Here, We Cross collects twenty-two queer and genderfluid poems from the digital pages of Stone Telling magazine. This chapbook is a celebration of speculative poetry that is diverse and varied; here you will find poems with speakers or protagonists who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, genderqueer, trans*, asexual, and neutrois; speakers who struggle with the body and the society’s imposed readings of that body. It is a painful book, a triumphant book, full of works that soar and breathe and live. Just like us.
I’m, it has to be said, an on-and-off reader of poetry; epics aside, I’ll usually dip into and out of collections or anthologies for a couple of poems then put them down again for a while until the mood suits me again. My approach to Here, We Cross was radically different; I sat down and simply read, from the introduction through to the end of the last poem, and I think that different approach was very rewarding. I’m not entirely sure how to analyse or review an anthology of poetry, but here goes…
Here, We Cross is not just a collection of poems that present different views on queerness; it’s also got a number of different approaches to poetry, from the traditional (Mary Alexander Agner’s ‘Tertiary’, for instance) to the barely-recognisably-poetic (Samantha Henderson’s ‘The Gabriel Hound’). The mixture of approaches is handled well by Lemberg in her selection, avoiding leaning too heavily on tradition or on the edge-cases; a variety of styles means that poems are held entirely distinct in the mind of the reader. These are mostly also narrative poems, leaning towards the speculative or at least slipstream; fairytale-like poems (Lisa M. Bradley’s ‘we come together we fall apart’) are side by side with out-and-out science fictional narratives (Alex Dally MacFarlane’s ‘Sung Around Alsar-Scented Fires’) and poems that aren’t really speculative at all (Hel Gurney’s ‘Hair’). The variety of subjects, styles and approaches to telling queer stories, and the importance of queerness to those stories (MacFarlane’s poetry is both truly beautiful and only tangentially queer) all bring out different parts of the queer experience.
The poem that most stands out for me is a prose-poem, beautifully told and stunning lyrical; Alexandra Seidel’s ‘A Masquerade in Four Voices’ continues to stick with me and haunt me, lines resounding in my mind, even as I write this review having finished the collection and pottered around for a bit. A relatively simple fairytalesque prose narrative, it is told in poetic style, and the beauty of it is a dark and haunting one; three pages of absolutely stunning verse(?) really stick in the mind. Of course, it’s far from the only wonderful piece of writing; Bogi Takács’ ‘The Handcrafted Motion of Flight’ is a brilliant piece of futurist agendered storytelling as well as being fascinating poetry, and its use of Spivak pronouns is incredibly effective, as is the slow realisation of the narrator of the agendered identity of the character they are observing – and the reactions of those surrounding the narrator. On the other hand, some poems seem to drag for too long, with Bradley’s ‘we come together we fall apart’ taking up a quarter of the chapbook but actually just seeming to fill space and Mary Alexandra Agner’s ‘Tertiary’ feeling a touch messier and less well written than many of the entries.
Here, We Cross is perhaps most noteworthy, in queer terms, for the attempt to cover the breadth of queer identities; Lemberg has included poems covering gender and sexuality, in a wide variety of permutations, and in doing so has ensured that the reader isn’t excluded from the queer community she is curating. This may be in part due to her own background as a queer immigrant to the United States, and it shows in her contributors; largely female-identified and many of them are queer-identified, both sadly still unusual facts for a speculative fiction anthology.
Lemberg’s collection, then, not only spans a variety of poetic styles and includes some really strong poems, but Here, We Cross also highlights a number of queer voices all too often sidetracked in the speculative fiction conversation, and should be applauded for that.