“Lord of the Butterflies,” by Andrea Gibson.
(Button Poetry, 96 pages, $16.)
Andrea Gibson’s unabashedly emotional poetry performances create communal spaces for audiences to feel through the pain and joy of being queer, express queer love, and break the isolation of mental illness. None of this emotional power is lost in the transition from stage to page. Instead, different aspects of Gibson’s craft emerge when readers can track more slowly the seemingly sudden swerves in their poetry. These swerves are at the core of Gibson’s ethics as a poet. Their work is full of transformations — the lighter beneath a crack spoon becomes dripping ice cream — and witnessing these transformations offers liberation and healing. Gibson declares, “No, I’m not OK,/ ever. But I am creative.” Creativity is a survival mechanism they share with their audience.
Importantly, Gibson voices the complexity of genderqueer experiences in which identity is vital — but not fixed. They write, “You are the only boy/ you ever wanted to tear your dress off for.” Instead of a static narrative in which one truth wins out over another, they offer mobility and possibility. They write, “every answer/ is a grave. the questions are the warm rain.”
Gibson’s work is eminently quotable. “Your pronouns haven’t even been invented yet” (from the poem “Your Life”) is emblazoned on T-shirts, and fans tattoo lines on their bodies. While it shouldn’t be discounted that having a slogan on a T-shirt can shore up the precarious life of its queer wearer, this book demonstrates that Gibson’s meteoric quotes are nested within complex and finely crafted poems.
Event: Book launch Nov. 27, also featuring Twin Cities poet Hieu Minh Nguyen. Doors open at 7:30 p.m., show at 8:30 p.m., Fine Line Music Cafe, 701 1st Av. N., Mpls. $25. finelinemusic.com
“The Body of the World,” by Mary Moore Easter.
(MadHat Press, 99 pages, $19.95.)
“Our bodies jump in the jostle of identities,” Minnesota poet Mary Moore Easter writes in her urgent and timely debut. In this collection, historical and social forces collide on bodies with real — and painful — impact.
Traveling to Paris by boat in the 1960s, the speaker bunked with a white friend until they were forced to move cabins. Who complained? “Turnbulls — same as my grandmama’s slave mama/ Cousins!” Later, the speaker disturbs the cheery white guide at Monticello with her “mulberry presence” and by reminding the tour of Thomas Jefferson’s sexual exploitation of slaves. This brutal history reverberates in the present as cops break up a teenager’s peaceful pool party: “He flings her body, her young,/ black, nubile, bikinied body.”
“To Keep Him Hidden,” by Ryan Vine.
(Salmon Poetry/Dufour Editions, 104 pages, $25.)
In his able debut, Duluth poet Ryan Vine chronicles how masculinity’s pointless rage cuts a swath of destruction through communities. Vine suggests this violence arises from the strict emotional regulation of men and boys who are forced to hide their vulnerability. Typical signs of masculinity — chopping wood, whiskey, bar fights, strip clubs — are littered throughout the collection. He includes a series of “Rule” poems that address strict gender rules, but also offer a glimmer of tenderness in their address to “Friend.”
The “him” in the title refers to a man’s father, who passes down an unspoken legacy of hurt. What sets the speaker free is the realization that his father “had a childhood, too/ … more / sadness than you could bear.”
Elizabeth Hoover is a poet and writer in Milwaukee.