There’s something about queer poetry that soothes the soul. Poetry, by its very nature, breaks boundaries and pushes against what we’re taught as the “rules” for writing. And no one pushes the boundaries of society better than queer people, especially queer artists. Maybe I’m partial. But if you also love pushing the boundaries, this list of must-read queer poetry collections is for you.
You may wonder what makes a poetry collection queer. Some might argue that the poems included must have a specific focus on queerness or certain related themes. I disagree! As a queer writer myself, I think anything I write is inherently shaped by my queerness and how I move through the world as a queer person. When it comes to poetry, I don’t believe the poet’s queerness can be separated from their art. So while some of these collections focus more on explicitly queer themes than others, all are made queer by the glorious queerness of their creators.
Without further ado, let’s take a look at these 20 must-read queer poetry collections. We’ve got every part of the LGBTQ+ rainbow below, with collections for readers new to poetry and lifelong poetry lovers. Get ready for your TBR’s heart to grow three sizes.
20 Must-Read Queer Poetry Collections
Postcolonial Love Poem by Natalie Díaz
This gorgeous collection by Mojave poet Natalie Díaz is about Indigenous identity, erasure, legacy, and so much more. Díaz’s poems are multilayered and constantly shifting, making them feel alive on the page and ripe for rereading. Among all of this stunning writing, her verses about love and sensuality are a standout, and her queerness is woven through every word.
The Language We Were Never Taught to Speak by Grace Lau
This debut poetry collection explores the different identities contained in a single person, drawing on Hong Kong history, Canadian immigrant experiences, pop culture, and much more. It’s a wonderfully queer, fresh, rebellious collection infused with everything from family lore to RuPaul’s Drag Race. Lau’s poetry is so smart and full of life, making her an up-and-coming queer poet to watch.
Butcher by Natasha T. Miller
Natasha T. Miller is a powerful spoken word poet and LGBTQ+ activist. Her debut collection Butcher is a beautiful and vulnerable collection of poems about grief, family, queerness, and Blackness. Miller’s voice is wonderfully fresh, and her poems offer a relatable yet unique perspective. With poems organized into sections named after butchered parts of a cow — rib, tenderloin, brisket, round, tongue and cheek — Butcher envisions how our experiences and emotions manifest in the body.
Water I Won’t Touch by Kayleb Rae Candrilli
This portrait of trans life in an inhospitable landscape tells a tender and unforgettable story. Kayleb Rae Candrilli wrote it while recovering from a double mastectomy, and their poems have their own way of healing and pushing forward. They move from violence and trauma to a verdant hope for a better future for queer bodies.
The Renunciations by Donika Kelly
The Renunciations is a powerful ode to resilience and drawing boundaries of the self while recovering from trauma. It’s heartbreaking, but also brings hope in the form of healing remembrance. Donika Kelly shows incredible vulnerability, vision, and sheer brilliance in this collection. If you enjoy it, be sure to also read her first collection, Bestiary.
You Better Be Lightning by Andrea Gibson
Award-winning poet Andrea Gibson is known for uplifting the queer community through their writing. Their seven poetry collections center around queer love, social reform, gender norms, mental health, and more. This most recent collection is my personal favorite yet, with poems on climate change, disability, and love that will give you goosebumps — plus a phenomenal poem on goosebumps. Once you’ve finished this one, I highly recommend Lord of the Butterflies as well.
Black Girl, Call Home by Jasmine Mans
This stunning poetry collection plays with form and visual impact in ways that will leave you breathless. Jasmine Mans, also known for her spoken word poetry, uses these poems to navigate Black girlhood, family ties, queer identity, feminism, and much more. Her fresh voice makes this an accessible collection for readers new to poetry and experienced poetry lovers.
Black Queer Hoe by Britteney Black Rose Kapri
This collection is exactly what it sounds like: a queer manifesto for sexual liberation and unapologetic authenticity. Britteney Black Rose Kapri uses her poems to demand respect and recognition for every part of her existence. The experimental nature of her writing draws on tweets, hip hop, and more to turn traditional form on its head.
If They Come for Us by Fatimah Asghar
This is a breathtaking collection, overflowing with rage and pain and healing and joy. Asghar tells a powerful story of being a Pakistani Muslim orphan in America, coming of age surrounded by love but feeling untethered. She grapples with violent histories, with a lack of memory of her family and her homeland, and with racial, religious, and queer micro- and macroaggressions. Her poetry is wholly original and her unique voice resonates throughout the collection.
Nothing is Okay by Rachel Wiley
Slam poet Rachel Wiley uses her poetry in Nothing is Okay to deconstruct the lies society tells us about our bodies and the way we see ourselves. Anger and joy dance together in Wiley’s accessible and powerful poems about body positivity, mental health, feminism, and self-love. Be sure to also check out her debut collection, Fat Girl Finishing School.
Cenzontle by Marcelo Hernández Castillo
Marcelo Hernández Castillo plays with poetry and imagery in his groundbreaking work Cenzontle. The collection depicts life before, during, and after crossing the U.S.-Mexico border, and focuses on the fallacy of the American dream, immigrant experiences, and being a queer man married to a cis woman. In addition to writing poetry, Castillo also translates poetry and has written a memoir, Children of the Land.
The Tradition by Jericho Brown
Jericho Brown is an award-winning queer poet and creative writing teacher. His Pulitzer Prize–winning collection The Tradition explores trauma, violence, legacy, intimacy, and much more in a way that shows his mastery of language. These poems utilize Brown’s original form of the duplex, a combination of sonnet, ghazal, and blues. I recommend reading each poem through at least twice; you’ll be surprised by what comes to light in rereading.
Soft Science by Franny Choi
Blurring the lines between human and technology, this fascinating collection by Franny Choi is experimental in the best kind of way by playing with themes of artificial intelligence, automation, and the Turing Test. It’s a thought-provoking take on queer Asian femininity and tenderness in a violent world.
Bodymap by Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha
Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha is a poet and activist known for writing at the intersection of everyday life and calls for social change. Their poetry collection Bodymap is a love letter to queer disabled femmes of color, exploring the homes we make inside and outside of our own bodies. It’s tough and vulnerable in equal measure.
Night Sky With Exit Wounds by Ocean Vuong
Ocean Vuong made a splash in the literary scene with his debut novel On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous. But before that stunning book, there was his critically acclaimed poetry collection Night Sky with Exit Wounds. Vuong’s writing is quietly life-changing with themes of family, loss, grief, war, and memory. His upcoming book Time is a Mother, coming out on April 22 from Random House, is one of the most anticipated poetry collections of the year.
When the Chant Comes by Kay Ulanday Barrett
Kay Ulanday Barrett is a self-described “disabled Filipinx-amerikan transgender queer” poet, performer, and educator. Barrett draws on their everyday lived experiences and slang to create a relatable, honest, and stunning collection of poems about sickness, queerness, community, and much more. Their words feel at times like an intimate whisper and at others like a resonating shout. Once you’ve finished, check out their second collection, More Than Organs.
Don’t Call Us Dead by Danez Smith
Danez Smith is writing some of the most compelling contemporary poetry today, and their writing absolutely cannot be missed. This collection, a Lambda Literary Award winner and National Book Award finalist, is truly unforgettable. It starts with a poem that imagines an afterlife for Black men killed by police. From there, it explores queer desire, physical vulnerability, living with HIV, and so much more. If you want a poetry collection that will bring you to your knees, look no further.
Things You Left Behind by Keondra Bills Freemyn
Keondra Bills Freemyn combines her beautiful poetry with her expertise as an archivist and historian in this collection that explores desire, loss, and memory. From homages to groundbreaking Black writers to stunning haikus, Freemyn’s writing is authentic and deeply human in a way that will stick with you long past the final poem.
Femme in Public by Alok Vaid-Menon
This slim collection shows poetry’s magical gift of turning the world on its head with only a few words. Transfeminine writer, performer, and public speaker Alok Vaid-Menon uses these pages to meditate on anti-trans violence and imagine a world that celebrates femininity instead of forcing people to destroy that part of themselves in order to survive. These intimate and vulnerable poems demand that you rethink the boundaries society places around gender.
Wild Embers by Nikita Gill
There’s a reason Nikita Gill has become such a force as a social media poet. Her poems are full of mantras of self-love and can give you strength you didn’t know you had. Gill has a wonderful way of taking trauma and turning it into a place for growth and hope. This collection feels like a love letter to the reader that can help you recognize and embrace your own power.
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