Lesbian Poetry Retrospective Part 1

Gertrude Stein (1874-1925)

Known perhaps as
much for her experimental prose style as she is for her relationship with Alice
B. Toklas, Gertrude Stein was born in Pennsylvania but spent most of her life
in Paris helping to cultivate the modernist movement.

Stein was
inspired by several distinct influences and experiences: her famous brother,
Leo Stein; studying psychology with William James; a failed attempt to finish
medical school; Picasso’s cubism (see Tender
Buttons)
; the paintings of Cezanne and Matisse; and her frustrating attempt
to gain recognition for her own work, including Three Lives, Things as They
Are
and The Autobiography of Alice B.
Toklas,
which told the story of their famous relationship.

The following
poem, “Pink Melon Joy,” was published in Geography
and Play
.

“Pink Melon Joy”

My dear what is meat.
I certainly regret visiting.
My dear what does it matter.
Leaning.
Maintaining maintaining checkers.
I left a leaf and I meant it.
Splintering and hams.
I caught a cold.
Bessie
They are dirty.
Not polite.
Not steel.
Not fireless.
Not bewildered.
Not a present.
Why do I give old boats.
Theresa.
Exchange in bicycles.
It happened that in the aggregate and they did
not

hear then, it happened in the aggregate that they
were

alone.
It is funny. When examples are borrowing and
little


pleasures are seeking after not exactly a box
then comes


the time for drilling. Left left or left. Not up.
Really

believe me it is sheltered oaks that matter. It
is they


who are sighing. It really is.
Not when I hear it.

Elizabeth Bishop (1911-1979)

She was certainly
not the most prolific writer of her generation, but Elizabeth Bishop is widely
considered to be an American master. Her mentors included Marianne Moore, whom
she met at Vassar, and Robert Lowell.

Bishop’s life was
difficult from the beginning. Her father died of Bright’s disease before her
first birthday, and her mother was hospitalized for mental illness for much of
Bishop’s life. Bishop also struggled with alcoholism, and her lover
, Lota de Macedo Soares, committed suicide while the two were living
together in Brazil.

Bishop was as weary
about proclaiming her sexuality as she was resistant to the title “woman poet.”
Intensely private, she once told Robert Lowell,
"When
you write my epitaph, you must say I was the loneliest person who ever lived.”

“It
is marvellous to wake up together”

It
is marvellous to wake up together

At
the same minute; marvellous to hear

The
rain begin suddenly all over the roof,

To
feel the air suddenly clear

As
if electricity had passed through it

From
a black mesh of wires in the sky.

All
over the roof the rain hisses,

And
below, the light falling of kisses.

An
electrical storm is coming or moving away;

It
is the prickling air that wakes us up.

If
lightning struck the house now, it would run

From
the four blue china balls on top

Down
the roof and down the rods all around us,

And
we imagine dreamily

How
the whole house caught in a bird-cage of lightning

Would
be quite delightful rather than frightening;

And
from the same simplified point of view

Of
night and lying flat on one’s back

All
things might change equally easily,

Since
always to warn us there must be these black

Electrical
wires dangling. Without surprise

The
world might change to something quite different,

As
the air changes or the lightning comes without our blinking,

Change
as the kisses are changing without our thinking.

  

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