A copy of H Warren’s “Binded” is held in the Peninsula Clarion building on Thursday, June 1, 2023, in Kenai, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

A copy of H Warren’s “Binded” is held in the Peninsula Clarion building on Thursday, June 1, 2023, in Kenai, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

Off the Shelf: Political resistance bound to the personal

“Binded,” a new poetry anthology by Alaska author, confronts nonbinary, rural existence

I’ve always found poetry a bit intimidating. Sometimes I think I know where one is going, then out of nowhere I’m thrown for a loop and left puzzled with a ring of SAT prep words circling my head like cartoon birds. Some are confusing from the get-go.

I was determined this week, however, to dive into “Binded,” a collection of poetry by Fairbanks poet and musician H Warren, that arrived in the Clarion’s mailbox earlier this year. An insert from the publishing company that caught my eye teased a debut collection that interrogates “the courage it takes to heal and exist in the world today” as a nonbinary person living in rural Alaska.

“Binded” was exactly as advertised.

Across roughly 75 pages, Warren presents 50 poems that vary in length and focus. There are many that outline the various emotions and experiences of being nonbinary, some that directly nod to things happening in Alaska, and others that offer a tender look into the author’s life.

There are poems that respond directly to events in Alaska politics, such as the poem “SEAM,” which Warren says is in response to the 2019 mayoral veto of a nondiscrimination ordinance, and “An Honest Budget,” which challenges Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s guiding budget principals.

“expenditures cannot consider the existing / the living / the breathing / the homeless / the hungry / our elders / the hurt,” read lines from “An Honest Budget.”

The poems confront multiple contemporary themes of transgender rights, such as bathroom use, media coverage of gender and the 2016 election. Many articulate the nonbinary and rural experience head-on, such as “Binder,” which uses the emotions and sensations of chest binding to describe other ways Warren feels bound as a nonbinary person.

“Binded tight can’t take off my pronoun you prefer / Binded rural,” one stanza says.

What the anthology does well is balance accessible concepts with a unique poetic style that is honestly presented and vulnerably shared. It’s a sharp collection of work that is a collective act of political resistance, the themes of which will surely resonate with anyone staying abreast of gender issues.

As pride month kicks off, “Binded” is a reminder that sometimes the easiest and most respectful act can be give people the space to tell their story, in their own words, on their own terms.

An advance reader’s copy of “Binded,” which will be published on July 11, was provided to the Clarion for free by Boreal Books, an imprint of Red Hen Books.

Off the Shelf is a bimonthly literature column written by the staff of the Peninsula Clarion that features reviews and recommendations of books and other texts through a contemporary lens. Reach reporter Ashlyn O’Hara at ashlyn.ohara@peninsulaclarion.com.

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