“The Collected Poems of Audre Lorde” by Audre Lorde

So I’m currently reading selected poems from Audre Lorde’s collection. The anthology doesn’t include all her books of poetry, but it includes most of them.

I’m actually doing an independent study (IS) on Lorde’s poetry; mainly focusing on how Lorde uses her poetry to show her identities and making a political stand. You’re probably thinking “this is boring” and maybe it sounds boring, but once you get to reading her stuff, you’ll know why I chose this topic.

So since there’s too many poems to talk about, I’ll just focus on 2 specific poems from the anthology. The first is “jessehelms.” I was first introduced to this poem a few months ago in an American Lit class I took (with the professor who’s overseeing my IS). He wasn’t too fond of the poem, but I loved it! It’s explicitly sexual and talks a lot about dirty politics. If you read it aloud you can hear Lorde’s anger, but it works within the poem. A definite must read!

The second poem is one I recently read. It’s called “Martha” and is Lorde’s first public coming out as a lesbian. The poem is written as a love letter to a woman, but it’s not an ordinary love letter; it focuses mainly of the trials and tribulations that come with love, the difficulties of staying together, and society’s outlook on homosexuality.

The poem isn’t dated as to when it was written, but from information given I’m assuming it was written in or around 1968. It wasn’t published until 1970 though. Lorde chose to publish the poem in a book of poetry entitled “Cables to Rage” which I find interesting since the poem doesn’t show rage at all. I actually find it really subtle. Subtle both in homosexual references and taking a political stand. Lorde mentions that she was and still is in love with Martha, there are some references that appear to indicate sex, things like “flesh smashed together” and “no words.” I think what Lorde was trying to do with this poem was talk about her relationship with Martha as a tender and loving and try to normalize homosexuality so it might be more easily accepted.

The poem focuses around Martha being committed to an asylum for electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) presumably to turn her straight. I find it interesting that Lorde never mentions being by Martha’s side while she’s in the hospital or asylum which I thought was a commentary on the fact that partners weren’t allowed visitation rights because they weren’t family.

I really like Lorde’s poetry because she takes pieces of herself and includes them in her poetry. She makes herself part of her work and by doing so I think she makes the writing easily related to readers. Lorde turns herself into a real person and not just another poet. Her poetry is about her and so when she takes a stand, she’s not just taking a stand just because, but she takes a stand because it’s something she believes in and wants to see change.

My favourite line from “Martha” is we shall love each other here if ever at all

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