At this extraordinary time, we need strong women to help us imagine a better world, one filled with love, not hate. Audre Lorde, a self-described Black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet, wrote that the erotic is a resource of feeling within us. This is the opposite of the pornographic, which denies women their own power. Sensation alone is not enough; instead, Lorde's emphasis is on learning to value the feeling of satisfaction instead of denying ourselves that right: "Once we know the extent to which we are capable of feeling that sense of satisfaction and completion, we can then observe which of our various life endeavors bring us closest to that fullness."
For Lorde and poets like her, poetry taps into the forces within us, giving "name to the nameless." It helps us say "yes" to our deepest cravings and reimagine what is possible.
Our reproductive rights, the right to have control over our own bodies, our freedom to love who we love, and, sadly, so much more--even the right to lay sleeping safely in our homes while Black--are not only threatened but also forcibly taken away from us daily. We have much to learn from women poets. Lorde knew that women desiring and nurturing other women, across differences, is redemptive and where real power may be discovered.
Emily Dickinson, who spent the majority of her time isolated at home, felt the white hot pangs of desire for her beloved Susan Gilbert. And Gwen Benaway, a trans woman and lyric poet, electrifies the air with the prickles of desire and the wonder and power of trans womanhood today. In this series of Olios, we will dive into the love poetry of each of these inspiring authors with Lorde's essay, "Uses of the Erotic: The Erotic as Power" as our guiding framework.
Participating in all three Olios is not required for registration: each Olio will stand on its own yet all three will follow powerful themes of socially-distanced love, not at all distanced sex, and exploring the creative, generative force of difference. Participants need only show up with open minds and hearts.
"I need her -- I must have her:" Emily Dickinson in the Grass
For those familiar with Emily Dickinson, or who have watched the recent film, Wild Nights with Emily (2018), you know that she wrote many love letters and poems to Susan Gilbert, her greatest love and muse. To Dickinson, Gilbert was the "Only Woman in the World." Although the name "Susan" or "Sue" was rubbed out of Dickinson's penciled writings by blushing editors, her ardent love for Gilbert has been restored in recent years. In this Olio, we will read some of Dickinson's writings addressed to her lover as well as her poem "A Narrow Fellow in the Grass," known for its beautiful reversal of gender: "The Grass divides as with a Comb,/A spotted Shaft is seen, ..." Although prior viewing of the film is not required, attendees might like to watch Wild Nights with Emily beforehand to better understand the love story between these two remarkable women.
"your hands in my doorway like rainbows:" Audre Lorde's Love Poems
We often look to Audre Lorde in times of crisis--times like ours, today--for her strength, truth, and activism. Lorde brings out the beauty and creative power of difference in her essays, inviting us all in--with a warm embrace--to participate in movements for change. But what kind of enfolding, cradling, and clutching does she offer to the lovers in her poems? In this Olio, we will dive deeper into Lorde's essay on "The Uses of the Erotic: The Erotic as Power" (although not required reading, the essay will be provided to attendees in advance), and together we will read a few of Lorde's poems, including "Pirouette," "And Don't Think I Won't Be Waiting," and "Love Poem."
"the sound I make is a blackbird's cry:" Gwen Benaway's Holy Wild Poems
In her book Holy Wild (2018), Canadian poet and activist Gwen Benaway explores the struggle and liberation of being a trans woman through lyric poetry, interweaving English and Anishinaabemowin (Ojibe). In this Olio, we will discuss several of Benaway's poems, including "Holy Wild," alongside artwork by Quill Christie-Peters, an Anishinaabe visual artist from Ontario whose work, "Kwe loves herself despite all odds," is featured as the cover art of Benaway's book. Select poems will be provided in advance however no prior reading or attendance is required.