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Poetry served gay and lesbian liberationists in the years following Stonewall as a mechanism for translating queer experience into a language shared amongst the members of emergent sociopolitical LGBTQ+ communities. Poetry figured prominently in the historical period's activist little magazines, newsletters, and other periodicals as means of doing this work of self-construction and world-building, a simple fact largely unappreciated by both queer studies (which overlooks non-narrative forms) and contemporary American poetry studies (which dismisses much activist poetry as identitarian agitprop). But poetry, due to its formal differences from narrativity, has been a site for queer revolutionary action and imaginaries because it can foreground intimacy and can foment new relational forms, while deconstructing heteronormative codes of self and collectivity. Commonplace associations of queer translation with cross-language literary translation can provide a starting point for my discussion. Activist-poets discussed include anti-carceral gay activist Paul Mariah's translations in ManRoot of French writer Jean Genet's verse; lesbian feminist poet Judy Grahn's figurative translation of the Sumerian poet Enheduanna, reimagining her epic about the goddess Inanna in a lesbian bar; and Beat poet Harold Norse's celebrated homoerotic translations of the ancient Roman Catullus, a decades-long project pre- and postdating Stonewall. Recovering such liberationists translation projects can help us refigure understandings of how queer poetry and queer translation are not just literary products or artifacts from LGBTQ+ history but instead are present and future modalities and processes of political living and becoming.


This is the Author's Accepted Manuscript. The Version of Record appears here: Keenaghan, E. (2023). Liberation's Love Language: The Politics and Poetics of Queer Translation after Stonewall. PMLA, 138(3), 845-849. doi:10.1632/S0030812923000706

Special issue: Translation, edited by A. E. Coldiron, in the essay cluster “The Changing Profession.”

Available for download on Saturday, March 23, 2024


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