Thursday, April 29, 2010

'WE ARE ALL LESBIANS"


In 1973, the year I graduated high school, Violet Press (which I think was mostly Fran Winant) published a chapbook-sized anthology called We Are All Lesbians. It was the first lesbian poetry anthology in America and likely the world. I got a copy in around 1974 which I still own.

It was mostly handwritten with line drawings and press-on type titles. You simply can’t comprehend the impact of early works like this if you didn’t live through those times. It was like getting a letter from the future.

The entire anthology is available online via the Lesbian Poetry Archive. I’m copying below three of the poems which affected me the most then and have stood up through the years.


NIGHT NOISES

by Lee Lally (for Jane)

You woke from a dream,
the revolution
in the streets
calling you out.
I had to tell you
the noises were not in your dream.
The army of lovers
was saying goodnight
at the foot of the stairs.
Loud sounds.
It was the revolution.
You were not sleeping
or dreaming
either.


INVOCATION TO SAPPHO

by Elsa Gidlow

Sappho
Sister/Mother
free-
souled, fire-hearted
Psappha of Mitylene on
sea-lapped Lesbos
miracle of a woman
(Strabo wrote)
now now
let me declare
devotion.

Not light years love years
oh how many love years
across the fields of the dead
does your fragrance
travel to me?
Since maidenhood in brain blood
by you haunted
in my armpits I have breathed
sweat of your passion
in the burning crotch of the lover
tasted your honey
heard felt in my pulse
day-long
night-through
lure of your song's beat
insistently echo.
By dust of five-and-twenty centuries
not smothered
by book-consuming flames of
the hate-filled churchmen
unsilenced
your fame only haloed made
more splendid.
Sappho, little and dark,
the Beautiful, Plato called you
(though his Republic had
grudging use for poets)
Sappho, whose veins ran fire
whose nerves
quivered to loves illicit now
in your day
honored by the noblest
Sappho, all roses,
do we not touch
across the censorious years?


GERTRUDE AND EMILY

by Fran Winant

Gertrude I have your voice on a record
and I listen to it
when I do exercises in the morning
feeling your rhythms on my skin
Emily when I’m lonely
I think of your face
with its quiet look of endurance
you’re my friends
marking places in time
where my consciousness existed
before me
you had to hide
and so became obscure
Gertrude your language was called hermetic
as in 'hermetically sealed'
you were a nonsense woman
they tried to make you a clown
your writing was called
stream of consciousness
so it couldn’t make sense
your consciousness
couldn’t be allowed to make sense
when you talked about
"tender buttons"
were those breasts you meant
when you asked
"when do I see lightning"
and answered
"every night"
were you talking about making love
Emily who thought to look at you
myth of a spinster
wounded by emotions
too deep for physical touch
religious mystic mulling over
god-bones snow flakes and death
when you praised madnessand insisted
"the soul selects its own society"
described the people around you
as a world "that never wrote to me"
everyone thought
poor woman
what made her stay indoors so long
and never come out
if only we knew
well now we do
Gertrude at least you lived
the life you wanted
you would have felt better
if you could have said it
even at the expense of not creating
that hard to follow style
you needed
to be able to write at all
without quite lying
Emily if only you could have
lived it
instead of having to bite your lip
and count your losses
whispering
"my life closed twice
before its close"
I don’t know if being gay
is part of what you’d want
to be remembered for now
but you’re my friends
in our past lives
we were all
Gertrude Stein and Emily Dickinson
in your present lives
you are us
telling the truth
and living it too
at last

2 comments:

Liza said...

I totally remember that book. I owned it, though I probably never read it because (so sorry Mags) I've never been much of a poetry reader. I'm so glad it is now preserved digitally.

Maggie Jochild said...

Liza, you are such a literati, you owe me no apologies for not reading much poetry. I think it's interesting how solidly the lesbian-feminist community supported its poets despite the fact that a sizeable group within it didn't read poetry. We recognized we were "a movement of poets" (to quote Jan Clausen) but that didn't mean we all had to do it. And, of course, we were also a movement of songwriters, which is the pop culture outlet for much poetry.

And, artist-girl, I ADORE your icon over there on your comment.