Lesbian Poetry Retrospective Part 1


Adrienne Rich (b. 1929)

While Elizabeth
Bishop is known for her reluctance to address her sexuality, Adrienne Rich is
the complete opposite. A well-known scholar and critic, Rich’s collection A Change of World won the Yale Younger Poets Award in 1952. A year later she married and had three children with
Alfred Conrad, whom she later left for her partner, Michelle Cliff.

Rich’s work is
intensely political and she believed in the power of poetry to influence and
change lives. A teacher and an activist, she has published 20 volumes of poetry
along with four collections of prose and is often referred to as America’s
“most widely read lesbian poet.”

The following
poem comes from “Twenty-One Love Poems” in Dream
of a Common Language.


Can it be growing colder when I

to touch myself again, adhesion
pull away?

when slowly the naked face
turns from staring backward

and looks into the present,
the eye of winter, city, anger,
poverty, and death

and the lips part and say: I
mean to go on living?

Am I speaking coldly when I
tell you in a dream

Or in this poem, There are no

(I told you from the first I
wanted daily life,

this island of Manhattan was
island enough for me.)

If I could let you know —
two women together is a work
nothing in civilization has
made simple,

two people together is a work
heroic in its ordinariness,
the slow-picked, halting
traverse of a pitch

where the fiercest attention
becomes routine

— look at the faces of those
who have chosen it.

Audre Lorde (1934-1992)

Audre Lorde’s
work is deeply political both in its exploration of lesbian and
African-American identity. A brilliant and prolific essayist, novelist and
poet, Lorde wrote 10 volumes of poetry and was the New York State Poet Laureate
from 1991 to 1993.

After divorcing
her husband, with whom she had two children, Lorde’s latter relationships were
with women. In her writing, Lorde combined her activism for women,
African-Americans, and lesbian and bisexual women. In The Cancer Journals, she wrote about her struggle with the disease
that eventually took her life.

One of the more
interesting elements of Lorde’s work was her belief that poetry should be a
"revelatory distillation of experience." The following poem, “A Woman
Speaks,” was published in
Collected Poems of Audre Lorde

Woman Speaks”

Moon marked and touched by sun
my magic is unwritten
but when the sea turns back
it will leave my shape behind.
I seek no favor
untouched by blood
unrelenting as the curse of
permanent as my errors
or my pride
I do not mix
love with pity
nor hate with scorn
and if you would know me
look into the entrails of
where the restless oceans pound.

I do not dwell
within my birth nor my
who am ageless and half-grown
and still seeking
my sisters
witches in Dahomey
wear me inside their coiled
as our mother did

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
I am
and not white.


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