Sebastian Schulman translates Benoît Philippe and Pieter de Graaff

Four Selections from Queer Esperanto Poetry

To My Crocodile, by Benoît Philippe

my chatty little crocodile,
have you disappeared to?
How empty
our home will be
without your feigned curiosity,
without your mangled mispronunciation!
Who is going to yawn now
when I drone on about the accusative case?
And who is going to complain
at least once a day
about the absurdity of the Sixteen Rules of Esperanto Grammar?
No more will you wipe your crocodile tears
on my green-starred chest,
and no more will there be someone
to indulge me 
when I say that I only feel at home
in this language.
Eloquent crocodile of mine, 
out there freezing on this cold winter night,
oh where could you be?


Two functions, by Benoît Philippe

Let me explain it to you:
To piss, just unzip
and pull it out 
It will obey lazily,
a humble gargoyle

But to do something more
coquettish (and so forth)
then hoist it up
It will bounce 
to and fro
reckless, pompous
and elegant


The Gaylord’s Prayer, by Benoît Philippe

Our Daddy, 
who art fabulous in heaven,
Hallowed be thy shaft
Thy King Dom cum
Thy thirst be quenched,
as in Paradise above,
so be it in our beds.

Give us this day our daily lust,
And forgive us our spunk stained sheets,
as we forgive our Oppressors;
Lead us not to the altar
and deliver us from marriage
For thine is the kinkdom,
and the power(bottoms), 
and the glory(holes),
Forever in pleasure.


Love Lost, by Pieter de Graaff

Your shoulders
in the caves of my knees
The lustful suspense
as your cock bores
into my flesh

Delirious and searing,
desire overruns
my breathless body
And slowly
I open my eyes
to meet yours

But it’s not a lover’s gaze I see
It’s the content smirk 
of the carnivore,
who has found in me
the bloodthirsty fulfillment 
of his instinct:
your prey.


Translator’s Note:

Queer Esperanto poetry! The term may surprise you, but as these translations show this unknown literary tradition, born of a constructed language invented only 134 years old, deserves to be rediscovered by new readers.

These translations first appeared in book form in Bluish Light: An Anthology of Gay Poetry, 1978-1993 (Glaŭka lum’: geja antologio, Pro Esperanto, Vienna 1994), a ground-breaking collection of verse that brought together two rich yet essentially unknown traditions in the Esperanto world: erotic poetry and queer activism. The first three selections translated here are by the collection’s editor, Benoît Philippe. In these playful poems, “Benito” (as he is sometimes known in Esperanto), displays his characteristic wit, crisp language, and rich imagery. In my translation of his last poem here, entitled “The Gaylord’s Prayer,” I have taken a freer approach to the text, incorporating more contemporary queer slang into the poem to bring out the poem’s full satiric force to the English reader. The final poem presented, entitled “Love lost” was written by a Dutch Esperanto activist Pieter de Graaff. This poem burns through the pages of Bluish Light, standing out among the volume’s more subdued and chaste poems with a graphic critique of the violent potential of male desire, no matter its object.

Erotica was a genre adopted early on in Esperanto’s literary history as its writers sought to prove their “artificial” language’s suitability to all situations, including life’s most intimate moments. Unsurprisingly, these texts have been dominated, with a few important exceptions, by the tropes of cismale heterosexual desire. Queer activism in the Esperanto world, while much more diverse and visible today, was for many years represented by and large by a single organization, la Ligo de samseksamaj geesperantistoj (LSG; roughly, the League of Gay & Lesbian Esperantists). While the organization did engage in important cultural work, LSG was primarily concerned with its community’s immediate needs, advocating for inclusion and equality, and often serving as the only outlet for many Esperantists who lived in closed and homophobic societies to live their truth safely. Bluish Light broke barriers in both these areas, adding other (albeit still cismale) voices to Esperanto’s erotic and poetic canons and opening up a space for creative expression in the gay Esperanto community beyond its usual practical concerns. Although poems with similar themes had been published in journals within the queer Esperanto community before, this collection reached far beyond a niche readership and received positive reviews in the mainstream Esperanto press.


Benoît Philippe is an award-winning poet, translator, and scholar in Esperanto and German. His many publications include Glaŭka lum’: geja antologio (as editor; Bluish Light: An Anthology of Gay Poetry, Pro Esperanto, 1994), and the single author poetry collections Verse reversi (To reverse in verse, Mondial, 2008) and Kvazaŭ varfo (A kind of harbour, Mondial, 2016). He teaches French and German at institutions in Dresden and Prague, and serves as the curator of the Esperanto Library of Saxony.

Little is known about Pieter de Graaff, a Dutch activist for queer rights in the Esperanto community. He was a member of la Ligo de samseksamaj geesperantistoj (roughly, the League of Gay & Lesbian Esperantists) and spoke out against discrimination against LGBTQ+ people at the 1980 World Congress of Esperanto in Stockholm, Sweden. This is his only known poem in print; he was 91 years old when it was published.

Sebastian Schulman (@sebschulman) is a literary translator from Yiddish and Esperanto, and the Executive Director of KlezKanada, a leading organization in Yiddish arts and culture. His writing and translations from Yiddish and Esperanto have appeared in Words Without Borders, Electric Literature, Tupelo Quarterly, and elsewhere. His translation of Spomenka Stimec’s Esperanto-language novel Croatian War Nocturnal was published by Phoneme Media in 2017. He lives in Montréal, Québec (Tiohtiá:ke, Unceded Kanien’kehá:ka Territory).