In June, we celebrate diversity & solidarity, the freedom to be who we are & love who we love. Palette’s Pride Month PWA features an exciting selection of work by queer-identified poets, from the fierce resiliency and terrifying allure of Jericho Brown’s “Fairgrounds,” to the tender stream-of-consciousness turned elegy that is beyza ozer’s “I Miss Everyone At Once But Most of All-”. As we approach the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall rebellion that gave rise to a movement, Jari Bradley’s “Involuntary Exits” is a stark reminder of the devastating cruelty still being stoked by today’s political environment with violence that is far too often and disproportionately targeted at people of color and the non-binary and gender-nonconforming community. Finally, in “Camp Fire,” sam sax brings it home and shows us how to hold the horror and the beauty of a thing at once. As we do.
I could not see the man behind me become
What we are when we are hungry enough
To turn a child inside out as one might
Turn the head of a mushroom or a flower.
by Jericho Brown in Out
If you’re still not familiar with Jericho Brown’s work, Google him. You can get a taste of his brilliance in this new poem that Brown shared exclusively with Out magazine in April for National Poetry Month. In “Fairgrounds,” Brown takes us deep into how power is wielded and abused in human relationships, that tension between desire and terror, the places where love and violence intersect, the sudden turn that leaves the reader off-kilter, like the speaker “rolling from belly to back to get to your/Feet and stagger from that field,” dazed by the “white of the sun.” The reader is drawn so intimately into this moment that we can almost certainly feel the “grasses there, soft and thick like hair.” Then the speaker becomes more direct, reframing the memory while taking ownership of it, as the grass becomes no longer just soft and thick like hair but like “my/ Hair. I picked yellow petals from my hair.” In the silence that follows, we begin to absorb the full impact of what has occurred, and we are left haunted by its aftermath with that searing, breathtaking image of the speaker in the grass picking crushed yellow flowers from his hair.
If you’re like most of us and can’t get enough of Jericho Brown, listen to his transcendent conversation with Krista Tippett here:
if this plane dove i wouldn’t pay
attention to whose face i saw first
/ instead i’d hear every color &
feel every sound at once /
remember any trans person who
has smiled / & every scratch my
cat left on me
by beyza ozer in Tinderbox Poetry Journal
This is one of three impressive works beyza ozer has in the current issue of Tinderbox. The poem opens with a playful, perhaps flirtatiously self-revelatory challenge:
“name a mistake & i’ll tell you if
i’ve made it / they were all so
What unfolds is a wave of thoughts and images, lists, and memories that float by while the speaker is on an airplane imagining their own demise and who they’d leave behind. The arc of the poem then changes like the ocean, or like anyone who has experienced a great loss (“since i realized that any picture i take of water is different”). The poem is ultimately a powerful exploration of grief, a stirring and loving elegy to the speaker’s grandfather with the softly shifting but reassuring repetition of the phrase “the ocean will grow hands to hold me.”
Another black butch has been
left to die—by fire this time
& I pray to become smoke:
to suffocate or signal
from “Involuntary Exits”
by Jari Bradley in The Offing
The poem is, in its own words, “trying to touch a violence – its bruised shape.” It succeeds through slant rhyme and words that almost demand to be spoken aloud, words with a viscous mouthfeel (“left to rot in that low lit alley”). The language is full of brutal imagery, hard consonance and even harder questions like, “Who comes / for us black bois, us bulldykes, / bludgeoned into the earth.” In the landscape of the poem, the speaker will “chew on that lye / become full of its poison / & spit until the ground opens / humming my name.” Oh, and the last stanza will rock you to your core. When you’ve recovered, you should also check out Jari Bradley’s essential new work “Dysphoria” in the current issue of The Adroit Journal.
i watch the trees
drink & glisten like old
an article from my father
on the hatred of jews
in europe. violence & fire
on the rise & on the horizon.
from “Camp Fire”
by sam sax in the Freeman’s channel on Lit Hub
With great finesse, sam sax conveys how we are all in this together — the natural world (with its fire and rain, with its beauty and devastation) and we who inhabit it – all of us: children, teenagers, families, fathers, old drag queens, Jews and the people who hate them, and “men so beautiful / & soft you can’t help / but fall in love.” In “Camp Fire,” sax manages to say so much in slim lines with perfect line-breaks set against the backdrop of the deadliest and most destructive wildfire in California history, from which this poem takes its title. The poem examines how “in the time between / one devastation & another / we delight in the normal / pleasures of a sky weeping / like an adolescent / in a multiplex parking lot.” How the “ruined hillsides” give way to “wild blooms / of near devastating beauty / which too will die & dry / into food for a new fire / even more terrifying than the last.” And how “despite its portent / the rain this morning / is lovely.”
Rounding out all this queer poetry fabulousness, if you’re late to the party it’s time to get in on the magic and subscribe to the the podcast Vs. from the Poetry Foundation co-hosted by brilliant and hilarious poets Danez Smith and Franny Choi. A guaranteed aural delight. Be sure to follow Franny Choi’s monthly column here at Palette called “Periodic” where she checks in on the first day of her period about various topics that may include gender, queerness, writing, health, and love. Because isn’t love what it’s all about?
Happy Pride, Y’all!!