Wednesday, April 20, 2011


It's a big week for lesbian poets. Kay Ryan won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry for her book, The Best of It. I have a review of the book, which I thoroughly enjoyed, forthcoming in CALYX. Joan Larkin won the Shelley Prize from the Poetry Society of America. I viewed her book, My Body: New and Selected Poems for the Lambda Book Report. Announced earlier this month, a Guggenheim for lesbian poet, Eleanor Lerman. I am thrilled to see all of these poets receive the recognition they deserve.

I've been thinking a lot about lesbian poets writing during the Women's Liberation Movement and the ways that poetry circulated and represented some of the visions and dreams for liberation of women generally and lesbians particularly. While lesbians were recognized and regarded within women's communities, they also consistently won prizes from mainstream poetry and literary organizations. Olga Broumas's recognition as a Yale Younger Poet in the late 1970s; the Lamont Prize to Minnie Bruce Pratt in 1989 for her second collection, Crime Against Nature, and many others. In spite of this recognition, the continued reading and canonization of lesbian poetry struggles. In short, our words are too easily forgotten. When is the last time you read Judy Grahn's "Edward the Dyke" in a poetry anthology? Or Joan Larkin's "Cunt Poem"? This is to say, we must work against the forgetting and erasure of lesbian work.

Perhaps, though, with a former US Poet Laureate as an open lesbian (Kay Ryan) and an open bisexual woman as the UK Poet Laureate (Carol Ann Duffy) and the best-selling poet in the US open about being a lesbian (Mary Oliver), we have passed the point where erasure and forgetting are dangers. I hope so, although history proves again and again the ease with which women and their contributions to our cultural lives are erased and forgotten. Let us guard against that happening again.

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