“I am staring out the window in an extremely dark mood, feeling helpless. Than a friend, a fellow artist, calls…he asks, “How are you?” And instead of “Oh, fine…and you?” I blurt out the truth: “Not well. Not only am I depressed, I can’t seem to work, to write; it’s as though I am paralyzed, unable to write anything…I’ve never felt this way before…” I am about to explain with further detail when he interrupts, shouting: “No! No, no, no! This is precisely the time when artists go to work…not when everything is fine, but in times of dread. That’s our job.” I feel foolish the rest of the morning, especially when I recalled the artists who had done their work in gulags, prison cells, hospital beds; who did their work while hounded, exiled, reviled, pilloried. And those who were executed…This is precisely the time when artists go to work. There is no time for despair, no place for self-pity, no need for silence, no room for fear. We speak, we write, we do language. That is how civilizations heal.”
This self-described “black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet” was born Audrey Geraldine Lorde in 1934 in Harlem to immigrant parents. Near-sighted and defined as legally blind, Lorde nonetheless taught herself to read at the age of four and memorized poetry from a very young age. Poetry was not a luxury, it was expression, a survival tool, “the way we help give name to the nameless so it can be thought.”
A graduate of Hunter College and Columbia University, Audre worked for many years as a librarian and was a visiting professor in Berlin. I love how she describes NYC living: “Having made homes in most parts of this city, I hang now from the west edge of Manhattan, and at any moment I can cease being a New Yorker.”
Rebelled against: racism and sexism, white supremacy and patriarchy
“Expecting a marginalized group to educate the oppressors is the continuation of racist, patriarchal thought.”
Extolled: blackness, femininity, homosexuality, intersectionality, difference
Prolific: 17 volumes of poetry, essays and autobiography
Impact: formed coalitions between Afro-German and Afro-Dutch women; founded a sisterhood in South Africa; was a co-founder of Kitchen Table Women of Color Press; and established the St. Croix Women’s Coalition
“You do not have to be me in order for us to fight alongside each other.”
Legacy: New York’s first woman and first black poet laureate, serving from 1991 until her death the following year; inducted on the National LGBTQ Wall of Honor within the Stonewall National Monument; Staten Island residence granted landmark designation
“I will never be gone. I am a scar, a report from the frontlines, a talisman, a resurrection. A rough place on the chin of complacency.”
National Poetry Day.
It’s fate, a sign, an elbow to the ribs: today is the day to finally put the fiery, multi-talented, irrepressible, bewitching Edna St. Vincent Millay on the map.
I mean just look at her!
She is the epitome of freed feminist rebel cool [baggy pants! smoking! practical shoes!]. Her poetry read much like the woman: brutally honest, political, unapologetic, emotionally vulnerable, beautiful. It won her a Pulitzer in 1923, the first woman to earn the honor.
My candle burns at both ends;
It will not last the night;
But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends –
It gives a lovely light!