This content contains affiliate links. When you purchase through these links, we may earn an affiliate commission.
Anti-Asian hatred has been on the rise lately, and I’m not just talking about racist incidents. During the pandemic, many Asians have been attacked and killed, like Michelle Alyssa Go, who was pushed into a Times Square subway station. Even the elderly were not spared. In two separate incidents, two elderly Filipinas were pushed down stairs and onto a train platform.
In a report by Stop AAPI Hate, there were 10,905 hate incidents against Asians between March 19, 2020 and the end of December 2021. Additionally, in a report by the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism, it was revealed that anti-Asian hate crimes increased by 339% in 2021 compared to 2020.
Sadly, many still blame Asians for the catastrophic COVID-19 pandemic.
I myself have dreams of moving to New York in the near future. But it made me think, when I go there, will I be safe?
As Asia-Pacific Heritage Month is next month and National Poetry Month is in full swing, here are ten books of poetry by Asian LGBTQ authors in solidarity. In this list, you can find poetry collections from authors across the LGBTQ spectrum: gay, transgender, lesbian, and non-binary, among others. The list also includes works by Asians and Asian Americans.
Poetry Books by LGBTQ Asian Authors
Besiege Me by Nicholas Wong
Wong is a Hong Kong-based poet. In this collection, which is his second after the Lambda Literary Award, crevasse, it delves into the tension between China and Hong Kong. He noted in an interview with Lambda Literary that seat me was inspired by personal and political events in his life, especially the situations in Hong Kong and Taiwan, as well as by his family. Indeed, most of the poems here are about the tense situation in the two countries whose democracy declined when China enforced its controversial security law in Hong Kong.
Three of my favorite poems in this collection are “Apology to a Besieged City”, “Apologia of the Besieged City” and “Alone”.
Here is an exerpt :
Alone in the living room, so much dust.
I approached the window, the jagged horizon.
What if demolition was the true form
of permanence? A nest is a trailing storm.
My family no longer lives with me.
Things are or are not.
Happiness is a notion that rejects
claim. I corrected my texture to fit it.
Furniture has a reputation for being hard.
Why were people still asking me why I was acting like a counter?
Arrow by Mary Jean Chan
Chan’s debut collection of poetry was a finalist for the 2021 Lambda Literary Award under Lesbian Poetry. Here, the poet writes about her strained relationship with her mother – her non-acceptance of Chan’s sexuality. “Have you ever written about me? / Mom, what do you think? / You are always where I begin. / Always the kid who wanted to be / a boy, so you could be spared / by your mother-in-law,” Chan writes in “Always.” In one entry, she even writes about having an imaginary mother who brings her out so calmly.
Personally, I find “Notes to Understanding” and “To the Grandmother Who Mistook Me for a Boy” so powerful and raw.
When I grow up I want to be a list of other possibilities by Chen Chen
This is Chen Chen’s first collection of poetry. He was a finalist for the 30and Lambda Literary Award for Gay Poetry and was shortlisted for the National Book Award in 2017.
In an interview with Lambda, Chen Chen said this collection is about his mother and his “messy, messy relationship with her” and his difficult life as a young gay man, among other things. “When my mother slapped me / for being dirty, sick, misled by western demons, //a dirty and bad son, I cried, thirteen, already too old, / too masculine to cry,” the poet wrote in an entry. Most of the poems are powerful and it’s hard not to stop for a moment and take them in.
My favorites from the collection are the sensual “Song With a Lyric From Allen Ginsberg” and the moving “Race to the Three”.
BKL / Bikol Bakla: Bikolnon’s Gay Trans Queer Writing Anthologyedited by Ryen Paul Sumayao and Jaya Jacobo
This is an anthology that features the writings of 24 queer Filipino writers from the Bicol region of the Philippines. And while it’s not exactly a collection of poetry, the book contains 42 poems. Anthologies like this are a great contribution to LGBTQ literature in the Philippines, considering the dearth of such books in the said country.
Some poems in BKL/Bikol Bakla are in English, Filipino and Bicolano, the regional language.
My favorites from this collection are “Men In a Pool”, “Gerald Flies From Nagoya To Manila To Legazpi As A Woman” and “Talahiban Blues”, which are sultry. The downside is that although some entries are in English, international readers should have knowledge of the aforementioned local languages.
recombinant by Ching-In Chen
recombinant is the winner of 30and Lambda Literary Prize for Transgender Poetry. Ching-In Chen integrates history and social issues into his poems. I find the form experimental and unconventional, and it can be a bit jarring to read the poems at first. But ultimately it would make sense if you get the full picture. It’s fresh and enlightening.
My favorites are “Diagram a Ghost” and “Dear Island Letter Writer”.
Looking Back by Marylyn Tan
This is the first collection of the Singaporean poet Tan. The collection challenges the idea of femininity, as with the poem “Blades Named Delilah”. Tan even admits in his memo that the collection was “born out of disgust, hatred, disillusionment and a certain embodied fatigue of being over-scrutinized, by self and by society.”
To like recombinant, I find the poems experimental and audacious. My favorites are the entries in the Universe Sexts section, which are sassy and delicious.
Tingle: An Anthology of Pinay Lesbian Writing by Jhoanna Lynn B. Cruz
Although it’s not exactly a collection of poetry, there are plenty of poems scattered between the pages. As a Filipino, this type of collection is rare and valuable. We get a lot of books from other people on the LGBTQ spectrum, but we rarely get anything from lesbian writers. “During all these years of the feminist movement and the defense of gay rights, where was the Filipina lesbian writer? She was there, but not there”, writes the editor.
The authors of the collection aim to answer this question of writing: “What makes you tingle as a lesbian? My favorite poems are “Brrroom”, “For Mama” and “Coming Up for Air”.
Poems of a penisist by Mutsuo Takahashi
Published in 1975 and written by one of Japan’s most famous poets, this is considered an important work on homosexual desire. Here, the author takes us into the Japanese gay scene. For Takahashi, desire is something sacred and not something to be ashamed of. Poems can be self-explanatory, but boy, are they so much fun to read.
The collection has been dubbed “one of the most important compilations of homoerotic poetry written in the 20th century.”
My favorites are “Dove”, “Mirrors or Narcissism” and “End of Summer”.
Here’s an excerpt from “Dove”:
I like his eyes, he said and he touched them
I also like its beak, I said it and I touched it
But, he said and looked at me
But what, I said, I watched it
But you even more, he said
Oh no, I said and looked down
I love you, he says and releases the dove
It’s gone, I whispered
In her arms
Revenge of the Asian Woman by Dorothy Chan
This collection was a finalist for the Lambda Literary Award in Bisexual Poetry in 2020. I love how rich it is in East Asian culture – boba tea, jewelry, noodles, basically all the trappings of Hong Kong culture. The poems are evocative and nostalgic, reminiscent of old and freer Hong Kong.
I also like the shameless tone of the poems here. My favorites are “Triple Sonnet for Autoerotica”, “Five Years Ago in Singapore” and “Ode to the First Boy Who Made Me Feel It”.
Time is a Mother by Ocean Vuong
This is Vuong’s second collection of poetry after the famous and award-winning Night sky with exit wounds.
time is a mother is his most personal and lyrical collection to date. In this living collection, he writes about dealing with the grief of losing his mother. When discussing the events of his life, Vuong’s language is so precise, evocative and masterful. If you liked his first collection, then you’ll like this one even more.
I can’t choose which are my favorites, but “Snow Theory”, “Reasons for Staying”, “Tell Me Something Good” and “Dear Rose” really stand out for me.
Here’s an excerpt from “Snow Theory”:
Another country burning on TV
What we’ll always have is something we’ve lost
In the snow, the dry silhouette of my mother
Promise me you won’t disappear again, I said
She stood there for a while, thinking
One by one the houses turned off their lights
I lay on her outline, to keep her true
Together we made an angel
It felt like something being destroyed in a blizzard
I haven’t killed anything since
These books of poetry by LGBTQ Asian authors are undiscovered gems in the oversaturated and cluttered poetry genre.
Looking to read more books by Asian authors? Here is a list of 100 essential books.