Even before the panelists took to the stage for the Bay Area Book Festival’s “Queer Poetics” panel, the room was jampacked with youth and adults alike. It was so crowded that some audience members ended up sitting on the floor, but this didn’t seem to deter the positive energy. The programming felt more like a gathering between friends than a formal event.
Poets Sam Sax, Tommy Pico, Franny Choi and Brenda Shaughnessy were the featured panelists during “Queer Poetics,” with the conversation moderated by Ari Banias, a poet himself. In his introduction, Banias said, “Each poet sitting next to me here is considering queer pasts, writing from the present afterlives of colonial expansion and capitalist violence, and plotting the queer future.”
After Banias noted themes that pop up in the works of the poets — “Asian American-ness,” “faggotry,” “environmental ruin,” to name a few of many — each poet read from their work. Each writer put their own flair on the way they read aloud, with Choi and Sax bringing their extensive slam poetry experience to the table. Pico also put on a dramatic performance as he read from his poetry collection “Junk,” which earned him a great deal of claps and laughs in response. One line in particular had the audience roaring in laughter: “You know how some people are workaholics? / Well, I’m an alcoholic!”
Shaughnessy was the last to read, voicing her awe before she launched into her own poetry: “If we have a future,” she said, addressing the other poets, “it’s you.”
This foreshadowed the themes Shaughnessy approaches in her work, “The Octopus Museum,” which imagines the world in the future after we (in Shaughnessy’s words) “have ruined everything.”
While reading her work, Shaughnessy noted that a reference to Funyuns — which made the Bay Area Book Festival audience laugh — fell flat when she was reading in Canada. It wasn’t uncommon for the poets to stop during their reading and offer up fun facts, anecdotes and explanations for their words, which made the panel feel all that much more intimate given the limited time allotted for questions.
The last portion of the panel was devoted to audience questions, which were answered with deliberate care by each poet. By the end of it all, everyone on the panel had come to the same conclusion: “The future,” as Pico eloquently noted, “is gay.”