Dorothy Porter

Dorothy Porter’s poetics affirm the extremities of my corporal existence. I cannot escape my body but I can read Porter’s lyrics and become intimate with the pulsations, aches and fluids of my own mortality. Lines from the title poem in Porter’s poetry collection, Crete (1996), allow me to express my feelings towards her poetry: ‘Finding a vein /I find you…O flash! O honey!’

When discussing her verse novels, Dorothy Porter explicitly stated that she loved to ‘write bad’. It was Porter’s fearless exploration of the ‘bad’, the erotic taboo, that allowed her to take charge of the verse novel, and by doing so, create a space for discussion about poetry and queer sexuality.

In a paper presented at the Tasmanian Readers’ and Writers’ Festival in August of 1999, Porter spoke openly about an era in her life where – in an attempt to gain a wider readership and more financial stability from her writing – she wrote the two young adult novels Rookwood (1991) and The Witch Number (1993). As Porter explains, despite her attempts to consciously write for a young adult audience, The Witch Number was still criticised for being too subversive. Porter believes that this rejection of The Witch Number was due to her exploration of witchcraft and menstruation and she was happy for this view to be proved wrong. However it was this rejection of The Witch Number that drove Porter to write against everything she considered ‘good’, to only write for herself – and what Porter wanted to write was poetry that would drip and make sticky freshly mopped tiles:

‘I wanted ingredients that stank to high heaven of badness. I wanted graphic sex. I wanted explicit perversion. I wanted putrid language. I wanted stenching murder. I wanted to pour out my heart. I wanted to take the piss. I wanted lesbians who weren’t nice to other women. I wanted glamorous nasty men who even lesbians want to fuck. I wanted to say that far too much Australian poetry is a dramatic cure for insomnia. But I still wanted to write the book in poetry.’ Read more…

Eloise Healy

Eloise Healy

1) The hardest thing about being an editor at Arktoi Books is saying “no” all the time. Howard Junker, founder of Zyzzyva magazine, told me, “Think about it—you say ‘yes’ once and ‘no’ a thousand times.  Get used to it!”

I never get used to it.  I am an author and have had manuscripts rejected.  Because I am a lesbian author, I also know it is really harder to find a publisher. It is much harder to be published just by virtue of being a woman. There are numbers involved here. See the VIDA website for details about that.

If you are a lesbian writer, I believe there are two other “quotas” at work. I think there’s an assumption in publishing that lesbians don’t have anything to say that the larger society would be interested in. I think some people still have the idea that if you have published one or two lesbians, then you have done enough. There you have it.  It’s the main reason I started Arktoi Books.  There are a ton of wonderful manuscripts by lesbian writers out there that aren’t getting published.

For example, after reading 70 to 100 manuscripts, I end up with 4 or 5 that would make a perfect book for Arktoi. It’s heartening to see there are great manuscripts out there to publish, but it is hard to know I can choose just one.  What wouldn’t I give to be able to publish all the final five?  Or even three? Read more…

Carol Anne Duffy

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 Read more…