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Alpha Index:  A-B  C-F  G-K  L-Q  R-S  T-Z

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Poetry: Lesbian  
 
page: 1  2  3  4  5  

Canon Formation

The primary objective of canon formation has not been to establish an exclusionary immutable pantheon of great lesbian poets in The Great Tradition of Lesbian Poetry but rather to recover erotic writings and authors lost to traditional literary histories through neglect, ascription of minority status to lesbian writers and their expressions, "objective" aesthetic evaluations resulting in a diminution of lesbian poets' talents, and even censorship that erases or denies the lesbianism of a particular woman or lesbianism in poetic expression.

Even now lesbian poetry is often obscured by the most commonly used bibliographic tools. Searching the Library of Congress catalog in 1994 for items pertaining to the subject "lesbian poetry," for example, users will find only one entry, Elly Bulkin and Joan Larkin's Lesbian Poetry (1981).

Sponsor Message.

Names of self-identified lesbian poets like Olga Broumas, Minnie Bruce Pratt, Muriel Rukeyser, Susan Sherman, Chrystos, Cheryl Clarke, May Sarton, May Swenson, Marilyn Hacker, Adrienne Rich, Audre Lorde, and Judy Grahn do not appear, nor do those of Amy Lowell, Elizabeth Bishop, Bessie Smith, Elsa Gidlow, Angelina Grimké, Emily Dickinson, Gertrude Stein, or H.D..

Of vital importance for the accessibility and distribution of lesbian poetry are women's and gay and lesbian bookstores that thrive as a direct result of the recent women's and gay liberation movements, the hundreds of alternative presses (for example, Shameless Hussy, Poets' Press, Out & Out Books, Crossing Press, Diana Press, Naiad Press, Women's Press Collective, Firebrand Books).

Important also are journals (for example, The Ladder, Heresies, Vice Versa, Sinister Wisdom, Conditions, off our backs) started and supported by feminist and lesbian poets and writers like Grahn, Lorde, Wendy Cadden, Diane Di Prima, Barbara Grier, and others.

Then there are anthologies like Fran Winant's We Are All Lesbians (1973), Bulkin and Larkin's Lesbian Poetry (1981; first published as Amazon Poetry: An Anthology of Lesbian Poetry, 1975), Cherríe Moraga and Gloria Anzaldúa's This Bridge Called My Back (1981), Evelyn Torton Beck's Nice Jewish Girls: A Lesbian Anthology (1982), Barbara Smith's Home Girls (1983), Lilian Mohin's Beautiful Barbarians: Lesbian Feminist Poetry (1986), Carl Morse and Larkin's Gay and Lesbian Poetry in Our Time (1988), Christian McEwen's Naming the Waves: Contemporary Lesbian Poetry (1988), and Stephen Coote's The Penguin Book of Homosexual Verse (1983).

Finally, there are literary histories such as Jan Clausen's A Movement of Poets: Thoughts on Poetry and Feminism (1982), Ostriker's Stealing the Language: The Emergence of Women's Poetry in America (1986), and Grahn's The Highest Apple: Sappho and the Lesbian Poetic Tradition (1985).

Making Lesbian Forerunners Visible

At once erotic and intellectual but not in conventional, expected senses, lesbian poetry makes visible an even "queerer" lot than the poetic foremothers--"We women who write poetry"--whom Amy Lowell appreciates in "The Sisters," in which "Sapho--not Miss or Mrs.," "Mrs. Browning, aloof and delicate," and "Miss Dickinson . . . Emily," the "lonely brain-child of a gaunt maturity" with whom "you're really here, or never anywhere at all / In range of mind," serve as exemplars of the women writers, the "spiritual relations" with whom Lowell proudly claims to be "in love."

Lowell was herself a lesbian, and lesbian poets have been instrumental in making lesbian forerunners visible. In The Highest Apple (1985), Judy Grahn offers a perpetually delectable tradition of nine modern poets linked to Sappho: Dickinson, Lowell, H.D., Stein, Rich, Lorde, Broumas, Paula Gunn Allen, and Grahn herself.

Dedicating her study "To All Lovers" (not exclusively lesbian lovers), Grahn clearly states her objective: "The story I am telling is of the re-emergence of the public Lesbian voice."

Claiming that poetry is especially important to women, Grahn makes the even more controversial claim that it is a vital "tool for survival" for lesbians and says that "more than one Lesbian has been kept from floundering on the rocks of alienation from her own culture, her own center, by having access, at least, to Lesbian poetry."

Immediately she remarks the indisputable fact that "We owe a great deal to poetry; two of our most important names, for instance: Lesbian and Sapphic," effectively arguing the case for a study focused on lesbian poetry.

So along with essayists who have been especially influential (such as Mary J. Carruthers, Elly Bulkin, Catharine Stimpson, Rich, Lorde, and Pratt), Grahn shores up the production of a new genre, lesbian poetry.

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