Poetry News

Lisa L. Moore on the Sister Arts of Adrienne Rich & Audre Lorde

By Harriet Staff

Audre Lorde, Meridel Lesueur & Adrienne Rich

Assessments and reassessments of Adrienne Rich seem to be a la mode of recent. On that note, poet and scholar Lisa L. Moore has written a brilliant, exciting essay for the LA Review of Books about the relationship between female poets and contemporary Feminist theory. While rereading Audre Lorde's Sister Outsider, Moore noticed that the interview between Lorde and Adrienne Rich was commissioned by Marilyln Hacker when she was the guest editor of Woman Poet: The East. Moore was ecstatic at finding a text which connected these three poets. "Oh, what a tiny compressed history of love and struggle," she writes. "Oh, what a constellation of brilliant and powerful poets. Oh, what a poem." But even more than that, this grouping confirmed something which Moore had begun to sense in the wake of Rich's death last March:

I sorrowed with the poets, shared the gratitude of the feminists, and felt, with the lesbians, the loss of someone I’d never met who nonetheless felt like family. After a while, I started to feel an unspoken connection I had noticed subliminally but had never quite put together until I started to steep myself in others’ assessments of Rich’s life and times: the unacknowledged history of how poets — often lesbians, often women of color — helped create the bedrock of contemporary feminist theory.

Moore makes a case for a second-wave Feminist social and theoretical movement where poets--especially lesbians and women of color--were central.

Adrienne Rich, Audre Lorde, Alice Walker, Marilyn Hacker, Cherríe Moraga, Judy Grahn, June Jordan, Gloria Anzaldúa, Pat Parker, Sonia Sanchez, Nikki Giovanni, Susan Griffin, Wendy Rose, Marge Piercy, Irena Klepfisz, Janice Mirikitani, Nellie Wong, Chrystos, Lorna Dee Cervantes, Joy Harjo — these are among the iconic names of second-wave feminist theory, and all are poets. Virtually all are lesbians, and all but a few are women of color. It’s no coincidence that many of these classic essays concern racism in the women’s movement, relations among feminist women of color, and/or white women’s efforts to become antiracist allies to women of color. Lesbians of color played a significant role in producing the outpouring of small press journals, books, festivals, conferences, bookstores, and other distribution networks upon which feminist theory — and hence academic women’s and gender studies — now rests. Audre Lorde made one of the most ambitious claims perhaps ever made for poetry when she wrote, “We can train ourselves to respect our feelings and to transpose them into a language so they can be shared. And where that language does not yet exist, it is our poetry which helps to fashion it.” White male modernists like Auden had despaired of “making things happen” with poems; lesbians of color experienced poems themselves as events.

At moments, Moore's essay makes us want to cheer, especially when she notes the number of poems in the 2010 textbook she assigns to her students, the Feminist Theory Reader. Moreover, it makes us want to return to some of our favorites, like Muriel Rukeyser’s “No More Masks.”

At one moment in the essay, Moore touches on "the signal contribution of independent feminist, woman-of-color, and lesbian presses to both feminist theory and American poetry" but notes that it is "another story for another time." Or perhaps another future essay? We hope so!