This Anthology of Trans Poetics Channels a Spirit of Dissent

The cover of We Want It All: An Anthology of Trans Poetics, edited by Andrea Abi-Karam and Kay Gabrial (Nightboat Books, 2020; image courtesy the publisher)

Anthologies, like canons, often fall apart when looked at with any sincerity. The intention to encapsulate poets of a specific identity often fails in one or more respects due to the multitudes they contain. Andrea Abi-Karam and Kay Gabriel, co-editors of We Want It All: An Anthology of Radical Trans Poetics, take up this problem of representation — specifically of trans lives — directly, writing in their introduction, “we aim in this volume to assemble a trans poetics that both addresses and articulates itself beyond the confines of our own lives.” The editors utilize the political potency of poetry as not revolutionary in itself, but as a way “to inhabit a revolutionary practice.” Poetry is an everyday weapon, formidable against the cruel mundane. It is in that discursive, dissident vein that this anthology comes into being.

We Want It All is multi-genre, pulling from all strains of contemporary poetics. “Everywhere We Look, There We Are,” by Cameron Awkward-Rich (of Dispatch) — the first in a series of similarly crafted poems by the author — uses titles and omissions from press clippings to tell stories about the toll of being bound to one’s societally-assigned gender. His is a prominent voice within the anthology’s strain of reconfiguring violent source texts against themselves to create historical correctives.

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“from Mud in Love,” an excerpt from a play by Maxe Crandall (The Nancy Reagan Collection (2020)), further expands the formal range of the collection. MUD, the scene’s titular character, contemplates their existence while consuming an earthy substance. Crandall poses coy questions about the emulsion and its role in society, as well as its forgiving and constitutive role in ecology. 

Kiyan Williams, a gender non-conforming multidiscinary artist who works in video, performance, and sculpture, investigates this same substance. In videos and photographs, Williams pours soil onto themself (“Meditations on Gender and the Process of Un/becoming,” 2018), building arms outstretched from the banks of the James River in Richmond, Virginia where some of the first enslaved peoples were brought on North America (“Reaching Towards Warmer Suns,” 2020). Williams respects the role of dirt as a witness to self-making for Black peoples in the modern world. The malleable nature of dirt, as both life-giving and death-bearing, activates dissent towards the carceral nature of category, for each of these artists and the anthology more broadly.

This spirit of dissent also rears its head in Amy Marvin’s “Hey guys,” which relates its story of youthful self-fashioning through negation. Here, the construction of masculinity involves the policing of other genders parallel to the confidence it brings. Marvin’s critique highlights the mundane cruelty of identity. 

Such is identification via the negative. As jayy dodd writes in their poem “Exhibition,” “build this economy on anything i can’t. / my taste is acquired, so take your time.” These are poems that do not compromise. As the editors note, this anthology demands what Kristin Ross calls the “communal luxury: the insistence that, beyond subsistence, everyone must have their share of the best.” 

We Want It All: An Anthology of Radical Trans Poetics (Nightboat, 2020), edited by Andrea Abi-Karam and Kay Gabriel, is now available on Bookshop


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