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The 12 LGBTI poets that you have to read right now

The 12 LGBTI poets that you have to read right now

Using only the written word, a poet can make you laugh, cry, think, or wonder with just a turn of phrase.

There are many gay, lesbian and bisexual poets who have this ability, and rank as some of the best literary voices in history.

Wilfred Owen (1893-1918)

In the year that marks the centenary of World War 1, you have to begin with Wilfred Owen.

Arguably the most significant poet of the war, he is believed to have been gay. Many of his poems were inspired by the homoeroticism of the Romantic period, such as Maundy Thursday – a powerful description of male-male desire. Love letters were also discovered from between him and his mentor , the soldier and poet Siegfried Sassoon.

Anthem For Doomed Youth

What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?
Only the monstrous anger of the guns.
Only the stuttering rifles’ rapid rattle
Can patter out their hasty orisons.
No mockeries for them; no prayers nor bells,
Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs,—
The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells;
And bugles calling for them from sad shires.

What candles may be held to speed them all?
Not in the hands of boys, but in their eyes
Shall shine the holy glimmers of goodbyes.
The pallor of girls’ brows shall be their pall;
Their flowers the tenderness of patient minds,
And each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds.

Elizabeth Bishop (1911-1979)

Poet laureate of the US from 1949 to 1950, Elizabeth Bishop was famously meticulous. But while many poets may use their work as an excuse to be personal, she preferred to be objective about the world around her.

That’s what makes it powerful. The poetry can evoke these powerful feelings, without it devolving into revealing her secrets.

One Art

The art of losing isn’t hard to master;
so many things seem filled with the intent
to be lost that their loss is no disaster,

Lose something every day. Accept the fluster
of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.

Then practice losing farther, losing faster:
places, and names, and where it was you meant
to travel. None of these will bring disaster.

I lost my mother’s watch. And look! my last, or
next-to-last, of three loved houses went.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.

I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster,
some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent.
I miss them, but it wasn’t a disaster.

– Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture
I love) I shan’t have lied. It’s evident
the art of losing’s not too hard to master
though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster.

Edward Carpenter (1844-1929)

English socialist poet, Edward Carpenter is believed to have been the lover of Walt Whitman. He was revelatory, politically motivated and a believer in sexual freedoms.

Love’s Vision

The night in each other’s arms,
Content, overjoyed, resting deep deep down in the darkness,
Lo! the heavens opened and He appeared–
Whom no mortal eye may see,
Whom no eye clouded with Care,
Whom none who seeks after this or that, whom none who has not escaped from self.

There–in the region of Equality, in the world of Freedom no longer limited,
Standing as a lofty peak in heaven above the clouds,
From below hidden, yet to all who pass into that region most clearly visible–
He the Eternal appeared.

Gertrude Stein (1874-1946)

A pioneer of modernist poetry, but that is not Gertrude Stein’s only achievement.

In 1933, she published a memoir called The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, written in the voice of her long time life partner Alice. The book became a literary bestseller and is considered one of the first ‘coming out’ novels of her time.

A Long Dress

That is the current that makes machinery,
that makes it crackle,
what is the current that presents a long line and a necessary waist.
What is this current.
What is the wind, what is it.

Where is the serene length,
it is there and a dark place is not a dark place,
only a white and red are black, only a yellow and green are blue,
a pink is scarlet, a bow is every color. A line distinguishes it.
A line just distinguishes it.

CP Cavafy (1863-1933)

Born to Greek parents, Cavafy is widely considered to be one of the most distinguished Greek poets of all time.

He wrote many erotic poems, and as WH Auden says, ‘make no attempt to conceal’ his homosexuality.

Auden continued: ‘The erotic world he depicts is one of casual pickups and short-lived affairs. Love, there, is rarely more than physical passion…

‘At the same time, he refuses to pretend that his memories of moments of sensual pleasure are unhappy or spoiled by feelings of guilt.’

In Despair

He’s lost him utterly. And from now on he seeks
in the lips of every new lover that he takes
the lips of that one: his. Coupling with every new
lover that he takes he longs to be mistaken:
that it’s the same young man, that he’s given himself to him.

He’s lost him utterly, as if he’d never been.
The other wished — he said — he wished to save himself
from that stigmatized pleasure, so unwholesome;
from that stigmatized pleasure, in its shame.
There was still time, he said —time to save himself.

He’s lost him utterly, as if he’d never been.
In his imagination, in his hallucinations
in the lips of other youths he seeks the lips of that one;
he wishes that he might feel his love again.

Eileen Myles (1949-)

One of the most kickass voices in modern poetry today, Eileen Myles has been described by the New York Times as ‘a cult figure to a generation of post-punk female writer-perfomers’.

An excerpt from Dear Andrea

I love you too
don’t fuck up my hair
I can’t believe
you almost fisted me
That was great.

WH Auden (1907-1973)

Cavafy may have written erotic poetry, but WH Auden took it one step further with The Platonic Blow. The Brit-turned-American poet, one of the greatest writers of the 20th century, explains in detail the sex he had with a 24-year-old mechanic.

An excerpt from The Platonic Blow

I produced some beer and we talked. Like a little boy
He told me his story. Present address: next door.
Half Polish, half Irish. The youngest. From Illinois.
Profession: mechanic. Name: Bud. Age: twenty-four.

He put down his glass and stretched his bare arms along
The back of my sofa. The afternoon sunlight struck
The blond hairs on the wrist near my head. His chin was strong.
His mouth sucky. I could hardly believe my luck.

And here he was sitting beside me, legs apart.
I could bear it no longer. I touched the inside of his thigh.
His reply was to move closer. I trembled, my heart
Thumped and jumped as my fingers went to his fly.

Staceyann Chin (1972-)

Born in Jamaica, this New York-based lesbian poet and political activist is fearless. For an example of it, she writes poetry like this:

Faggot Haiku

Faggots reach into
their own asses we are not
afraid of our shit

Langston Hughes (1902-1967)