'Gender is the poetry each of us makes out of the language we are taught' - Leslie Feinberg
It's International Transgender Day of Visibility today, and to celebrate we've put together this list of interesting and important trans women and non-binary poets from the last century.
We're also delighted to be able to share this specially commissioned essay by poet Rachel Mann, on the surprising gender transgressions of the Victorian poets.
To all of our trans and non-binary followers, guest poets, wandering spirits... we're wishing you the happiest and most hopeful of spring days.
The D[W]PS Team
1. Kari Edwards (1954-2006)
'the day shifts, we talk to each other the way we talk to each other, the luster fades, our bodies fill with sap, there is a shift, joy reappears ...'
[extract from 'the day shifts', read the full poem here]
Born in Illinois, Edwards was a poet and sculptor with an MA in Psychology. Publishing six books of poetry during her lifetime with various presses, she also received the New Langton Arts Bay Area Award in literature in 2002, and Small Press Traffic’s Book of the Year Award in 2004. During the last six years of her life, in San Francisco, she became active in the local trans and queer activist communities, and launched the blog Transdada. Her last book of poems, Bharat jiva (Belladonna Books), was published posthumously in 2009. A selection of her poems can be read here on the website of the Academy of American Poets.
2. Edras Parra (1937-2004)
'And when you step forward through the chasms you don’t turn your head you adhere to the vision of the trench and the void you extend your hands to touch the shadows and you smile though there is a long way still and you do not slow.'
[From True Midday, translation by Jamie Berrout, quoted here in a review by Nora Collen Fulton]
Parra was a Venezuelen poet, born in Santa Cruz de Mora. She lived briefly in London during the 1970's. Her first collection of poems Este suelo secreto (How to survive hope) was published in Spanish 1995, and published in English translation by Jamie Berrout in 2004. Parra published three collections of poetry in her lifetime, and a book of her collected poems was also published in translation by Jamie Berrout more recently in 2018. She was a founding editor of the literary magezine Imagen.
I am, I continue to be, a project in the course of being realised. […] Existence in itself, alone, explains its own self and is sufficient' - Edras Parra
3. Marsha P Johnson (1945-1992)
African American drag queen, activist, sex worker and model Marsha P Johnson, is best known for being one of the instigators of the Stonewall riots in 1969. Yet she was also a poet, who sometimes performed poetry as part of her performance acts for predominantly gay audiences. The 'p' in her name is said to stand for 'pay it no mind, her catchphrase. Johnson was known for wearing a crown of flowers in her hair, as she often slept rough in the flower district of Manhattan.
Here is a rare video of Johnson performing her poem, 'You Gotta Have Soul'!.