4 Poetry Collections Every Lesbian Should Read

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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