Audre Lorde would be the first to tell us that she was all of her components: black, lesbian, poet, writer, activist, organizer, educator, as well as a wife, mother, sister and friend. She is also one of the prominent women of the 2oth century who helped define women’s sensuality.
Lorde once unabashedly declared that “We’re all dykes, including our mommas” when referring to black women. (1) She deeply believed this because black women were primarily raised in female run homes. Black men left their homes and families in numbers far greater than in other socio-economic groups, leaving black women to fend for themselves, with the strong feminine presence always there.
And truly, Lorde had no objection to that strong female presence, nor to the lesbian relationships that it fostered.
“The erotic”, she said, “is a resource within each of us that lies in a deeply female and spiritual plane, firmly rooted in the power of our unexpressed or unrecognized feeling…” (2)
The Poetry of Audre Lorde
Lorde’s poetry was all erotic in that it reached deep into her soul, the place from whence the erotic urge emerges. She draws upon vivid images, real events, bigger than life emotions. When she writes of love between two women, the page veritably explodes with emotion, as in these excerpts:
The scene has been set as late winter in “Walking Our Boundaries”:
seem too loud for this small yard
too tentative for women
so in love
I do not know when
we shall laugh again
but next week
we will spade up another plot
for this spring’s seeding
Lourde’s captivating description of “Woman” begins:
I dream of a place between your breasts
to build my house like a haven
Her burst of sensuality in “Love Poem”:
…And I knew when I entered her I was
high wind in her forest hollow
fingers whispering sound
from the split cup
impaled on a lance of tongues …
Lourde’s Many Gifts
Had Audre Lorde used her gifted pen to gift us with her glorious poetry, that would have been enough. But in truth, she did so much more.
I feel a special kinship with Audre Lorde because I too began my professional career as a librarian. But there is so much more in Lorde’s bio:
- Published her first poem when she was in high school, in the respected Seventeen magazine
- Co-founder of the Kitchen Table: Women of Color Press, in an era when violence against blacks was still very common
- She was the Poet Laureate of New York, 1991-1992
- Numerous awards, including the Walt Whitman Citation of Merit
- Crafted many books of poetry and essays
- Ceaseless work for the equality of black women
It was when she was the writer-in-residence at Tougaloo College in Mississippi circa 1970 that she met her long term partner, Frances Clayton, a tenured professor of psychology at Brown University.
Audre Lorde And The Erotic
If you have never had occasion to read Lorde’s essay titled “Uses of the Erotic: The Erotic as Power”, do take a few minutes to listen to her presenting it. Here is where she talks about the erotic in the spiritual plane, pornography vs eroticism, and the “yes” within ourselves. It is a wonderfully powerful presentation:
Finally, after a 14 year battle with cancer that she chronicled in “The Cancer Journals”, she passed away in 1992, still a young woman at 58 years old.
There are few poets of any age who can so comfortably embrace all that makes them who they are. We are blessed that Audre Lorde shared all of her being with us, the feminist, the lesbian, the poet, the black woman, the essayist, the mother/sister/daughter that essence that gave us such a magnificent body of work.
(1) Quoted in “An Interview with Audre Lorde” in American Poetry Review, March/April 1980: 18-21, by Karla Hammond.
(2) “Uses of the Erotic: The Erotic as Power”, in Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches