Poems about the queer immigrant experience

Book cover of Toska by Alina Pleskova with an illustration of a humanized grey fox wearing stockings, high-heeled boots and pasties. There is blood on the fur around its mouth, a prism with an eye rises from its hand, and a hand with a rainbow trail holds one breast.

Toska by Alina Pleskova

My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Toska is a Russian word which, as Alina Pleskova writes in the title poem of this collection, has no equivalent in English. I don’t speak Russian, but read that it’s an unhappiness, a deep sadness or melancholy. It’s sort of akin to the Portuguese word “saudade,” a term for bittersweet nostalgia, something that might have been, which is somewhat well-known in English poetry. Toska is indeed a sad, melancholy collection. Pleskova, as a queer woman and Russian immigrant living in Philadelphia during these tumultuous times, is an outsider in many ways, and her searching lack of belonging pervades these poems.

I bought this collection after hearing Pleskova read the brilliant “Our People Don’t Believe in Tears.” That turned out to be my favorite of the collection. I thought “Take Care” and “Sacred Bath Bomb” were also standouts. I find poems to be more effective on paper, but you can read these through the previous links and, if you enjoy them, give the collection a try. The notes at the back, which explain the cultural references, are helpful in order to fully appreciate the poems.

I enjoyed this collection overall, but did find the consistent tone of despair grueling. I would recommend reading it alongside other things and maybe not taking it all in at once.