be explicit, but boy, they’re so fun to read.
The collection has been dubbed as “one of the most important compilations of homoerotic poetry written in the twentieth century.”
My favorites are “Dove,” “Mirrors or Narcissism,” and “End of Summer.”
Here’s an excerpt from “Dove”:
I like its eyes, he said and touched them
I like its beak too, I said and touched it
But, he said and looked at me
But what, I said looked at him
But you even more, he said
Oh no, I said and looked down
I love you, he said and let the dove go
It’s gone, I murmured
In his arms
Revenge of the Asian Woman by Dorothy Chan
This collection was a finalist for the Lambda Literary Award in Bisexual Poetry in 2020. I love how it’s rich with East Asian culture — boba tea, jewelry, noodles, basically all the trapping of Hong Kong’s culture. The poems are evocative and nostalgic, which harken back to the old and the freer Hong Kong.
I also like the unapologetic tone of the poems here. My favorites are “Triple Sonnet for Autoerotica,” “Five Years Ago in Singapore,” and “Ode to the First Boy Who Made Me Feel It.”
Time Is a Mother by Ocean Vuong
This is Vuong’s second poetry collection after the award-winning and the celebrated Night Sky with Exit Wounds.
Time Is a Mother is his most personal and lyrical collection yet. In this vivid collection, he writes about dealing with the grief of losing his mother. When recalling events in his life, Vuong’s language is so precise, evocative, and masterful. If you liked his first collection, then you would like this even more.
I can’t choose which ones are my favorites, but “Snow Theory,” “Reasons for Staying,” “Tell Me Something Good,” and “Dear Rose” really stand out for me.
Here’s an excerpt from “Snow Theory”:
Another country burning on TV
What we’ll always have is something we lost
In the snow, the dry outline of my mother
Promise me you won’t vanish again, I said
She lay there awhile, thinking it over
One by one the houses turned off their lights
I lay down over her outline, to keep her true
Together we made an angel
It looked like something being destroyed in a blizzard
I haven’t killed a thing since
These poetry books by LGBTQ Asian authors are undiscovered gems in the saturated and crowded poetry genre.
Looking to read more books by Asian authors? Here’s a list of 100 must-read books.