Thursday, May 1, 2008


Jan Clausen called lesbian-feminism of my era "a movement of poets", and she was assuredly right. Here's a partial list of who I and my friends were reading, talking about, quoting, going to see perform, and being shaped by:

Paula Gunn Allen
Dorothy Allison
Ellen Marie Bissert
Karen Brodine
Olga Broumas
Rita Mae Brown
Cheryl Clarke
Jan Clausen
Martha Courtot
Judy Grahn
Susan Griffin
Melanie Kaye/Kantrowitz
Irena Klepfisz
Audre Lorde
Barbara Noda
Pat Parker
Marge Piercy
Adrienne Rich
Canyon Sam
Martha Shelley
Kitty Tsui
Alice Walker
Chocolate Waters
Fran Winant
Nellie Wong
Merle Woo

Of this list of twenty-eight women poets, I've been lucky enough to hear fourteen read their work, as often as I could. Most are lesbian; few were academics in a traditional sense, eleven are women of color, all were breaking barriers and creating new voice. When our movement is accused of being white and middle class, they are ignoring the poets and the street activists, the heart of who we were.

I have printed here some of the hard-to-find work of several of these sisters already. I intend to keep doing so. I have shelves and shelves of poetry in my cave here. Tonight I'm sharing one poem each from five of them (after the fold), lines that cover the breadth of America and link us to people of the world. When you go to used bookstores, carry a list of these names and buy their volumes if you can find them.

(Herstorical poster available from the Chicago Women's Liberation Union Herstory Project)


i find a sadness the same
as 5 years ago
& again i play the records you bought me
treading them like paths worn thru a forest
Rachmaninoff's Etudes Chopin's Preludes
Brahms' B-Flat Piano Concerto
& breathe the skin
that held me
only to be pushed
away yet again
& again to approach that music
persistent as cycles of blood & breathing
needing silence to be heard
needing you to listen
needing you
we traveled to hear the birds
as in a wish
we walked & walked
to hear a bird sing with Brahms' cello
& journeyed

by Ellen Marie Bissert
(© 1972, published in Integrity Gay Episcopal Forum, April 1976; author of The Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Dyke and editor of 13th Moon)


Whatever you say
has already been said,
sung, published.
Probably by your friends.
Probably by Macmillan.
Probably by you.
Listen to younger women friends
argue they’re not feminists.
Probably because of you
and your friends.
Try to go straight,
love a man.
Realize how selfish and antisocial
you are because you can’t.
Watch your men friends die
because they could.
Try to raise a family with another woman,
live in society with a child created
by a turkey baster.
Try to eat pussy
through a two-foot-thick dental dam.
Go ahead.
Cut out the picture of Cindy Crawford
shaving k.d. lang
in a barber’s chair
on the cover of Vanity Fair and
hang it on your fridge with
a Marilyn Monroe magnet.
Consider this

by Chocolate Waters


Shadow become real; follower become leader;
mouse turned sorcerer —
In a red sky, a darker beast lies waiting,
her teeth, once hidden, now unsheathed swords.
Yellow woman, a revolutionary, speaks:
“They have mutilated our genitals, but I will restore them;
I will render our shames and praise them,
Our beauties, our mothers:
Those young Chinese whores on display in barracoons;
the domestics in soiled aprons;
the miners, loggers, railroad workers
holed up in Truckee in winters.
I will create armies of their descendants.
And I will expose the lies and ridicule
the impotence of those who have called us
slanted cunts
in order to abuse and exploit us.
And I will destroy them.”
Abrasive teacher, incisive comedienne,
Painted Lady, dark domestic —
Sweep minds’ attics; burnish our senses;
keep house, make love, wreak vengeance.

by Merle Woo
(1941 - living; pioneering Korean-Chinese American lesbian spokesperson, educator, and courageous activist, a popular, respected writer and university lecturer in Asian American, Women, and Lesbian/Gay Studies. An outspoken lesbian, mother, and leader in Radical Women and the Freedom Socialist Party)


You know, some people got a lot of nerve.
Sometimes I don't believe the things I see and hear.

Have you met the woman who's shocked by two women kissing
and in the same breath, tells you she is pregnant?
BUT gays, shouldn't be so blatant.

Or this straight couple sits next to you in a movie and
you can't hear the dialogue because of the sound effects.
BUT gays shouldn't be so blatant.

And the woman in your office spends an entire lunch hour
talking about her new bikini drawers and how much
her husband likes them.
BUT gays shouldn't be so blatant.

Or the "hip" chick in your class rattling like a mile a minute
while you're trying to get stoned in the john, about the
camping trip she took with her musician boyfriend.
BUT gays shouldn't be so blatant.

You go in a public bathroom and all over the walls there's John loves
Mary, Janice digs Richard, Pepe loves Delores, etc., etc.
BUT gays shouldn't be so blatant.

Or your go to an amusement park and there's a tunnel of love
and pictures of straights painted on the front and grinning
couples are coming in and out.
BUT gays shouldn't be so blatant.

Fact is, blatant heterosexuals are all over the place.
Supermarkets, movies, on your job, in church, in books, on television every day
day and night, every place-even- in gay bars and they want gay
men and woman to go and hide in the closet.

So to you straight folks I say, "Sure, I'll go if you go too"
BUT I'm polite so, after you.

by Pat Parker
(1944 - 1989; black lesbian-feminist poet, grew up in Houston, Texas; was involved in the Black Panther Movement, founded the Black Women's Revolutionary Council in 1980, and contributed to the formation of the Women's Press Collective. The above poem read aloud by her was included on the Olivia Records album Lesbian Concentrate.)


Do not despair, my sister, of a brother’s process.
Laughter connects to self-examination.
Laughter can be an opium poppy spreading
its poison first among ourselves. Our selves
our whole selves fragments chopped liver
in a goldfish bowl.
To remain private with change is to self-destruct.
To go public with change is to begin
to challenge the forces of white supremacy.
Yet good fortune the good fortune of battles is not
simply opening red envelopes containing coins or paper
To believe that change comes about is to keep working.
As someone said, dear sister, as someone said
you are always working, working
hammering away at lies myths distortions
water hyacinths clogging
the canals of Asian America.
Yet we are not property
to be sold disposed auctioned.
What is antique what is held valuable
is not necessarily unbreakable. A sea of faces stare
at our invisibility our supposed assimilation. A man believes
simply that to err is to be human
and we sit and stare among whites yellows
a few friends.
Ears and tongues perceive
the images of history swallowed in antiseptic schoolrooms
on the battles of Vietnam
in the bedrooms porno movie theaters magazines TV screens
of America.
Any wonder, dear sister, any wonder
that sisters and brothers must exorcise through ritual form
poems songs stories essays plays
at its own pace
the malaise of white America
To create our own histories culture
restore our bodies to red health
to battle with every warrior beneath our pores.
Though we try because we must
Though we try because we want
to control our own destinies we are mirrored
in the windows of clouds
in the shattered glass
of our race and our sex.
How can we separate our race from our sex our sex from our race?
And we hear again and again we must struggle against racism
at the exclusion of sexism.
And we hear again and again we must struggle against sexism
at the exclusion of racism.
These tactics. These words I must use, this language, this
tiresome but necessary chant. We in the midst of struggle
would love to ski downhill and breathe nothing but fresh air.
And I must ask: how can we stand in isolation how can we blow
away the blasts of destruction bombarding us from every direction
because we are
women because we are
colored because we are
The sagas of long steam ladies.
The sagas of long steam men,
the talkers the orators the dancers
they are here before us we are here among them
brimming with language music air.
We birth ourselves, our privacies exposed
proud, seemingly free and yet devils nag
poke at our very bones
to steal the art that is our lives
the music that is our source
the spring that is our imagination.
To truly create is to struggle.
To truly struggle is to present
our selves our process of living learning
and unlearning the garbage of self-contempt of self-defeat
heaped at our own doorsteps. Sometimes we rein in
the blinders sometimes we see no farther
than our own skins sometimes we prick
ourselves savor the cactus of our own pains.
No despair no struggle no joy is personal.
If you begin I begin.
If you sing I sing.
And our tales are endless our tales begin
as the heads of dragons soaring
from the depths of our bodies.
To imagine and not only dwell within that imagination.
To live in our own skin and not only peel our own layers.
To join hands does not mean we always touch.
In art we open ourselves.
In art we gift ourselves our human joys our struggles.
Nothing falls into our laps, not flower petals in the spring
not even these letters that type words language experience
The silences break
the silences swell
the silences weep
and the skies once mute about our lives
thunder at our insolence our daring our strong yellow legs.
Let us thunder and become the wind.
Let our voices howl and let our voices sing.
Let Gold Mountain move and never stop.
In death our bodies regress to the innocence of bones.
In love we work to live in America under our own wings.

by Nellie Wong
(b. 1934 - living; revolutionary socialist feminist poet and activist, the child of Chinese immigrants; co-founded the Asian American feminist literary and performance group Unbound Feet, among many other creative efforts)

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