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Special Features Index  

 
Spotlight Lesbian and Bisexual Female Poetry before Stonewall
 
  Even though no canonical list of pre-Stonewall Lesbian Poetry exists, a significant number of women wrote and read a wide range of poems that expressed their sensibilities as woman-loving women.  
 
 
  Natalie Clifford Barney Natalie Clifford Barney (1876-1972), an American expatriate known as the Amazon, was the muse and inspiration of other writers and a poet, memoirist, and epigrammatist in her own right.  
 
 
  Aphra Behn Aphra Behn (ca 1640-1689), an English writer known to her contemporaries as a "scandal" for her writings and her flamboyant personal life, was one of the most influential dramatists of the late seventeenth century. Today, she is better known as a poet and novelist with a fascinating biography.  
 
 
  Elizabeth Bishop (1911-1979), who is widely acknowledged as one of the finest twentieth-century American poets, encoded a lesbian identity in her poems.  
 
 
  Emily Dickinson Emily Dickinson (1830-1886), a reclusive American poet more appreciated after her death than before, wrote poems and letters to her sister-in-law Susan that are both passionate and elusive in their homoeroticism.  
 
 
  Hilda Doolittle Hilda Doolittle (1886-1961), a bisexual poet and novelist who published under the initials H. D., wrote poems and autobiographical prose works that celebrate women's romantic relationships with each other.  
 
 
  Katherine Bradley (1846-1914) and Edith Cooper (1862-1913), writing as Michael Field, collaborated on a number of plays and eight volumes of verse, many of which had lesbian contents.  
 
 
  Elsa Gidlow (1898-1986), known to many as the "poet-warrior," was unabashedly visible as an independent woman, a lesbian, a writer, and a bohemian-anarchist at a time when such visibility was both unusual and potentially dangerous.  
 
 
  Angelina Weld Grimke Angelina Weld Grimké (1880-1958) was the first African American to have a play staged. In addition to that historic achievement, her poetry regularly appeared in journals, newspapers, and anthologies during the era now known as the Harlem Renaissance, though she faded into near obscurity after the 1920s.  
 
 
  The Ladies of Llangollen The Ladies of Llangollen, Lady Eleanor Butler (1739-1829) and Sarah Ponsonby (1755-1831), are an enduring emblem of female romantic friendship. Though they are not known to have been writers themselves, they entertained several important literary figures including poet Anna Seward.  
 
 
  Amy Lowell Amy Lowell (1874-1925) was a poet, translator, essayist, literary biographer, and public speaker. Her poetry is extremely frank, forthrightly sensual, and often overtly lesbian.  
 
 
  Charlotte Mew Charlotte Mew (1869-1928), an English poet, does not explicitly mention her lesbianism but encodes the emotional pain of hiding her sexuality in complex dramatic monologues on themes of loss and isolation.  
 
 
  Edna St. Vincent Millay Edna St. Vincent Millay (1892-1950), an American poet and playwright, expressed her bisexuality in both her life and her work. She achieved fame early on in life as the pretty, petite "It Girl" of poetry, but was criticized for turning to social politics and activism starting in the 1930s.  
 
 
  Gabriela Mistral Gabriela Mistral (1889-1957) was a Chilean educator, journalist, feminist, diplomat, and Nobel laureate who celebrated women and motherhood in poems and essays that are frequently homoerotic.  
 
 
  Sophia Parnok Sophia Parnok (1885-1933) was Russia's only openly lesbian poet during her lifetime. The lyrics in her first book of verse, Poems (1916), presented the first, revolutionarily nondecadent, lesbian desiring subject ever to be heard in a book of Russian poetry.  
 
 
  Geneviève Pastre (b. 1924), one of France's leading lesbian theorists and political activists, was a respected French poet and academic in her fifties when she came out as a lesbian and made radical lesbian feminism the root of her political and literary work.  
 
 
  Katherine Philips Katherine Philips (1632-1664) was called called "The Matchless Orinda" and considered "The English Sappho" of her day. Two-thirds of her poems concern erotic relationships among women.  
 
 
  Adrienne Rich Adrienne Rich (b. 1929) has aestheticized politics and politicized aesthetics and is America's most widely read lesbian poet. Her work has won both fans and many critical accolades including the National Book Award.  
 
 
  Christina Rossetti Christina Rossetti (1830-1894) was such a devout Anglo-Catholic that one doctor diagnosed her with "religious mania." Though her piety repressed her sexuality, she wrote poetry that included vividly erotic female-to-female affection.  
 
 
  Muriel Rukeyser (1913-1980) wrote poetry that broke the silence of many aspects of female experience such as sex, menstruation, breast-feeding, mother-daughter relationships, and female aging. Her work has been enormously important to many feminist and lesbian readers.  
 
 
  Vita Sackville-West Vita Sackville-West (1892-1962) was a prolific author of poetry, fiction, and nonfiction, though she is best known for her relationship with Virginia Woolf and for her scandalous love affairs.  
 
 
  A representation of Sappho Sappho (ca 630? B.C.E.), an ancient Greek poet born on the Isle of Lesbos, has been admired through the ages as one of the greatest lyric poets. Today, she is esteemed by lesbians around the world as the archetypal lesbian and their symbolic mother.  
 
 
  May Sarton May Sarton (1912-1996), the author of more than forty books, gradually revealed her lesbianism in her writing. Sarton worked successfully in poetry, the novel, essays, and the journal.  
 
 
  Anna Seward Anna Seward (1742-1809) was one of the best known English women poets of her time. She had several romantic friendships with women and celebrated the Ladies of Llangollen in verse.  
 
 
  Edith Sitwell Edith Sitwell (1887-1964) was a poet and novelist who surrounded herself with gay men, some of whom became her artistic collaborators. Although it is not clear that she ever experienced a sustained sexual relationship with anyone of either sex, her closest emotional bond was with another woman.  
 
 
  Gertrude Stein Gertrude Stein (1874-1946), in addition to becoming--with Alice B. Toklas--half of an iconic lesbian couple, was an important innovator and transformer of the English language.  
 
 
  May Swenson (1913-1989), one of America's most inventive and incisive poets, wrote many love poems celebrating lesbian sexuality.  
 
 
  Sara Teasdale Sara Teasdale (1884-1933) reflected in her poetry the reality that the strongest emotional relationships in her life were with women.  
 
 
  Marina Tsvetaeva Maria Tsvetaeva (1892-1941) is widely considered one of the four greatest twentieth-century Russian poets. She described herself as bisexual, but the lesbian theme found throughout her poetry, prose, letters, and journals has been ignored or minimized by Western biographers and concealed by Russian scholars.  
 
 
  Renée Vivien (1877-1909), who had many affairs with women, openly celebrated lesboerotic love in her poetry and dreamed of women-controlled spaces in an era when most women were still domestically confined.  
 
 
  Sylvia Townsend Warner (1893-1978), a poet, novelist, and short story writer, is an important lesbian voice of the earlier twentieth century.  
 
 
 

 
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