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BOOK REVIEW Subject to Change: Trans Poetry and Conversation
by Liz Baudler
2017-10-31

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Edited by H. Melt. $17, Sibling Rivalry Press, 110 pages

In some ways, Subject To Change, the new collection of trans and gender-nonconforming poets assembled by Chicagoan H. Melt ( the recent winner of the Judith Markovitz Emerging Writers Award from Lambda Literary ), is brief, numbering 110 pages.

However, you wouldn't know it; the poetry inside is expansive in incredible directions, as are Melt's interviews with poets Kay Ulanday Barrett, Joshua Jennifer Espinoza, Christopher Soto, bezya ozer and Cameron Awkward-Rich. Not to damn with faint praise, but Subject to Change is a truly inspiring collection—but not in the inspiration-porn sense. It's a collection celebrating the queering of insight and the queering of view of accepted trope, whether political or societal or through inquiry or composition. It throbs with the weighted emotion of experience: You can tell this pain and joy came from some place real, and its assembly is a singular gift reflecting its owner.

The work veers from plaintive directness to complex parenthetical experience in ways that feel entirely appropriate for such a multilayered subject. Soto's "Home [Chaos Theory]," one of the book's longer pieces, is a microcosm of the collection as a whole. It weds direct political address, "Let's talk about the ownership of/Land as a colonial construct & how the police state was created/to protect stolen property" with sharp yet fantastic imagery, "the space between us was a walrus/With sharp tusks." A similar dynamic is on display in the work of local poet ozer, who presents concepts like celestial and interrupts the line of imagery with starkness, "if a man asks you to smile it's okay to tell him to fuck off." Rich follows that vein, with images that are by turn gentle and humorous to more fraught. Espinoza and Barrett are more confrontational, and their works bookend the collection. Barrett, in particular, invokes their Chicago roots in the ode "Albany Park/Logan Square 1993-2000 Chicago, IL." Their work speaks of the city's exponential growth and erasure, which mirrors the flowering of identity.

Melt's thoughtful, informed interviews are an welcome addition to an already standout collection. The poets think aloud about the factors that inform both about themselves and their work in genuine, revealing ways. All of them seem to echo ozer's statement, "right now, I'm waiting for my life to begin" whether they're thinking about the future, as Rich does, or celebrating finally having a book, like Barrett, and they help add context to work that is already standing powerfully alone, yet in defiant, celebratory chorus with its peers.

The release party for Subject to Change will be held Wed., Nov. 8, at 7:30 p.m. at Women and Children First Bookstore, 5233 N. Clark St.


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