Tag Archives: Poetry

Black History Month 2014: Audre Lorde

18 Feb

audre-lorde-500x250I would like to honor and pay tribute to Audre Lorde.  Today would have been her 80th birthday.  Lorde was a native New Yorker who grew up in Harlem. Her parents both immigrated to the United States from the Caribbean. Among her many career moves, Lorde was a librarian and a social worker. In fact, she received her Master’s in Library Science from Columbia University.

Although she was married to a man, Edwin Rollins and had two children, Lorde identified as a lesbian. The self-described “black-lesbian feminist mother lover warrior poet,” became a well recognized voice for women, lesbians, blacks, mothers, and poets; let us not forget her anti-war activism. Her fight for equality and peace was rather inclusive, as she was able to see the connections and ties amongst them all. Lorde was one of the first to acknowledge and point to how connected racism, sexism, and homophobia are — what I would call the intersections of oppression. Lorde addressed this intersectionality and how her work at that time dealt with oppression from the dominant discourse:

My sexuality is part and parcel of who I am, and my poetry comes from the intersection of me and my worlds. . . . [White, arch-conservative senator] Jesse Helms’s objection to my work is not about obscenity . . .or even about sex. It is about revolution and change. . . . Helms represents. . . . white patriarchal power. . . .[and he] knows that my writing is aimed at his destruction, and the destruction of every single thing he stands for.”

What is lovely about this quote is that Lorde was not only inspiring and was practicing good social work, but her legacy is on the right side of history, unlike Helms who left a legacy of hate and racism. It seems odd to me that anyone could not see how connected racism, misogyny, and homophobia are.  Our silence about any of these forms of bigotry will not protect or help us.  Happy Birthday, Audre Lorde!


LGBT History Month 2013: Langston Hughes

19 Jun

LangstonHughesToday I would like to honor and pay tribute to Harlem Renaissance poet/writer, Langston Hughes. Although Hughes’ sexual orientation has traditionally been downplayed, like James Baldwin, he was black and openly gay. Hughes was attracted to the ideals of Communism, given the racism and homophobia  in the United States. Though Hughes never officially joined the Communist Party, he was called before the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations led by Joseph McCarthy.

Sadly, even today (46 years after his death) men of color take enormous risk to be openly gay.  We, as the LGBT community, do not do enough to support of brothers and sisters of color.  We must stand in solidarity.

I fell in love with Hughes poetry the first time I read Dream Deferred.

Dream Deferred
What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up
Like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore–
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over–
like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.
Or does it explode?

Another favorite of mine is Dream Boogie.  I will conclude this post with they lyrics of Ella’s Song by my favorite a cappella Social Justice group, Sweet Honey in the Rock:

We who believe in freedom cannot rest
We who believe in freedom cannot rest until it comes

Until the killing of Black men, Black mothers’ sons
Is as important as the killing of White men, White mothers’ sons (Refrain)

That which touches me most is that I had the chance to work with people
Passing on to others that which was passed on to me
To me young people come first, they have the courage where we fail
And if I can I’ll shed some light as they carry us through the gale (Refrain)

Struggling myself don’t mean a whole lot, I’ve come to realize
That teaching others to stand and fight is the only way the struggle survives
I’m a woman who speaks in a voice and I must be heard
At times I can be quite difficult, I’ll bow to no man’s word (Refrain)

Happy Easter/Happy Passover

8 Apr

In Sunday Morning by Wallace Stevens, we learn that “…death is the mother of beauty”:

But in contentment I still feel
The need of some imperishable bliss.
Death is the mother of beauty; hence from her,
Alone, shall come fulfillment to our dreams
And our desires.

Yes, many people are celebrating Easter or Passover and the start of Spring.  Lest we forget though:

April is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.
Winter kept us warm, covering
Earth in forgetful snow, feeding
A little life with dried tubers. (T.S. Eliot The Wasteland)

What are people searching for? Are most of us on some quixotic journey to find something greater than ourselves and if so, what does that need fulfill?

While I am not religious and refuse to subscribe to any organized religion, I can’t help but wonder and worry for my LGBT brothers and sisters on this Sunday morning. It is both Easter and Passover.  I wonder what it must feel like on a “holy” day to want to worship and be part of a community of worship, only to be met with contempt or self-righteous indignation.  I imagine one must feel quite isolated and rejected.  Don’t get me wrong, I really do believe religion has the potential to build coalitions and unite disparate groups.  I just have yet to witness that.

I was reading a blog by a bisexual youth who identifies as Catholic and my heart broke for this young person. The Pope, or as my husband and I refer to him, Benny the Rat, has been less than Christian toward the LGBT community, as he passes judgement on “the abomination” of homosexuality while wearing his beautifully ornate frocks. I’m sure most of you by now have heard that the Pope has commissioned his own perfume.  How much does the Scent of a Pontiff cost?  How many hungry and homeless could that money have helped?  The designer of Pope Benny’s perfume is the same designer of Madonna’s signature fragrance. No, not the mother of Jesus, that other Madonna.

All I can offer this young person and LGBT people of faith is that: Death is the mother of beauty; hence from her, Alone, shall come fulfillment to our dreams And our desires.  How I interpret Stevens’ line here specifically for the LGBT community is that when the OLD GUARD finally dies and is replaced with a more loving and compassionate community, organically created from a more educated and compassionate populace, only then will we fulfill our dreams.  But it starts with you! Being visible and vocal and by paying attention to politics is our task at hand.  Those of us in the LGBT community do not have the luxury of not paying attention.

Wouldn’t it be nice if religion taught people NOT to marginalize any other humans–if it taught that we are obligated to love all of our brothers and sisters and take them into our hearts?  Yes, that means supporting women, our Muslim brothers and sisters, our Black and Latino brothers and sisters.

Women’s History Month 2012: Lady Liberty

9 Mar

On October 28, 1886, an icon of the American spirit was dedicated in New York Harbor. Liberty Enlightening the World, better known colloquially as the Statue of Liberty, is intended to welcome all comers to our shores and to represent the best of the American spirit. To acknowledge this, poet Emma Lazarus created a special sonnet to accompany the statue, The New Colossus. Lazarus herself was a worker for social justice, fighting anti-Semitism and writing articles and poems encouraging fair treatment of all people. Her words are stirring:

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

But just how well do these words resonate with the nation in which we live today?  How sad that the 1% who seem to control our government (John Boehner et al. and all of the GOP presidential candidates) have no interest in Liberty:  “Give me your tired, your poor,Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me.”  How sad that we hear politicians talk of building walls to keep people out and states like Alabama demanding documentation from every Latino citizen.  How sad that all of the GOP candidates, even Dr. Ron Paul have no interest in preserving human life, as they sat in deafening silence when a group of their supporters cheered for death. How sad that all of the GOP presidential candidates signed a pledge to discriminate against the LGBT population–not exactly the words of liberty that can be read on the very foundation of Lady Liberty.  I encourage all to reflect on the Statue of Liberty and what she stands for–social justice!

Black History Month 2012: Alice Dunbar Nelson

25 Feb

Today we celebrate noted poet, columnist, diarist, and activist Alice Dunbar Nelson. Born Alice Ruth Moore in New Orleans in 1875, she graduated from Dillard University in 1892 and began a career in teaching. Shortly before moving to New York in 1895, she published her first collection of poems and short stories,Violets and Other Tales. She began a correspondence with poet Paul Laurence Dunbar and moved to Washington, DC in 1898 to marry him. Dunbar was uncomfortable with his wife’s bisexuality and same-sex affairs and they separated by 1902.

She moved to Wilmington, DE at this point, returning to teaching and writing. She married journalist Robert J. Nelson in 1910. In 1915, Alice Dunbar Nelson worked as a field organizer in her region for woman’s suffrage. During World War I, she served with the Women’s Commission on the Council of National Defense and the Circle of Negro War Relief. She helped found the Industrial School for Colored Girls in Delaware, organized for anti-lynching reforms, and served 1928-1931 as executive secretary of the American Friends Inter-Racial Peace Committee.

From about 1920 on, she made a commitment to journalism and was a highly successful columnist, with articles, essays and reviews appearing as well in newspapers, magazines, and academic journals. She was a popular speaker and had an active schedule of lectures through these years. She also engaged in the arts and literature boom known as the Harlem Renaissance, a movement which included such luminaries as Langston Hughes, Nella Larsen, and Zora Neale Hurston. She died in 1935 at the age of 60.

Black History Month 2012: Nikki Giovanni

6 Feb

Today I would like to honor and pay tribute to Nikki Giovanni.  I was first introduced to Yolande Cornelia “Nikki” Giovanni in the early 1980’s through her poetry and activism.  She really made me feel “The Power of One,” that each of us has the power to change ourselves and to change systems.  She is probably, in part, why I’m drawn to the field of social work.

I also fell in love with Giovanni because of her dedication to issues around gender, race, and power.  She once said, after she had her son:

I wanted to have a baby and I could afford to have a babymarriage is an institution that is inhospitable to women and would never play a role in my life.

Giovanni is currently a Professor of English at Virginia Tech.  She witnessed the awful massacre in 2007 and yet was able to bring Virginia Tech community together with her poem that she read:

…We know we did nothing to deserve it. But neither does a child in Africa dying of AIDS. Neither do the invisible children walking the night awake to avoid being captured by a rogue army. Neither does the baby elephant watching his community being devastated for ivory. Neither does the Mexican child looking for fresh water…We are Virginia Tech…We will prevail.

Nikki Giovanni is truly a national treasure and an inspiration to those of us that believe in social justice.

Celebrating Paulann Petersen, Oregon Poet Laureate

2 Apr

In recognition of National Poetry Month, The Solipsistic Me would like to honor and celebrate Paulann Petersen, Oregon’s sixth Poet Laureate.

Born in Portland in 1942, Petersen has lived in Oregon her entire life (other than her undergraduate years at Pomona College in Claremont, CA). Her poetry was originally inspired by the high plateaus around Klamath Falls, where she lived for years. Her first published poem appeared in the Sunday Oregonian in 1975. After years of teaching, she took on poetry full time. She now lives in southeast Portland.

Petersen’s poetry covers a wide range of subjects, often with a uniquely Oregon point of view. She frequently celebrates Oregon’s landscape, beauty, and structures. She has won numerous awards, including the Stewart Holbrook Award for Outstanding Contributions to Oregon’s Literary Life in 2006.

Paulann is also a wonderful, charming human being. Her background as a teacher and love of sharing poetry make her the perfect ambassador for Oregon poetry. As a member of the board of Friends of William Stafford, she also continues his tradition of using poetry for social action.  For more information, visit her website.

Most of Petersen’s works are available from libraries all over the country. They are also included in the Oregon Poetry Collection, a joint project of the Oregon Center for the Book and the Oregon State Poetry Association, at the Oregon State Library.

Paulann Petersen also does many public readings. She will be reading and speaking about poetry as part of the State Library’s spring lecture series on April 13.

Women’s History, February 8

8 Feb

Poet Laureate 1949

Happy Birthday, Elizabeth Bishop. Bishop was Poet Laureate of the United States in 1949. Born in Massachusetts, she spent most of her life in Nova Scotia, Canada. Bishop had developed a close friendship with the poet Marriane Moore, while she was at Vassar. It was Moore that dissuaded Bishop from attending medical school at Cornell.  Bishop and Moore remained close friends until Moore’s death in 1972.  I was first introduced to Bishop in 1987.  My favorite poem of Bishop’s is, The Fish.  I hope you will enjoy reading it.

Happy Birthday, Kate Chopin. Chopin best known for her novel, The Awakening. In this novel, we see the struggle of early feminist views and views on motherhood going against the traditional views of the 19th century. A great novel that I strongly encourage people to read if you have not.

Celebrating Black History Month: February 8

8 Feb

Celebrating Langston Hughes

Today I would like to honor and pay tribute to Harlem Renaissance poet/writer, Langston Hughes. Although Hughes’ sexual orientation has traditionally been downplayed, like James Baldwin, he was black and gay. Hughes was attracted to the ideals of Communism, given the racism/homophobia  in the United States. Though Hughes never officially joined the Communist Party, he was called before Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, led by Joseph McCarthy. I fell in love with Hughes poetry the first time I read Dream Deferred.

Dream Deferred
What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up
Like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore–
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over–
like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.
Or does it explode?

Another favorite of mine is Dream Boogie. I hope you will enjoy hearing this reading of Dream Boogie. If you have not been introduced to Langston Hughes, I hope you will find some of his poetry; I can guarantee it will become a part of you.

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