Love as Survival: A Review of Caseyrenée Lopez’s QueerSexWords

In Caseyrenée Lopez’s QueerSexWords (Yellow Chair Press, 2016) the poet opens up their rib cage with pliers and lets us witness the pain and warrior-like beating of their heart. How apropos in this revolting political climate where the POTUS himself is a racist abuser of all people outside of the straight white male prototype, that Lopez’s words sing and scream with grief, power, and stamina. Lopez does not give up, so can we?

A gamut of work runs at breakneck speed through a sexuality spectrum in this collection. Beginning with some solid perfect lust in “The Kiss,” the poet elevates pure physical hunger to “light particles” and scientific facts and descriptions. Lopez’s images depict a perfect linear pathway from body to thought: lips and skin become something else entirely. (Don’t we all want to evolve from our flesh anyway?)

When our lips meet and
Our limbs mingle together
There is no me and there is no you…
And Einstein knew better in
1935 when he and his colleagues
discovered quantum entanglement—
“spooky action at a distance” is our minds at work
when we cross into the Realm of eroticism…

This description of kissing and light and entanglement reminds me of the creation of the cosmos and the inclusivity of the all bodies in the world, all flesh. Yes, the solar system is chaotic and perfect simultaneously.

The choppy and abrupt format of the poem “Hands” also conveys a scientific bent, even though it is more romantic when cut through to the center. “Hands” breaks down the idea of cohabitation, making it seem like a glossary at the back of a textbook:

We’ve done it all right,
I think—

& visceral

Followed by
& construction
Of (shared) life,
& then marriage…

The way the stilted language and presentation of this poem falls on the page like a to-do list reminds the reader that a relationship is a pathway. Falling in love, like the words appear to fall down the page, in this almost clinical style, makes the reader think of their own mortality. We all end up in the same place, no matter who or what we cling to.

The passage of time is an ever-present theme in Lopez’s collection, as is decaying flesh and evolution. In “How to Create a Woman,” (after Mary Wollstonecraft’s Maria: A response to “why is feminism important?”) Lopez paints a bleak demon picture of a tortured woman who is…

flayed to the bone,
and filled with misery

the maggots & flies
eat and mutilate the carrion
that complete her

in a callous world
her soul tides retreat

into the deepest, darkest
trenches of the sea…

falling prey to the lies
of demon men…

This poem, structured like a fable, describes a woman in pain and echoes the gut-wrenching “#OneInThreeWomen,” – the statistic that “one in three women will be sexually abused, raped, and otherwise harassed in her lifetime.”

Lopez’s speaker describes abuse candidly, and the reader identifies with these words in the closing stanzas:

…I still chase after the girl I
was & think: maybe I’ll catch her one
day & give her the courage to accept
her past…

We are all trying to get back to a “happy” girl: she might not be as happy as we remember, but the speaker of these poems describes an amazing love, a hearty lust, and the idea of accepting people in whatever form we meet them in and whatever form they end up in.

Lopez also plays with surrealism and metaphor in “Circus Girls.” These girls at the circus are like the stereotypical straight female man hunter, all out to land a rich husband. Lopez uses a stellar color palette and rich imagery to showcase performing pea hens:

They sink to the bottom of Hell & give up all autonomy to be
contained under coat—a sign of wealth,
or maybe a sign of good health. They dance
in a circle & let the games begin—it’s open
season for these muthafuckers. They’re all so
ready to claw the other’s eyes out & limit the
spoils, or maybe kill the competition…

There is also the idea of breeding at whatever cost and it is humorous and dark at the same time.

The collection explores what it means to suffer, to endure discrimination, to feel excluded and also targeted in one’s own home, but its primary theme is survival and love. Lopez’s last poem of the collection, “when you love a trans person,” should have been the inaugural poem of 2017. These lines alone:

when you love a trans person
it’s love. just love.

Jennifer MacBain-Stephens is the author of two full-length poetry collections: Your Best Asset is a White Lace Dress (Yellow Chair Press, 2016) and The Messenger is Already Dead (forthcoming from Stalking Horse Press, 2017.) She is also the author of eight chapbooks. Her chapbook Dixit: Every Picture Tells a Story, or The Wrong Items is forthcoming from White Knuckle Press in 2017 and She Came Out From Under the Bed (Poems Inspired by the Films of Guillermo del Toro) is forthcoming from Dancing Girl Press. Recent work can be seen at Lime Hawk, concis, Sweet Tree Review, Kestrel, The Chiron Review, decomp, and Inter/rupture. Visit

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