Across the Page: Poetry Collections

The Black Unicorn by Audre Lorde (Norton)

Audre Lorde is a renowned feminist, lesbian and activist —
all roles and elements of identity that she brings into her ten collections of
poetry and five volumes of prose. The Black Unicorn, published in 1978,
highlights her voice as one that challenges preconceived notions of gender,
sexuality and race.

The title poem, “The Black Unicorn,” immediately introduces
several of the collection’s themes and captures Lorde’s use of symbolism to
construct meaning:

The black unicorn is restless
the black unicorn is unrelenting
the black unicorn is not
free.

Several of the poems in the collection focus on race — the
dynamics and politics within the African American community, blatant and
oblique forms of racism and their impact, race as a factor of identity, and the
cultural and ancestral implications of race.

In “A Woman Speaks,” Lorde focuses on the perspective of an
African American woman who is almost forced to introduce or explain herself and
her role in society by both what she is and what she is not:

I have been woman
for a long time
beware my smile
I am treacherous with old magic
and the noon’s new fury
with all your wide futures
promised
I am
woman
and not white.

Though many of the poems here do capture the unique and wide
ranging perspective of African American women, several also explore the
struggles and triumphs of African American men.

“Eulogy for Alvin
Frost” begins with the startling line, “Black men bleeding to death inside
themselves,” and then moves to address Frost’s surviving son:

Please cry
whenever it hurts
remember to laugh
even when you do battle
stay away from coffee and fried plastic
even when it looks like chicken
and grow up
black and strong and beautiful
but not too soon.

We need you
and there are so few
left.

Lorde also leaves room for love and several of the poems
here focus on her intimacy with women.
In “Recreation,” she writes about the discovery of love through poetry
and the body:

My body
writes into your flesh
the poem
you make of me.

Touching you I catch midnight
as moon fires set in my throat
I love you flesh into blossom
I made you
and take you made
into me.

The Black Unicorn is
a tremendous and powerful collection of poetry and a reliable introduction to
this powerful, inspiring and important mind.

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