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Poetry: Lesbian  
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The Evolution of Politically Conscious Lesbian Poetry

In "'Kissing/Against the Light': A Look at Lesbian Poetry," her 1978 (rev. 1981, 1982) essay that serves as an important historical marker in the first decades' evolution of politically conscious lesbian poetry, Bulkin reiterates the heart of an important lesbian vision:

Uncovering a poetic tradition representative of lesbians of color and poor and working-class lesbians of all races involves, as Barbara Noda has written, reexamining "the words 'lesbian,' 'historical,' and even 'poet.'" A beginning problem is definitional, as Paula Gunn Allen makes clear in her exploration of her own American Indian culture:

          It is not known if those
          who warred and hunted on the plains
          chanted and hexed in the hills
          divined and healed in the mountains
          gazed and walked beneath the seas
          were Lesbians
          It is never known
          if any woman was a lesbian

The search is further compounded when the goal is finding not just a lesbian, but a lesbian poet, especially among those groups . . . without a way to get their written or oral poetry reproduced and distributed.

Ostriker characterizes Rich as a poet of ideas. Concomitantly, many lesbian poets hold dear and share profound ideas about transforming cultural, personal, social, familial values, and in ways that ask more, not less, caretaking and consideration between and among individuals.

Lesbian Poetry and Post-modernism

Recently Judith Roof plumbed the significance of the fact that the "emergence of activist gay and lesbian groups and the naming of the postmodern occur at about the same time. Del Martin, Phyllis Lyon, and others founded the Daughters of Bilitis in the autumn of 1955, a year after" the first use of "the term postmodern."

Before Stonewall, both usages marked "rejection of legitimating metanarratives that form the basis for deciding what is true," and by the mid-eighties some critics . . . see the lesbian and the postmodern as categories that challenge centered logic and identity, the lesbian confronting heterosexuality and gender, the postmodern questioning subjectivity, knowledge, and truth. . . . Different phenomena brought together in the suggestion of a shared context, the lesbian and the postmodern are less an equation than a very contemporary comparison generated finally not by any postmodern intellectual practice but rather by a very traditional drive for identity, certainty, and legitimation.

Lesbian poetry, then, poses many a previously unimagined question about language, its possibilities and limitations, and is sometimes as radically experimental exploiting language and form as it is sometimes radically political.

Of Grahn's "A Woman Is Talking To Death," Bulkin wrote:

"That's a fact," Grahn keeps observing as she builds image after image of women ignored, derided, abused. The central "fact" of the poem is finally the poet's own lesbianism. In a society that perceives lesbians as committing "indecent acts" and that leers at women who kiss each other, who call each other "lovers," who admit to "wanting" another woman, Grahn forces a rethinking of both language and the assumptions behind it.

Remarking that the "rhetorical drive" of Grahn's poetry draws on biblical and protesting oral traditions, Bulkin concludes that "this oral quality" underscores the "sense that the poem should be heard with others, not read by oneself." This is not a poetry for private pleasure only but a poetry of motivation meant to act as a force to change the world.

Poetry as Public Discourse

As lesbian and gay activists have worked to make public awareness of sexualities that have been mystified, oppressed, and punished through cultural conventions and legal systems of privatization and domestication, so many contemporary lesbian poets create works especially conducive for public discourse and education.

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