Special Collections in Branson Library houses over 55,000 rare, valuable, and irreplaceable books on the history and culture of New Mexico and the Southwestern Borderlands. Included in the collection are titles by, for, and about the LGBTQIA+ community. Two young queer poets with New Mexico roots have recently made big impressions with their debut publications. To help celebrate 2021 Pride Season, let us take a brief look at the award-winning poetry of Jake Skeets and Benjamin Garcia.
Branson Library, Special Collections, PS3619.K46 A6 2019
Skeets was born in Gallup, New Mexico but grew up 22 miles to the south in Vanderwagen, a small village near the Navajo Nation. He credits a high school English teacher for introducing him to poetry. “(She) provided me a packet of poems by Native American poets. For the first time in my life, I was able to see myself represented in books and poetry. Becoming a poet became my goal.”[i] He earned a BA from the University of New Mexico and an MFA in poetry from the Institute of American Indian Arts and currently teaches at Diné College in Tsaile, Arizona.
His debut collection of poetry, Eyes Bottle Dark with a Mouthful of Flowers, examines Gallup, New Mexico – aka “Drunktown” – as a border town, an area where Indigenous language, field, sound, and geography interact with the wider world.[ii] A landscape “scarred by violence: done to it, done on it, done for it. Under the cover of deepest night, sleeping men are run over by trucks. Navajo bodies are deserted in fields. Resources are extracted. Lines are crossed. Men communicate through beatings, and football, and sex.”[iii] The cover of the book features a photograph of the poet’s uncle, Benson James. Taken by portrait photographer Richard Avedon in the summer of 1979, the “drifter” James was stabbed to death on the streets of Gallup one year later. [iv] His deceased uncle proved a haunting presence throughout Skeet’s collection.[v]
Published in September 2019, Skeet’s work earned universal praise, receiving the following recognition:
- Winner of the 2021 Kate Tufts Discovery Award
- Winner of a 2020 Whiting Award in Poetry
- Finalist for the 2020 Lambda Literary Award in Gay Poetry
- Named a “Best Poetry Book of 2019” by Electric Literature, Entropy Mag, and Auburn Avenue
- Named a “Favorite Book of 2019” by Lit Hub
- Named a “Best Queer Book of 2019” by BuzzFeed and Book Marks
When asked to describe his creative process and discuss his poetry, Skeets replied:
- I originally thought I was working on two collections: my “coming out” collection and a collection about the violence in border towns like Gallup, New Mexico. However, once I returned home to the Navajo Nation, I begin to see that those threads are woven. My sexuality is not free from my masculinity and my masculinity is not free from violence.[vi]
- I approached the poems in my collection without a call for social message or truth. I simply approached each poem with an accuracy of language, space, and image.[vii]
- Language is the root of poetry. I think American poetry needs to see the work of Diné poets and thinkers because our existence is an act of language and an act of poetry.[viii]
Branson Library, Special Collections, PS3607.A694 T48 2020
Born in New Mexico to Mexican parents and raised in Houston, Garcia grew up in a Spanish speaking household. Fascinated by the possibilities of language from an early age, he credits his study of the written and spoken word with his development as a poet.[ix] He earned a BA in English and Spanish from the University of New Mexico and an MFA from Cornell University, and currently works as a sexual health and harm reduction educator in the Finger Lakes region of New York.
Expressed in both English and Spanish, Garcia’s Thrown in the Throat deals directly with identity, familial relations and survival, desire, and ecology. Geographically set mainly in the American Southwest – New Mexico and the “gut of Texas” – Garcia uses landscapes, along with its flora and fauna, to question current and past social structures.[x] The shifting nature of language and the challenge of pinpointing meaning provide an additional, reoccurring theme, particularly in the four poems that share the title “The Language in Question.”[xi] “Benjamin Garcia speaks in tongues—tongues as vehicles of language, oppression, expression and desire; tongues full of humor and wordplay whose light touch add weight to larger issues of loss and memory and agency. This is a voice that conveys confidence and pride even as it illuminates a feeling of otherness.”[xii]
Published in August 2020, Garcia’s poetry immediately earned rave reviews and received the following recognition:
- 2019 National Poetry Series winner
- A Boston Globe Best Book of 2020
- A Lambda Literary “Most Anticipated LGBTQ Book” of August 2020
- Named a “Must-Read Poetry Collection” of August 2020 by The Millions
When asked about his poetry, its origins, and meaning, Garcia responded:
- This book is not just about self-empowerment. And self-acceptance is not as easy as just choosing to be happy. I think this book is about finding validation within yourself and how you respond to factors you may not always be able to control.[xiii]
- So I don’t think that I’m queering nature of ecology. I think nature and ecology are already queer as f**k! All I’m doing is trying to refocus on that by sometimes using language and image and metaphor and reference. We tend to impose our own values on the natural world, and the natural world has its own rules and it works in a way that doesn’t fit neatly into how we define gender or gender roles. We don’t always have the language for what we want to say.[xiv]
- Being a writer is all about the long arc. We want things NOW, at least, I always have. Especially when it comes to publishing. But it rarely works out that way. And even when it does, then what? Better to get lost in the work. If not yours, someone else’s.[xv]
- Poetry is language breaking silence.[xvi]
To view either of these new works – or other publications by, for, and about lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, intersex, androgynous, asexual, pansexual, two-spirit, or other gender and sexual identities – please visit the Caroline E. Stras Research Room on the 4th floor of Branson Library during research hours.
The Library coordinated with the NMSU LGBT+ Programs to create a display for 2021 Pride! Stop by the first floor of Zuhl Library and feel free to checkout any of the available items.