Not Your Binary: A QTPOC Reading Column – A Reading of Aziza Barnes’s “Alleyway”

Aziza Barnes’s “Alleyway” speaks with curiosity and conviction about the versatility of the conscious, even when the body cannot follow the same adaptability. Barnes demonstrates the restraint between mind and body through the prosaic poem’s form. Poetic features stand in to explore the contingency of the mind, which teeter between rejection or acceptance of the body’s limits, leaving the prosaic form to symbolize the body’s limitations. Aziza Barnes’s speaker is transparent in their criticism of themselves:

As fresh garbage is. As dirt sucked out of a fingernail. As a wall clean of prostitutes. When I am this I am at the mercy of my nakedness.

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Not Your Binary: A QTPOC Reading Column – A Reading of Jayy Dodd’s “Narcissus Stunts for the Void & Becomes a Flower”

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In embodying the Greek god Narcissus, Jayy Dodd’s speaker in “Narcissus Stunts for the Void & Becomes a Flower” is unapologetically assured in themself: “i am a genius & i won’t say that again.” The significance in Narcissus as a medium of expression for the “self” comes from the admiration of one’s own beauty. That is, the speaker’s self-love is not an object of shame or vanity, but acceptance:

before i knew what i was, I WAS, & knowing was the best thing for me.
yet, after knowing what i am, i am, & will be: all i have left.
i am the coagulation of so much wonder.

The speaker’s confidence communicates a conscious truth. On top of becoming cognizant of “self,” the speaker establishes an affinity between the perception of their identity and their body:

this body been a bxtch, i just call her one now.

Jayy Dodd’s speaker validates the feelings behind the fluidity of gender—regardless of the outer performance. The speaker asserts the ability to accept their presence in this world as their own awareness, never relying on the “comprehension” of those around them:

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Not Your Binary: A QTPOC Reading Column – A Reading of Christopher Soto’s “Los Padrinos Juvenile Detention Center, Unit Y2”

For the first installment of Not Your Binary: A QTPOC Reading Column, a reading column centralizing on the contemporary voices of queer and/or trans people of color in the literary world, I will be discussing Christopher Soto’s “Los Padrinos Juvenile Detention Center, Unit Y2.” Because this is the first installment of my reading column, I want to emphasize the importance on centralizing marginalized voices, stepping aside from the dominant, mainstream culture, to exercise the very existence of surviving and living as a QTPOC, in and out of the literary world. This column is an exploration of political identities and of systemic realities; specifically, in the ways literature can either work to deliver, express, or alleviate the stress that comes with embodying the very existence of being a QTPOC in the time and setting each writer transports us to.

Christopher Soto’s “Los Padrinos Juvenile Detention Center, Unit Y2” takes the reader to a juvenile center, where the speaker volunteers and helps young men sublimate their emotions from acting negligent to poetry: “to be here / where the concrete ends / & page begins.”

Moreover, Soto takes on poetic devices, as well as theoretical devices, alluding to dates and research, revealing both intended and unintended consequences of the prison industrial complex that the speaker suits the reader in. The intentions behind keeping prisons open and alive are many, but what is often ignored is the unintended consequences of the prison industrial complex, which are violent: “each body is disciplined for its difference,” “[physical assault],” and “[one] can’t even scream in pain / [without being pathologized].” The attraction to keeping the prison industrial complex alive is the idea that the system eradicates crime and alleviates society of its “social issues,” yet the false comfort that comes with this “solution” is knowing that keeping this system alive only feeds to another individual’s nightmare: “Dee Dee / A trans woman / sentenced sixty years of life / [in a men’s prison].”

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