A book launch celebrating all things queer

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Michael Lee Richardson and Ryan Vance. (Photo Credit: Sebastian Faugstad)

“I tuck myself under the spathe
as if it were my mother’s pleated skirt.
Corpse-flower. Corpse-stiff and sweet,
the rotted grunt of its scent
enfolding me like a red womb,
holding me tight, safe against the spadix”

Poet Rachel Plummer reads one of her poems in front of eager listeners, Titan Arum. She is one of the contributing writers who have come to St Andrews Brewing Company in Edinburgh for the book launch of We Were Always Here. The world outside the windows is dark and frightening but in here, in this room warmed up by candlelight, diversity is fully accepted and there is no fear.

It is crowded. Glasses filled with beer and wine rest on the wooden tables that match the walls in the bar. On one of the tables there are stacks with the pink anthology, in which the words across the pages are written by people who identify themselves as queer. Other than Rachel Plummer, the contributors Andrés Ordorica, Jay G Ying and Christina Neuwirth are also here tonight.

“I’m going to finish with a poem about the Loch Ness Monster,” Rachel says, as she stands closer to the microphone. She explains that she thinks the monster is non-binary. On the top of her head, a leopard hat can be seen as part of the evening’s animal print theme. She lets go of the microphone and leaves the stage, but the hat stays on for the rest of the night.

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Poet Rachel Plummer. (Photo credit: Linnéa Lind)

“When I was in primary school, I had a fantastic teacher. I really loved poetry and he gave me a poem to read and to memorise. I just loved him so much that I started to write my own versions and my own poems. I haven’t stopped since,” she says while adjusting the leopard on her head.

Rachel has received a commission from LGBT Youth Scotland to write children’s poems based on traditional Scottish folk stories. She says that her sexual orientation often comes through in her poetry.

“I have two children. When I used to tell stories to my daughter I would swap the genders as I read them. Then I thought that maybe other people would be interested in these versions of these stories. That’s how I got into writing children’s poetry.”

When Rachel was young, she did not have many friends and would read many books.
“I felt really different to everybody else and that’s partly because of the queerness and the difference. I read a lot to escape from that. The whole thing made me feel kind of monstrous and I thought that maybe I was the only one in the world who felt like that,” she reveals, “I would really like to put my poetry in the hands of children who feel like that and show them that they are allowed to exist.”

The editors of the anthology, Ryan Vance and Michael Lee Richardson, share their excitement and often laugh with the listeners. Together, they run Queer Words Project Scotland for emerging queer writers. The anthology We Were Always Here is the result of queer literary pieces that were chosen among many submissions.

“A part of the project is to widen the margins a bit and creating a space for people that don’t always get an opportunity and a space,” says Michael Lee Richardson.

The book cover may be delightful and cheery in its pink shade, but the content deals with serious issues such as homophobia and sexual abuse.

“There is a lot of work in the book that reflects on how difficult it is to just get by sometimes. If you read it from cover to cover, there are a few shifts in tone. The pieces go from sweet heart-warming narratives about people finding their place in the world, to shocking moments of thinking that this is horrific, and it’s really refreshing to see queer people allowed to be monsters. We can’t be the best at everything and good all the time, we’re human,” says Ryan Vince.

Today is the first day of the LGBT History Month, which occurs in February each year in Scotland. Read more about it here.

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