“Then from that reeking sewer of my life
I might haul up a bucket of spring water.”
-Sappho, in “Charaxos and Larichos”
Sappho is probably the most influential poet in the queer canon. From her name we get sapphic, another word for women who love women. From her Greek island Lesbos, we get the word lesbian. Her writings give us a look into ancient Greek sapphic culture that tended, and still tends, to be overshadowed by queer men. Most of her writing was lost in the Fourth Crusade, and was found in an archeological dig in the 1800s. Her poems were preserved in papier-mâché coffins. #Goals
“Can you love an eagle,
Tame or wild?
Can you love an eagle,
Wild or tame?
Can you love a monster
Of frightening name?
Nobody loves a genius child.
Kill him—and let his soul run wild.”
-Langston Hughes, in “Genius Child”
Langston Hughes is one of the more elusive poets. While he rejected his father’s attempt to conform to white ideas, he also rejected embracing queer culture, even as Harlem was thriving in drag balls. There is no concrete evidence that he was gay, but the majority of his poems read as gay and he has been claimed by the queer community.
“Sometimes the wind
Is a tulip of fear,
A sick tulip,
Daybreak of winter”
-Fredrico Garcia Lorca, in “Gacela of The Remembrance Of Love”
Fredrico Garcia Lorca was a gay Spanish surrealist who traveled widely with La Barrca, his theatre trope. They performed classics and some of his own tragic plays. He traveled from Harlem to Buenos Aires, seeing connections to his cante jondo poems everywhere. Cante Jondo is a serious type of folkloric flamenco. He was assassinated by the Spanish government for his sexuality and socialist views.
“Love can not fill the thickened lung with breath,
Nor clean the blood, nor set the fractured bone;
Yet many a man is making friends with death
Even as I speak, for lack of love alone.”
-Vincent Millay, in “Love Is Not All (Sonnet XXX)”
Vincent Millay was known for being unconventional. She refused her more feminine name even as she dealt with a professor that would call her anything that began with a V, as long as it was a ‘girl name.’ She was the first woman to win the Pulitzer prize for poetry in 1923. She attended Vassar and had an open relationship with her husband, and lovers of all genders. Her activism encouraged women to take charge of their bodies and explore their sexualities.
Ode to a Beauty that Blinds … Her looks transcend the barrier called fair / His heart and will to resist her she binds / Thinking naught but of her smile he pines / For the release of her bouncy brown hair / Her leaving his small realm he could not bear / Like the silky long curls her finger winds / He’s limp, all for that beauty that blinds / From all else yet at her helpless he’d stare. // While seeing the shallows though not the signs / Showing more than a pretty visual layer / Whether the twain may too meet with their minds / Hearts will share their most secrets should they dare / Feelings far further than vague dating lines / To know eternity their souls shall share.