Lorde, Audrey. “Poems Are Not Luxuries.” Claims for Poetry, ed. Donald Hall. U of Michigan P, 2007, pp. 282-85.
Among the theoretical approaches I have available for my research is creative writing theory, and more specifically, poetic theory. I have moved so far from the poetry I was writing into the idea of examining poetry by women, that somehow, the actual poetics, the poems themselves, were lost to me. It is all about the poems, and the form (or genre) of poetry is essential to my project. Much has been written in poetic theory about line, musicality, form, and “appropriate” subject matter for poems. T. S. Eliot’s “Tradition and the Individual Talent” speaks to poetry’s connection to the history of poetry and literature. I might have begun there, but Eliot speaks directly out of the male-dominated canon of 1921.
So, I’ve added this essay by Audre Lorde which makes the case that for women, “The woman’s place of power within each of us is neither white nor surface; it is dark, it is ancient, and it is deep” (282). Even though she is a black woman poet and she is talking about the poetry of black women poets, she is talking about the poetry of women poets. Though black women poets feel oppression multiply, all women understand what oppression is. Her article points out the importance of women’s poetry to women.
I risk, in this assessment of Lorde’s essay, saying something deeply offensive to black women poets, and it’s not my intent at all, but how can I discover my wrongheadedness if I don’t express what I believe, laying it out in the light, so that I can be shown where and how these connections I’ve made work to uphold women’s poetry and what would work to undermine the progress my fellow poets have made.
Lorde sees women’s survival as a two-fold proposition: “to cherish our feelings” and “to respect those hidden sources of our power” (283).
Men have also written about poetry as a survival tool, particularly Gregory Orr, but for women poets, “[i]t is a vital necessity of our existence.” As she is writing, women’s poetry is beginning to be recognized, and Langston Hughes has found his place among the recognized poets, but black women poets are struggling for recognition.
Poetry, for Lorde, is a path toward fashioning our feelings into “sanctuaries and fortresses and spawning grounds for the most radical and daring ideas” (283), and she suggests that women’s poetry is “not the sterile word play that, too often, the white fathers distorted the word poetry to mean” (283). Admittedly, men’s poetry has moved away from what she’s accused, but her estimation based on her experience of the canon as it was in 1977 was a fair point. She addresses the idea that women’s poetry is not serious poetry, that women have been “diminished or softened by the falsely benign accusations of childishness, of nonuniversality, of self-centeredness, of sensuality,” and evidence still exists for this diminished status of women’s poetry, or perhaps the elevated status of men’s poetry, in the recognition of men’s poetry through awards and accolades. Lorde, like many other poets, accedes “there are no new ideas,” but she does suggest there are “new ways of making them felt” 285).
Among women writers, the prizes are fewer. Even with the last Nobel Prize winner, rather than recognizing the accomplishments of a woman writer, the committee chose to recognize a male singer, Bob Dylan. His work is excellent, no doubt, but does it really surpass the excellence of so many women writers?
More prose by Audre Lorde
Poetry by Audre Lorde