Biographical Poetry posted April 1, 2024

This work has reached the exceptional level
NYS Poet Laureate

Audre Lorde

by Debbie D'Arcy

Judged even by her mother for the colour of her skin,
this gifted child found sanctuary, expressive strength within.
Her early love of poetry, once memorised, would reach
the dawning of her sense of self, the basis of her speech.
Her inner voice gained further sway for she was nearly blind
and raised within a household where her treatment was unkind.
But this would not delay her thirst nor form a block to last;
by writing verse, she'd soon connect with other souls outcast.
And, driven by her artistry, her need to learn and know,
a seed of sweet renewal would then germinate and grow.
She'd reaffirm her crazy, mixed with queer, identity,*
committing to the craft she loved with pride and energy.
With stirring words, her heart was set to motivate and dare
speak out against injustice, so pervasive ev'rywhere.
For silence must be broken if we are to move ahead
and celebrate our diff'rences, no longer live in dread.
Oppression is American as much as apple pie*
and trading truth for prejudice will serve to lift us high.
Embracing all our many traits,* resisting black and white,
we melt together socially and re-emerge with might.
Her marr'age to a gay, white man would snub the social norm,
exemplify in deeds, not words, ambition for reform.
And, though divorced, some eight years on, she'd openly protest
a right to shine her brightest light, live life her very best.
Her instinct, as crusader, was to fight the scourge of war*
by drawing on her inner soul, her strong poetic core.
An artist and an activist, she'd never shy away
from feminist and racist themes that battled day by day.
She wrote that the erotic was a female myth misnamed,
defined in pornographic terms that stifled truth and shamed.
Instead, it should be glorified, a power and desire
to break the bonds of slavery, use knowledge to aspire.
But, while her fruits of wisdom grew and fortified at pace,
her cancer, once contained, became another foe to face
and, rather than succumb to it, she viewed pain as a test,
a force to be transcended then, with courage to invest.
A woman of conviction, graced with stunning artistry,
who felt the weight of bigotry and urged us to be free.
For, giving voice to whispered dreams and feelings realised,
our hopes and fears are owned at last, no longer compromised.
From disadvantaged roots, she found the key to agency,
and paved a path in poetry to shape our destiny.
She leaves behind a legacy, a life all of its own -
this Warrior of magnitude who Makes Her Meaning Known!*



Image: courtesy of Google free pics; Information source: Wikipedia and other biographical internet and book sources.

Self-described as "black, lesbian, feminist, socialist, mother, warrior, poet," Audre Lorde devoted her life and talents to confronting all form of injustice, adamantly believing that there is no hierarchy of oppression.

Stanza 1-2: Coal's story Books at a Kitchen Table - one of her later works featuring her difficult relationship with her mother.
Lorde was born in NYC in 1934 to Caribbean immigrants (her father from Barbados, her mother from Grenada). Her mother's mixed ancestry and lighter skin was a mark of status and one that would influence her relationship with her daughter whose darker skin resembled that of her father.
The youngest of three daughters, she grew up in an atmosphere of "tough love." Near-sighted to the point of being legally blind, she struggled to communicate before finding her voice in poetry. She would describe herself as thinking in poetry and, if asked how she was feeling, would reply by reciting a poem.

Stanza 3: Her education at Hunter College, a school for the intellectually gifted, helped her develop her writing talents although she never felt entirely accepted because she was "*both crazy and queer but (they thought) I would grow out of it all."

Stanza 4: Cables to Rage (1970) - explored her anger at social and personal injustice and contained the first public expression of her lesbianism.
1954 was a pivotal year for her as a student at The National University of Mexico where she confirmed her identity as a lesbian and a poet. On her return to the New York she continued her studies and became increasingly involved in activism, in particular, civil rights. Her expressed aim, as well as exploring the complexities of identity, was to perfect the craft of poetry.
She emphasised in her work that speaking out is not something to be feared but is essential to "bridge some of those differences between us, for it is not difference which immobilises us, but silence. And there are so many silences to be broken."

Stanza 5: *"..oppression is as American as apple pie."
Her novel: "Zami: a new spelling of my name" explores the theme below.
Oppression isn't just about differences between groups but between conflicting differences within the individual (intersectionality). In order for that "concert of voices" to be celebrated, we need the power of community, working together to acknowledge differing elements within ourselves, not in some linear, binary form. "Without community there is certainly no liberation, no future, only the most vulnerable and temporary armistice between me and my oppression."

Stanza 6: In 1962, she married attorney, Edwin Rollins. Thy divorced in 1970 after having two children together: Elizabeth and Jonathan.
Poetry "forms the quality of the light within which we predicate our hopes and dreams toward survival and change, first made into language, then into idea, then into more tangible action."

Stanza 7 "From a Land Where Other People Live" (1973) exploring her own identity and more political global issues.
*Anti Vietnam.

Stanza 8:
Uses of the Erotic; The Erotic as Power (1978 essay) - one of the most widely celebrated contributions to political theory and feminist activism.
She claims the erotic has been misnamed by men and used against women. "Pornography is a direct denial of the power of the erotic for it represents the suppression of true feeling."

Stanza 9: The Cancer Journals (1980); A Burst of Light (1989 essay collection)
She chronicles her own struggles against breast cancer (a disease that would later go on to metastasize into liver cancer) and refused to be victimised by the disease. After her initial surgery, she later chose to pursue alternative treatments.

Stanza 10-11 The Black Unicorn (1978);
In this volume she explores her black heritage.
As with Coal (1976 collection of poems) she likens the glimmering 'jewel' of poetry and political speech emerging from racist oppression to the transformation, through heat, of a 'diamond' from coal.
She lived latterly in St Croix, Virgin Islands with her life partner, Gloria Joseph until her death in 1992 at the age of 58. At an African naming ceremony, she took the name, Gamba Adisa, which means Warrior: She Who Makes Her Meaning Known. An achievement she honoured.
She was Poet Laureate in New York State from 1991-1992.

"Once I accept the existence of dying as a life process, who can ever have power over me again?"

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