Seven Ways to Sunday: Rita Mae Reese On Seven Ways to Celebrate Lesbian Poetry During Pride Week (and Beyond)
Lesbian poets are enjoying a bit of a heyday right now, at least in America. We have a lot to celebrate and a lot to be thankful for. Britain’s Poet Laureate is an out lesbian, Carol Ann Duffy. The U.S. Poet Laureate, Kay Ryan, is also an out lesbian. One of the top-selling poets in the country, Mary Oliver, is also a lesbian. The National Book Award in Poetry this year was awarded to Nikki Finney for her wondrous book Head Off & Split. A new venture called The Lavender Review is highlighting the work of lesbian poets and/or poetry. Arktoi Books, featuring books by lesbians, is now in its whatever year and its books are garnering attention in places such as Poets & Writers and The Library Journal.
If all of this is true, then why is it still so difficult to find books by lesbian poets? It’s not that they aren’t out there, somewhere, because they are. But even if you are fortunate enough to live near an independently-owned bookstore (and if you are I hope you go buy a book from them a.s.a.p.) and even if it has a poetry section that is bigger than a shelf and actually has books by living poets, it’s really hard to know which are by lesbians unless your gaydar is phenomenal.
The upside of this is that looking for lesbian poets feels more like a treasure hunt where the treasure is often hiding in plain sight. Here is your treasure map. Okay, it’s really just a list of seven things you can do to celebrate and/or discover more lesbian poetry. You can do one each day. You can do one of them over and over again. Or, if you are greedy for treasure or just want a supergoldstar on your report card, you can do the entire list each and every day.
1) Watch “Starfish” by Eleanor Lerman and/or “A Very Valentine” by Gertrude Stein
2) Read a poem by a lesbian
“You Say” by Elsa Gidlow
You say I am mysterious.
Let me explain myself:
In a land of oranges
I am faithful to apples.
(& here’s a list of 6 more)
“You” by Carol Ann Duffy (with audio)
“Hardscapes” by Eloise Klein Healy
“A Woman Is Talking to Death” by Judy Grahn
“Preface” by Jill McDonough at Harvard Review ONLINE
“This Way and That” by Sarah Sirai on Lavender Review
“Crepuscule for Muriel” by Marilyn Hacker
3) Visit Lavender Review to discover more new lesbian poems
4) Go to a poetry reading (you are on your own there but if you can’t make it to a live version, here’s a virtual lesbian reading series from YouTube):
5) Buy a book of poetry by a lesbian who is still alive (with no offense meant to the dead). Here’s a list of 7 I love:
The Last Time I Saw Amelia Earhart by Gabrielle Calvocoressi from Persea Books. Remarkable debut collection featuring a series of drive-in movie poems that take an unflinching look at the dark labyrinth of desire.
Head Off & Split by Nikki Finney from TriQuarterly Books. You can find quite a few of the poems from this book online but ones like “Clitoris” you won’t, and it’s worth the price of the book by itself.
World Enough by Maureen N. McLane from FSG. This book is like the love child of Frank O’Hara and Gertrude Stein.
Night Work by C.E. Perry from Sarabande Books. A heartbreaking book that insists on the beauty and strangeness of a heartbreaking world.
Our Post-Soviet History Unfolds by Eleanor Lerman from Sarabande. I love Eleanor Lerman. It was difficult to choose from her books but I think this is the best one to start with.
Interpretive Work by Elizabeth Bradfield from Arktoi Books. First book by a poet you’ll be hearing a lot from. Even if (or perhaps especially if) you don’t care for nature poems, check this book out.
Sister by Nickole Brown from Red Hen Press. A novel-in-poems that explores the difficulty of the sibling relationship. It slowly closes its hand around your heart, just like a sister would.
6) Write a fan letter to a lesbian poet. The email addresses are usually pretty easy to find, particularly if a poet is teaching at a university—just go to the university’s faculty page for a listing, or if the poet has a website. Writers, particularly poets, love to hear from readers. Go ahead, make someone’s day.
7) Write a lesbian poem of your own.
So now you can celebrate lesbian poets seven ways to Sunday. And if you do it a different way each day of the week and still don’t feel that the job is done, that’s all right, just keep right on celebrating.
Rita Mae Reese has received a Pushcart, a Paumanok Poetry Prize, a Rona Jaffe Foundation Writers’ Award, a Stegner fellowship, and a “Discovery”/The Nation award. Her first book, The Alphabet Conspiracy, was published by Arktoi Books/Red Hen Press in 2011. She is currently working on a book of poetry about Flannery O’Connor entitled The Book of Hulga. Visit her online at www.ritamaereese.com.