Romancing the Rhyme

With Valentine's Day looming just around the corner, what better time to acquaint yourself with some of our finest gay and lesbian writers as they tackle that perennial subject -- love?

Gay Love Poetry ($11.95, Carroll & Graf), an anthology edited by Neil Powell, includes works by some of the greatest poets throughout history organized around six themes. The first section, "Nature Boys," includes pastoral poems by Virgil, Shakespeare's Sonnet 99, two of Walt Whitman's Calamus poems, and Roger Finch's modern retelling of the Ganymede myth. In a section called "Lad's Love," Powell draws from the ancient Roman poets Catullus and Martial (whose Epigram IV.7 ends with the lines "Why, Hyllus, do you tease me so, / Who loved me a mere day ago, / If then a boy how, without warning, / Have you become a man this morning?" Here also is Whitman's "We Two Boys Together Clinging," as well as contemporary poems by J.D. McClatchy, Gregory Woods, and Peter Wyles.

The final section, "In Memoriam," includes poems by wartime poets Wilfred Owen and J. R. Ackerley, and the book concludes with "The Playground Bell," Adam Johnson's moving self-elegy.

While Gay Love Poetry excels with its historical depth, My Lover Is A Woman ($18.50, Ballantine), edited by Leslea Newman, shines with its remarkable breadth. Newman has gathered 202 poems from 126 writers that convey the complexities of contemporary lesbian life and love. Contributors range from well-known poets such as Adrienne Rich and Dorothy Allison, to emerging writers like Kitty Tsui and Shay Youngblood. Newman has also included several women whose work is published here for the first time.

This multiplicity of voices leads to a wide range of subject matter, from Emily Lloyd's "At The Michigan Womyn's Music Festival, 1994" to Elizabeth Clare's "How To Talk To A New Lover About Cerebral Palsy." Other poems deal with such issues as sexual abuse, breast cancer, and inter-racial relationships. The work shows us that the line separating the personal and the political can be easily erased, and that a love poem can convey rage as well as tenderness.

The anthology explores love in a variety of ways, from the lesbian-style puppy-love of "Kissing Coco," by Liz Queeney, to Mary Ann McFadden's "Marriage" and boldly erotic poems by Eileen Myles, Marilyn Hacker, and Lori Faulkner.

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