Gary Gamza

Beauty, Romance, Horror: The Queer Poetics of Leigh Nishi-Strattner’s ‘Bone Honey’

Best known for her vogue triumphs in New York and Portland clubs, Leigh Nishi-Strattner has published a set of poems that celebrates sensory delights

By ANDREW JANKOWSKI

In his now-classic essay collection Ways of Seeing, the late artist and art critic John Berger distilled lightning with his take on classic depictions of the feminine: “You painted a naked woman because you enjoyed looking at her. Put a mirror in her hand and you called the painting ‘Vanity,’ thus morally condemning the woman whose nakedness you had depicted for your own pleasure.”

In Portland, the poet, performance artist and model Leigh Nishi-Strattner embodies Berger’s sentiment as a queer high femme, concerning herself with validating labors and expressions discouraged by toxic masculine culture. Whether she’s writing poetry, serving looks, or sharing her beauty secrets with one of the world’s biggest magazines, Nishi-Strattner stretches and bends the antiquated binary notions of how a woman can be. In November, the small press Club Soft Things hosted a salon to celebrate the release of Nishi-Strattner’s debut collection of romantic prose poetry, Bone Honey.

Leigh Nishi-Strattner at the publication party for Bone Honey, her new poetry collection/Photo by Alec Marchant

Held at a warehouse in inner Southeast Portland, three dozen people gathered to hear Nishi-Strattner and fellow Club Soft Things poet Gary Gamza, who uses they/them pronouns. Salon patrons ate hors d’oeuvres, drank cocktails, chatted and perused other CST titles sold by publisher Emily Daniels.

The warehouse had one room decorated with gilded tropical leaves, a candelabra, tea and prayer candles, lit by what looked like a red gelled X-ray reader. The other was lit only by a circle of white prayer candles and dried flowers repurposed from the rapper Maarquii’s album release party the week prior. This room, containing an antique upholstered wicker chair that belonged to Nishi-Strattner’s grandmother, was where Daniels introduced Gamza and Nishi-Strattner, describing their work as making the reader feel comfortable being vulnerable.

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