Saturday, April 9, 2011


(Jan Clausen photo by Joanna Eldredge Morrissey, ©2008)

Jan Clausen came out with a literary splash, and then “went back in” with a painfully public reverb. She is one of us I think about when I argue that to claim sexual orientation MUST be genetically deternined is not only inaccurate but disrespectful to all the smart, loving people who alter their sexual identity more than once in their lives. It’s not linear and it’s not determined by hormones. Human beings are more fluid than that, and have invented culture to reflect that fluidity.

In 1976, Clausen (along with Elly Bulkin, Irena Klepfisz, and Rima Shore) founded the important Conditions, “a magazine of women’s writing with an emphasis on writing by lesbians.” She remained co-editor until 1980. To my mind, however, the most significant work by Clausen remains A Movement of Poets (1981) in which she outline how feminism, especially lesbian-feminism, was a social movement led by and rooted in poetry. This long essay is worth re-reading regularly and is available online thanks to the Lesbian Poetry Archive.

Below is the title poem from her groundbreaking first volume “After Touch”:


after late evenings
filled with women

after talk
or touch

after a song by janis joplin
and a woman's body in my arms
quite by accident, swaying
and slowly stepping in a dance
like those dances of high school
back at the dawn of sex

after kissing my friends
a safe goodbye at the door

after the long ride
underground/under mind
and the transfer, the platform
desolate and calm
with waiting men
lounging in seats
or closing their eyes, free,
free to doze
or accost me as they please

and the cab ride or terror
five blocks home from the station

after hot showers, hot chocolate
and books

i lie down in bed
beside the dark shape of a man
thinking of women

not wanting masturbation
that old ploy
my clitoris fooled,
rubbed, drugged, bribed
into submission
when it's my whole body
woman-hungering, aches

i remember now a childhood story
of a man of the last century
who drove a team of horses
forty miles through a blizzard
to bring back wheat
for his starving midwestern town

and how, when he lived,
when he at last lay down
in his own safe bed
his fingers, itching and burning,
his tingling feet
kept him awake all night

and he was glad. the pain
meant they would thaw, meant
he would dance, chop wood,
hold wagon reins again

i am a lesbian

© Jan Clausen, from "After Touch", Out & Out Books, 1975

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