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Love Speaks Its Name: Gay and Lesbian Love Poems

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From Sappho to Shakespeare to Cole Porter–a marvelous and wide-ranging collection of classic gay and lesbian love poetry.

The poets represented here include Walt Whitman, Hart Crane, Gertrude Stein, Federico García Lorca, Djuna Barnes, Constantine Cavafy, Elizabeth Bishop, W. H. Auden, and James Merrill. Their poems of love are among the most perceptive, the most passionate, the wittiest, and the most moving we have. From Michelangelo’s “Love Misinterpreted” to Noël Coward’s “Mad About the Boy,” from May Swenson’s “Symmetrical Companion” to Muriel Rukeyser’s “Looking at Each Other,” these poems take on both desire and its higher power: love in all its tender or taunting variety.

256 pages, Hardcover

First published May 15, 2001

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About the author

J.D. McClatchy

70 books29 followers
McClatchy is an adjunct professor at Yale University and editor of the Yale Review. He also edits the "Voice of the Poet" series for Random House AudioBooks.

His book Hazmat (Alfred A. Knopf, 2002) was nominated for the 2003 Pulitzer Prize. He has written texts for musical settings, including eight opera libretti, for such composers as Elliot Goldenthal, Daron Hagen, Lowell Liebermann, Lorin Maazel, Tobias Picker, Ned Rorem, Bruce Saylor, and William Schuman. His honors include an Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters (1991). He has also been one of the New York Public Literary Lions, and received the 2000 Connecticut Governor’s Arts Award.

In 1999, he was elected into the membership of The American Academy of Arts and Letters, and in January 2009 he was elected president. He is a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and has received fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation (1987), the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Academy of American Poets (1991). He served as Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets from 1996 until 2003. (Wikipedia)

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5 stars
125 (49%)
4 stars
101 (39%)
3 stars
25 (9%)
2 stars
4 (1%)
1 star
0 (0%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 41 reviews
Profile Image for Miri.
43 reviews20 followers
June 13, 2020
we are so lucky to experience gay love
Profile Image for oumaima.
35 reviews30 followers
January 3, 2020
stopped midway through to eat a ripe persimmon over my sink, that is love
Profile Image for Dan.
6 reviews
April 14, 2012
I read this volume slowly over a number of months, a few poems before bed every night. It was a great way to end the day. The book is organized into several different themed sections that sort of chart the course of a relationship: Longing, Looking, Loving, Ecstasy, Anxiety, and Aftermath. The there is a good variety of poems authored by both men and women. I appreciated that the book reintroduced me to poems buy poets I had not heard of and reintroduced me to old favorites. It's a great book for your nightstand.
Profile Image for gash.
55 reviews14 followers
July 4, 2019
nothing in this world compares to how tender and beautiful gay love is
Profile Image for Bee.
119 reviews
June 15, 2014
Great choices and categories. I do wish there were more female entries.
90 reviews
October 1, 2017
This book was a gift of a dear friend of mine. A friend that is always going to stay my friend no matter what.

Ich vermisse dich

by Frank O'Hara

I will always love you
though I never loved you

a boy smelling faintly of heather
staring up at your window

the passion that enlightens
and stills and cultivates, gone

while I sought your face
to be familiar in the blueness

or to follow your sharp whistle
around a corner into my light

that was love growing fainter
each time you failed to appear

I spent my whole self searching
love which I thought was you

it was mine so briefly
and I never knew it, or you went

I thought it was outside disappearing
but it is disappearing in my heart

like snow blown in a window
to be gone from the world

I will always love you.
Profile Image for Blugoat.
30 reviews
July 22, 2022
Some of my favs:
- Love Misinterpreted by Michelangelo Buonarroti
- At a Dinner Party by Amy Levy
- Alexandrian Songs by Mikhail Kuzmin
- XVI from Twenty-One Love Poems by Adrienne Rich
Profile Image for Vicky.
46 reviews3 followers
November 20, 2021
When I am dead, even then,
I will still love you, I will wait in these poems,
When I am dead, even then,
I am still listening to you.
I will still be making poems for you
Out of silence;
Silence will be falling into silence,
It is building music.
-Muriel Rukeyser
Profile Image for S.E. Martens.
Author 3 books43 followers
June 5, 2022
What is more beautiful than night
and someone in your arms

- from Frank O'Hara's To You

This is a re-read I've been wanting to get to for a while now; June seems appropriate! I'd forgotten how beautiful the introduction is, by JD McClatchy. You know immediately that the poems were chosen with thought and care.

This collection feels like a journey through time, from the Ancient World through the Renaissance, up into the 19th and 20th centuries. The poems are transportive - some are lush, some are fleeting. There is something to be gotten from each one.

One poet who particularly jumped out at me this time around was Constantine Cavafy - He Asked About the Quality about a man buying handkerchiefs as an excuse to subtly flirt with the shop attendant is filled with so much longing, while also painting a clear portrait of a time when you couldn't be out in public.

Quickly, secretly, so the shopowner sitting
at the back
wouldn't realize what was going on.

But there are so many excellent poems here.

I had a stressful week and couldn't really read much of anything, so it was a relief to lose myself here.
Profile Image for Sophie.
2,478 reviews102 followers
January 22, 2019
Every now and then I fall apart, uh, no. Every now and then I encounter books that literally change my life, or at least push my reading in a very different direction. This is such a book. Because of this collection I spend more than 200 € on other poetry collections, and I have no regrets. It’s an excellent collection of gay and lesbian poetry. The percentage of lesbian poetry could be higher, but I admit it was some of the male poets whose work resonated most for me. I highly recommend this to anyone looking to discover some new poets. And while I have now read all of the poems in this book, I have by no means finished it - I know I will pick it up again and again.
401 reviews6 followers
January 5, 2022
The introduction to this collection is a 5/5 stars hands down. I had never given serious thought to why poetry is the ideal medium to convey gay love, but this line opened my eyes and made me cry: “The very conventions of poetry were devised to encode experience, to make it less obvious and thereby more true.” UGH. What a beautiful introduction to this collection. I am quite picky with what poetry I enjoy, so many of these poems slipped past my consciousness, and I was also disappointed by the proportional lack of female poets (although I understand the historical reasons for this). Despite my pickiness, it is still a really beautiful collection that I appreciate deeply.
32 reviews
June 15, 2022
"Their poems about love are among the most perceptive and exultant we have. Because their desires have been deemed dangerous, and their lives made difficult, they place a unique value on true love. There are no simple formulas in this book. Pleasure has been wrung from pain, illumination wrested from bitterness and fear, the moment of transcendence stolen from complacent hours. The results may startle or thrill.
But here is the very life of love in all its complexity. Here is the art of poetry -daring, darting, connecting, consoling - at its best. "

Gorgeous collection. I do wish there was more queer joy in this, the constant reminder of the discretion and fear of discovery took some of the joy out of it for me. We are so much more than fear and hushed secrecy, wish that was reflected more in this collection.
Profile Image for Anne Cecilie.
45 reviews1 follower
February 25, 2022
A beautiful collection of poetry. It is a quite profound experience to see yourself as clearly represented as I felt while reading these poems.

It works both as an introduction to queer poetry in general for people who haven’t read much of it, but avid poetry readers will also be able to discover new voices in this collection.
Profile Image for Eskil.
311 reviews2 followers
March 27, 2021
les dette til kidsa på skolen i stedet for hamsun, herregud
Profile Image for Dr. Madeline Henry.
205 reviews7 followers
January 16, 2020
I really enjoyed this collection of poems, and it introduced me to quite a few new gay and lesbian poets. I appreciated how it was divided into stages of love: longing, looking, loving, ecstasy, anxiety, and aftermath.

My favorite poems in the sections included:

•Be Kind to Me by Sappho
•At Baia by H.D.
•He Asked About the Quality by Constantine Cavafy

•At a Dinner Party by Amy Levy

•The Bandaged Shoulder by Constantine Cavafy
•I Get a Kick Out of You by Cole Porter
•Keeping Time by Melvin Dixon

•Shenandoah by Honor Moore

•Losing My Mind by Stephen Sondheim

•Songs From the House of Death, or How to Make it Through to the End of a Relationship by Joy Harjo
Profile Image for Sarah.
92 reviews25 followers
May 27, 2021
A collection of poems either by LGBT poets and/or featuring presumed same-sex romances. There's really nothing specifically LGBT about the poems themselves, though. Love is love is love is love is love is love is love, as a great man said. They capture specific and universal experiences of the stages of love, but the collection is much richer, more nuanced, and eclectic than the staid and generic public-domain selections that make up the "Love Poems" volume in this series, whose contents are so predictable there's very little life in them. The poems here are not all contemporary by any measure - they go as far back as Sappho - but the juxtaposition of old and new gives new life to both. This collection was thoughtfully assembled and very touching.
Profile Image for baelgia.
70 reviews30 followers
May 20, 2021
- A Glimpse by Walt Whitman
- Episode of Hands by Hart Crane
- The Coastguard Station by Henri Cole
- "When I heard at the close of the day" by Walt Whitman
- Having a Coke With You by Frank O'Hara
- Night Gleam by Allen Ginsberg
- A Light Left On by May Sarton
- "Ah, Love, you smell of petroleum" by Judy Grahn
- The Taxi by Amy Lowell
- One Art by Elizabeth Bishop
- Turning Forty in the 90's by Melvin Dixon
- Apologia by Oscar Wilde
- Songs from the House of Death, or How to Make it Through to the End of a Relationship by Joy Harjo
Profile Image for Paula_ reads.
286 reviews4 followers
May 17, 2018
This is a highly recommendable lovely collection of gay and lesbian love poems. What could be a better day to post about this than on this International Day Against Homophobia. The authors range from Cole Porter, W.H. Auden, Federico García Lorca, Walt Whitman, Gertrude Stein and many more. It's sorted into Longing, Looking, Loving, Ecstasy, Anxiety and Aftermath. Just this sorting shows how much thought has been put into this collection.

Another great volume in the Everyman's Library of Pocked Poets.
Profile Image for Lydia.
214 reviews
June 16, 2021
“Love Speaks Its Name: Gay and Lesbian Love Poems” edited J. D. McClatchy is a wonderful collection of poetry, with a wide range of included poets. The book is split into six sections “Longing”, “Looking”, “Loving”, “Ecstasy”, “Anxiety”, and “Aftermath”, and each section has a distinctive tone despite the variety of poetry styles. The formatting and binding of the book is also lovely, and has a classical aesthetic to the binding. The only drawback is the size of the book.
Profile Image for Jonathan.
897 reviews38 followers
January 11, 2019
One of the things I like about anthologies is discovering someone I want to read more of. In this case it was James Baldwin - I have read most of his novels and non-fiction, but until now none of his poetry. Apart from him there are many other wonderful poets represented here, and I expect I will come back to this book many times. Part of the lovely Everyman's Library Pocket Poets series.
Profile Image for Iúdín.
35 reviews1 follower
July 3, 2020
Reading some of these verses was a very emotional experience. I absolutely loved this poetry collection - some I knew, but so many were new to me. It's one of those books that'll sit on the corner of my desk and I'll keep coming back to. I'm now away down a rabbit hole to explore more work from 2 of the poets that were new to me, and I regret nothing. Five stars.
34 reviews
February 5, 2021
A good selection of nice poems. Some stand out more than others, but poems that some like, others will hate. A nice jumping off point. There is, if you're willing to sift through, something for everyone to enjoy.
Profile Image for Minh.
33 reviews
May 23, 2017
It's so good that I carry it with me everyday.
Profile Image for Terri.
131 reviews
March 10, 2020
I skipped some of the poems. I might be biased, but I thought the wlw poems were all better than the mlm ones.
Profile Image for Bella.
456 reviews16 followers
May 22, 2020
Exquisitely gay! The perfect mix of love poems, lust poems and poems about shame and death, as any gay poem collection needs. Absolutely lovely.
Profile Image for Morgan.
795 reviews22 followers
March 29, 2022
Didn't know a lot of these poets were queer! So it was interesting to reread many of them. Also, lots of men and not enough BIPOC.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 41 reviews

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