BY JOANNA C. VALENTE
*Editor's Note: This article has been republished from our old site.
I read and write poems everyday. I've taught poetry to high school students. You could say that poetry is pretty important to me, especially poetry that is honest, true, and packs a punch. I read poetry that not only speaks to me, but to all: POC, queer-identified folks, non-binary, trans, women, men, aliens, mermaids, ghosts, etc. When I say everyone, I mean everyone. None of us have it right all the time, but the point is we try.
I chose these five poets & poems because they spoke to me. I think of these poems on the subway, when I'm about to meet someone at a bar for a drink, when I'm about to make love, when I'm about to cry, when I take a shower.
These are the poems you should be reading, too:
1. No Longer See - Jason Koo
"Last fall it wasn’t really over, we were still texting each other and seeing / each other (though not fucking, or really seeing / Each other), I didn’t realize how it wasn’t really over until a few months ago / I felt finally I wanted her back after fucking so many / Other women"
Koo writes about what many people cannot--sexuality honestly and openly. Asian American men are notoriously desexualized in mainstream culture, and seemingly forgotten about in the lit community. If you want to read something that doesn't just praise monogamy for the sake of it, for accepting the nuances of sex and desire, for being as Whitmanian as a poem could get, go for it. You'll just have to be honest, too.
2. Houses All the Way Down, or, the Slope Mine - Nina Puro
"I’ve taken to shoving men aside / to order at bars. I’ve given up / asking what I can do to help. I’ve taken to / doing. Suffer the flames / but not what started the fire. Sure I don’t eat / in public"
I want more poems about women and the lives woman lead in the world. Luckily for me, there is Nina. I am grateful to Nina for writing the hard, gritty, not pretty parts about gender dynamics, about the fragile ways we feel about our own bodies. We're all frightened, but we're all warriors.
3. You Make Love Like the Last Snow Leopard - Paige Taggart
"Your white hair flocked. It’s old age that makes / you kill for food. You bring a long blank to / bed in, the weight draws out."
The idea of the poem being about a leopard that isn't a leopard but a lover whose own mortality the speaker contemplates is just beautiful. There's not enough good poems about love-making and the contemplation of our own deaths. There should be, but there aren't. (Also, check out Paige's new book Or Replica, which is just spooky enough to freak out your ex.)
4. Us vs Them - David Tomas Martinez
"In the sixties, Nixon said the same / thing, and the Panthers / countered with "the Viet Cong never / called me nigger" With their picks / like unclenched fists, / with their afros like the plume of an atom bomb, / they scared white and black folks alike."
Martinez pulls on the reader's heartstrings with his earnestness about growing up in a Latino community, often struggling to understand the power dynamic of masculinity, power, and hurt. The language is so tight and surprisingly colloquial without feeling as though it's trying to outdo its statement.
5. Two White Girls in the African Braid Shop on Marcy and Fulton - Morgan Parker
"Bodies so black they syrup. Hair so black there are no windows. The smell of burnt rope. How long will it be. How long do you want it. I know you. I wish I were you. I want to drag my toes in something I finally own. Do you know it only gets worse from here. Cash only."
If you live in the world, you should read this poem. And all of Parker's poems. Enough said.