Saturday, May 3, 2008


(Quenched, photo by Jill Posener)

In her introductory essay to the anthology True to Life Adventure Stories, Judy Grahn wrote the often-quoted:

"I have given a good deal of thought to the origins of folk English, to women and English, to the King's English, and to the phrase, 'murdering the King's English'. Murdering the King's English can be a crime only if you identify with the King."

Grahn's emphasis on reclaiming, valuing, publishing, and emulating the speech of common women, poor women, working women, women who use other than white "standard" English, permanently altered the landscape of American writing, not only feminist writing. Riding the same wave are/were Nora Zeale Hurston, Agnes Smedley, Alice Walker, Tillie Olson, Sharon Isabell, Irene Klepfisz, Dorothy Allison, Cherrie Moraga, Meridel LeSueur, Alta, Pat Parker, and other women who understood that "refusing to identify with the King" was an essential step in broadcasting the thoughts and lives of women in a patriarchy.

The first book published by Grahn was Edward the Dyke and Other Poems, a title which is itself ironic and rebellious. The main work within in, "The Psychoanalysis of Edward the Dyke" is not actually a poem. Written in 1964, it is a staggeringly early and taunting rejection of what, fourteen years later, Adrienne Rich would name as "compulsory heterosexuality".

In 1985, Grahn published Highest Apple: Sappho and the Lesbian Poetic Tradition. According to Martha Nell Smith in her article on Lesbian Poetry:

'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.'


'Of Grahn's "A Woman Is Talking To Death," [Elly] 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.'

Bulkin goes on to state in her 1978 essay ''Kissing/Against the Light': A Look at Lesbian Poetry":

'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

(It is worth noting here that Paula Gunn Allen and Judy Grahn were partners for many years.)

From my own experience, I recall having a copy of Edward the Dyke by 1975. That summer, there was no lesbian and gay pride event within several hours' drive of the small North Texas city where I lived with my lover and our five-year-old daughter. However, we heard that on Saturday, gay men and perhaps some lesbians would be gathering at Queen's Point, a beach on nearby Lake Dallas notorious as a locale for cruising and clandestine same-sex partying.

It was still very dangerous to go to known gay places in public, especially in daylight. You could be arrested simply for being there. My lover was a schoolteacher already under custody fears from her fundamentalist parents. Nevertheless, we resolved to go. We were that hungry for community.

We decided to take things one step further: We would contribute to the day's festivities. We memorized "The Psychoanalysis of Edward the Dyke", assigning the characters to my lover (narrator), Dr. Knox (our gay friend Billie Bledsoe), and Edward the Dyke (me). We performed this on the beach, before a crowd of drag queens, college fags, and cruisers from Dallas looking for pick-ups. We were the only women there.

I can recall clearly my voice waxing lyrical on the lines "Oh Bach, oh Brahms, oh Buxtehude", and Billie shouting at me "Admit you have a smegmatic personality". I can also recall that we got not a single laugh. It went completely over their heads, a crushing failure to connect.

Yet when we later reprised it for an entirely straight, mostly married crowd of women from NOW, we killed. After that, I put all my energy in women's and lesbian community efforts, not gay or queer. I wanted to begin with a common language.

After the fold is the text of "The Psychoanalysis of Edward the Dyke". Below is a bibliography of Judy Grahn's work. Also immediately below is the first paragraph of an extraordinary essay by Judy Grahn (now Ph.D.) at her website Metaformia, entitled Are Wars Metaformic?. This is intended to whet your appetite and send you to the link so you can keep reading the ongoing work of this major leader/thinker/writer.

"Mass warfare is not sustainable, is not noble, and is not between warriors. Civilian deaths far outnumber those of soldiers; terrified and furious soldiers go mad in war and murder civilians, and many ex-soldiers never recover from the traumas—physical, psychological, and social—of modern warfare. War is addictive and attractive because it appears to be about meaning, but it is actually about sensation and loyalty, grotesquely out of balance emotions of the people who endure it, and grotesquely out of balance power urges of the men who decree it to happen. Yet, the bloodshed of war is glorified above all other bloodshed."


Edward The Dyke and Other Poems. Oakland, CA: The Women’s Press Collective, 1971.
A Woman is Talking to Death. Oakland, CA: The Women’s Press Collective, 1974.
She Who: a graphic book of poems with 54 images of women. Oakland, CA: Diana Press, 1977.
The Works of a Common Woman. Oakland, CA: The Women’s Press Collective, 1978.
The Queen of Wands. Ithaca, NY: The Crossing Press, 1982.
Another Mother Tongue: Gay Words, Gay Worlds. Boston: Beacon Press, 1984.
Highest Apple: Sappho and the Lesbian Poetic Tradition. Spinsters Ink, 1985.
The Queen of Swords. Boston: Beacon Press, 1987.
Really Reading Gertrude Stein: A Selected Anthology with Essays by Judy Grahn. Ithaca, NY: Crossing Press, 1990.
-Mundane's World, A Novel, Ithaca, NY: The Crossing Press, 1988
Blood, Bread and Roses: How Menstruation Created the World. Boston: Beacon Press, 1993.


© by Judy Grahn (published in Edward the Dyke and Other Poems, 1971, Women's Press Collective)

Behind the brown door which bore the gilt letters of Dr. Merlin Knox's name, Edward the Dyke was lying on the doctor's couch which was so luxurious and long that her feet did not even hang over the edge.

"Dr. Knox," Edward began, "my problem this week is chiefly concerning restrooms."

"Aahh," the good doctor sighed. Gravely he drew a quick sketch of a restroom in his notebook.

"Naturally I can't go into men's restrooms without feeling like an interloper, but on the other hand every time I try to use the ladies room I get into trouble."

"Umm," said Dr. Knox, drawing a quick sketch of a door marked 'Ladies'.

"Four days ago I went into the powder room of a department store and three middle-aged housewives came in and thought I was a man. As soon as I explained to them that I was really only a harmless dyke, the trouble began..."

"You compulsively attacked them."

"Oh heavens no, indeed not. One of them turned on the water faucet and tried to drown me with wet paper towels, but the other two began screaming something about how well did I know Gertrude Stein and what sort of underwear did I have on, and they took my new cuff links and socks for souvenirs. They had my head in the trash can and were cutting pieces off my shirttail when luckily a policeman heard my calls for help and rushed in. He was able to divert their attention by shooting at me, thus giving me a chance to escape through the window."

Carefully Dr. Knox noted in his notebook: 'Apparent suicide attempt after accosting girls in restroom.' "My child," he murmured in feathery tones, "have no fear. You must trust us. We will cure you of this deadly affliction, and before you know it you'll be all fluffy and wonderful with dear babies and a bridge club of your very own." He drew a quick sketch of a bridge club. "Now let me see. I believe we estimated that after only four years of intensive therapy and two years of anti-intensive therapy, plus a few minor physical changes and you'll be exactly the little girl we've always wanted you to be." Rapidly Dr. Knox thumbed through an index on his desk. "Yes yes. This year the normal cup size is 56 inches. And waist 12 and 1/2. Nothing a few well-placed hormones can't accomplish in these advanced times. How tall did you tell me you were?"

"Six feet, four inches," replied Edward.

"Oh, tsk tsk." Dr. Knox did some figuring. "Yes, I'm afraid that will definitely entail extracting approximately 8 inches from each leg, including the knee-cap...standing a lot doesn't bother you, does it my dear?"

"Uh," said Edward, who couldn't decide.

"I assure you the surgeon I have in mind for you is remarkably successful." He leaned far back in his chair. "Now tell me, briefly, what the word 'homosexuality means to you, in your own words."

"Love flowers pearl, of delighted arms. Warm and water. Melting of vanilla wafer in the pants. Pink petal roses trembling overdew on the lips, soft and juicy fruit. No teeth. No nasty spit. Lips chewing oysters without grimy sand or whiskers. Pastry. Gingerbread. Warm, sweet bread. Cinnamon toast poetry. Justice equality higher wages. Independent angel song. It means I can do what I want."

"Now my dear," Dr. Knox said, "Your disease has gotten completely out of control. We scientists know of course that it's a highly pleasurable experience to take someone's penis or vagina into your mouth - it's pleasurable and enjoyable. Everyone knows that. But after you've taken a thousand pleasurable penises or vaginas into your mouth and had a thousand people take your pleasurable penis or vagina into their mouth, what have you accomplished? What have you got to show for it? Do you have a wife or children or a husband or a home or a trip to Europe? Do you have a bridge club to show for it? No! You have only a thousand pleasurable experiences to show for it. Do you see how you're missing the meaning of life? How sordid and depraved are these clandestine sexual escapades in parks and restrooms? I ask you."

"But sir but sir," said Edward, "I'm a woman. I don't have sexual escapades in parks or restrooms. I don't have a thousand lovers - I have one lover."

"Yes yes." Dr. Knox flicked the ashes from his cigar, onto the floor. "Stick to the subject, my dear."

"We were in college then," Edward said. "She came to me out of the silky midnight mist, her slips rustling like cow thieves, her hair blowing in the wind like Gabriel. Lying in my arms harps played soft in dry firelight, Oh Bach. Oh Brahms. Oh Buxtehude. How sweetly we got along how well we got the woods pregnant with canaries and parakeets, barefoot in the grass alas pigeons, but it only lasted ten years and she was gone, poof! like a puff of wheat."

"You see the folly of these brief, physical embraces. But tell me the results of our experiment we arranged for your last session."

"Oh yes. My real date. Well I bought a dress and a wig and a girdle and a squeezy bodice. I did unspeakable things to my armpits with a razor. I had my hair done and my face done and my nails done. My roast done. My bellybutton done."

"And then you felt truly feminine."

"I felt truly immobilized. I could no longer run, walk bend stoop move my arms or spread my feet apart."

"Good, good."

"Well, everything went pretty well during dinner, except my date was only 5'3" and oh yes. One of my eyelashes fell into the soup - that wasn't too bad. I hardly noticed it going down. But then my other eyelash fell on my escort's sleeve and he spent five minutes trying to kill it."

Edward sighed. "But the worst part came when we stood up to go. I rocked back on my heels as I pushed my chair back under the table and my shoes - you see they were three inchers, raising me to 6'7", and with all my weight on those teeny little heels..."

"Yes, yes."

"I drove the spikes all the way into the thick carpet and could no longer move. Oh, everyone was nice about it. My escort offered to get the check and to call in the morning to see how I had made out and the manager found a little saw and all. But, Dr. Knox, you must understand that my underwear was terribly binding and the room was hot..."

"Yes, yes."

"So I fainted. I didn't mean to, I just did. That's how I got my ankles broken."

Dr. Knox cleared his throat. "It's obvious to me, young lady, that you have failed to control your P.E."

"My God," said Edward, glancing quickly at her crotch, "I took a bath just before I came."

"This oral eroticism of yours is definitely rooted in Penis Envy, which showed when you deliberately castrated your date by publicly embarrassing him."

Edward moaned. "But strawberries. But lemon cream pie."

"Narcissism," Dr. Knox droned, "Masochism, Sadism. Admit you want to kill your mother."

"Marshmallow bluebird," Edward groaned, eyes softly rolling. "Looking at the stars. April in May."

"Admit you want to possess your father. Mother substitute. Breast suckle."

"Graham cracker subway," Edward writhed, slobbering. "Pussy willow summer."

"Admit you have a smegmatic personality," Dr. Knox intoned.

Edward rolled to the floor. "I am vile! I am vile!"

Dr. Knox flipped a switch at his elbow and immediately a picture of a beautiful woman appeared on a screen over Edward's head. The doctor pressed another switch and electric shocks jolted through her spine. Edward screamed. He pressed another switch, stopping the flow of electricity. Another switch and a photo of a gigantic erect male organ flashed into view, coated in powdered sugar. Dr. Knox handed Edward a lollipop.

She sat up. "I'm saved," she said, tonguing the lollipop.

"Your time is up," Dr. Knox said. "Your check please. Come back next week."

"Yes sir yes sir,” Edward said as she went out the brown door. In his notebook, Dr. Knox made a quick sketch of his bank.

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