‘Re·creation: A Queer Poetry Anthology’, edited by Éadaoín Lynch and Alycia Pirmohamed

Front cover of Re·creation: A Queer Poetry Anthology: image of a single-stemmed dahlia growing out of a small pot, with the head of the dahlia reflected in an octagonal mirror hanging down on a chain.

When I first started reading and writing poetry, I took a rather dim view of anthologies. Turning my back on what I saw as jumbled works of loosely connected poetry, I instead focused on the chapbooks and collections of individual authors, believing that this was the simplest and best way to experience the widest scope of poetic output. What I was far too narrow-minded to realise is that a well-curated anthology – especially one with a concise theme, but also a willingness to allow for broad interpretation of that theme – can be something of a poetic tasting menu and can form the foundation of engaging with poetry as an art form. All of this is to say that Re·creation: A Queer Poetry Anthology is such a work. The care taken by the editors in selecting and arranging these poems pays dividends to the reader. 

One thing that sets Re·creation apart from other anthologies is the editors’ Introduction, which presents the creative goals of the collection and highlights several factors that played into the editors’ consideration of representing as many voices as possible, particularly those often sidelined or neglected. As the Introduction outlines, over half of the anthology is written by BIPOC poets and over a third by trans and genderqueer poets, with every adult age group represented across the pages. 

There is a willingness in the Introduction to not only acknowledge the myriad creative choices necessary but also recognise that, no matter the editors’ best intentions to represent as many voices as possible, it is inevitable that their efforts may still fall short of their goals. Presenting these editorial choices openly, as a preface to the poems themselves, brings to the anthology the feeling of community associated more commonly with zines. The editors do not appear as distant arbiters of poetry making decisions from afar, but rather as people in and of the communities represented, willing to stand up for their editorial choices and for those included the collection.

Pleasingly, Re·creation showcases both established and emerging poets; experienced page- and stage-stars are positioned alongside newer poets at the beginning of their creative journey. Although a list of names itself does not guarantee the quality of an anthology, when presented with a collection featuring, among many others, Joelle Taylor, Harry Josephine Giles, Nat Raha, Andrew McMillan and Dean Atta, many fans of contemporary poetry would be hard pressed to not feel excited by the prospect of exploring the pages in front of them.

Showcasing queer lives and experiences in the twenty-first century, Re·creation is a revelation, with each voice standing strong and clear within the choral flow of the whole collection, which shifts between lives internal – 

Never knew 
such possibility burying in me. Never felt so soft 
and of this earthly ocean 

(‘Chrysanthemum’, Jinhao Xie) 

– and external – 

Your own authentic self 
with bound breasts and painted lips 
a mask / of a masque / of a masc-identity
intentionally neutered
but never neutral         
Dali did not know what to do with you

 (‘Behind This Mask/Another Mask’, J. P. Seabright). 

Here we find poems of heartfelt loss and connection (‘elegy for callie gardner’, ‘El Diablo’, ‘Behind This Mask/Another Mask’), the minutiae of love lived in the now (‘Tenement’, ‘Toilet Seat’), poems of hope (‘everyone is still alive’), and poems of the self – self-identity, and self-love and the infinite ways this can be cathartic, painful, euphoric, hopeful, everything, nothing (‘Chrysanthemum’, ‘Pierced’, ‘Glance’, ‘Josephine Baker Finds Herself’, ‘An Ordered List Of Barriers To Queer Intimacy [extracts]’) – and of the body.

suppose the body is a city the way love, as if
we could ruin it, naively, seems
a river – suppose we are in that river, its dark
orders come-and-gone like words, the skin’s
weighted cage a name that needs
forgottenness 

(‘Now’, Oluwaseun Olayiwola)

Though the content is expansive in scope, the editors have done a remarkable job in letting the different voices, styles and forms breathe, with their careful curation of the material elevating the anthology to the level of essential reading.

The butterfly wings of the palindromic ‘Josephine Baker Finds Herself’ are positioned alongside ghazals, list poems, and other works that adopt imaginative forms, such as the superb concrete poem ‘First Touch’, in which every word is typographically displayed as strikethrough. All styles and subjects are accepted and welcomed here, with this open-armed editorial approach signalling to the collection’s embracing and celebration of all queer lives and communities, in whichever form they may take. 

Bless the myth of us
Bless the mess of us
Bless cliche and chaos
Our untidy hearts 

(‘everyone is still alive’, Joelle Taylor)

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