In his poem “Secret Admirer: An Essay,” Benjamin S. Grossberg asks, “Why do people often end up contemptuous of the population they serve? Is there a way to avoid that?”
It’s probably this question, more than any other, that This Assignment is So Gay: LGBTIQ Poets on the Art of Teaching seeks to answer. Although not every teacher poet has the same answer, each of these poems struggles with the idea of being LGBTIQ, a teacher, and a person–all at the same time.
This collection contains 75 poets from the entire LGBTIQ spectrum. The reverse alphabetical order or authors gives a spark of the egalitarian nature of education. Each poet has between one and four poems in the collection, and most of the poems tend are a page or less in length.
As with any anthology, everyone has a different favorites. For me, highlights include Jeff Mann, Terry Martin, Stephen S. Mills, Rebecca Lynne Fullan, and Benjamin S. Grossberg. The points in the collection that work the best are those that deal with teaching in direct, flowing language that speaks in equal measure from the heart and the gut. These teacher poets don’t have time for abstraction: there’s too much to get done in a day.
The repeated recurrence of the theme of fear is unfortunate, although hardly unexpected. Some poets express fear for their students, but many others express fear that their schools, coworkers, administrators, and/or students will discover that they are queer. While some poet teachers rise to the challenge, many turn and hide. This anthology provides a sobering cross-section of how far there is to go between the Briggs Initiative of the past to true at-homeness in the modern school workforce for LGBTIQ employees.
From humor to horror, from sadness to solace, this collection embodies the true breadth and depth of a teacher’s life. It isn’t easy, these poets seem to agree, but it wouldn’t be the same if it were. This collection is recommended for any library that collects poetry.
Reviewer: John Mack Freeman