Audre Lorde

I completed Sister Outsider – Essays and Speeches by Audre Lorde. She delivers to the reader honest and raw truths with nothing held back. I appreciate her bold, intelligent approach to speaking out for black women and others who society perceives as the ‘other,’ and has throughout the history of most of the world. I consider myself to be aware and receptive. Ms. Lorde broadened my insight and opened my mind and heart to the degree and methods of racism and classicism that fellow humans enact against people of color. The issues surrounding women rights and inequality and loving women resonate with me; however, her powerful words about the struggles against and among black women disturb me. They disturb me in the sense that with my mere glimpse into black society I cannot fathom how our fellow beings of color have struggled and continue to struggle in this day and age with racism and classicism. It is disgraceful. It is inexcusable. It is cowardly…those who feel insignificant harbor the need to exert some sort of power over others who they perceive as essentially lesser beings, when in actuality the oppressors are the lesser beings.

Within many of my books I read, I take notes and/or highlight and earmark chapters/pages that contain passages that leap from the paper into my being. In her paper entitled “Age, Rage, Class, and Sex: Women Redefining Difference,” which was delivered at the Copeland Colloquium, Amherst College, April 1980, Ms. Lorde succinctly defines conditional racism/classicism, a global issue.

MUCH OF WESTERN EUROPEAN history conditions us to see human differences in simplistic opposition to each other: dominant/subordinate, good/bad, up/down, superior/inferior. In a society where the good is defined in terms of profit rather than in terms of human need, there must always be some group of people who, through systematized oppression, can be made to feel surplus, to occupy the place of the dehumanized inferior. Within this society, that group is made up of Black and Third World people, working-class people, older people, and women.

Audre Lorde, “Age, Rage, Class, and Sex: Women Redefining Difference,” in Sister Outsider – Essays and Speeches (1984; repr., New York: Crossing Press, 2007), 114.

Audre Lorde was a brave and intelligent woman – a poet, a writer, an activist, a black, lesbian, feminist with two children whose partner was a white woman. Now think about that for even just a second, if you can about how society to include her own, and I mean her black society and sisters, considered her and her family. Yes…surely as the ‘other’ – bad, down, inferior – less worthy than the good, up, superior oppressors. Who do we think we are as a society of such rich global culture to sit in judgment of our fellow humankind, people who are trying to make a life for themselves? We are supposed to be in this thing called life together because it is not easy for everyone and I would argue that even the wealthy who grew up knowing nothing about poverty, racism, classicism, bias and more, have indeed had times of unhappiness. Happiness is inside each of us and we hold up and are held up by our fellow humans, or put down by them. It is a choice, to be a good human, and it is not…should not be so difficult to understand.

Thank you Audre Lorde for helping me view the world through an enhanced, clearer lens. I am a good human but like all of us, not without faults, and when pitted against those I perceive to be bad humans I can run into trouble. Thinkers like you help me to seek what is inside and really study myself and others, to be a better human and continue to improve myself.

Note: The photo of Audre Lorde from the Poetry Foundation website, https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poets/audre-lorde, accessed 9 March 2021.

Gwendolyn Brooks and Her “Anniad”

I bought three new books, selected to honor Black History and enrich my perspective. I just read through The Essential Gwendolyn Brooks edited by Elizabeth Alexander, American Poets Project, The Library of America, 2005. As with all poetry books I read, I ran straight through it and will return later to focus on the contents and Ms. Brooks’ words more closely. Her work is raw and revealing, especially to a white woman. Yes, I have experienced prejudice based on my gender (ignoring and/or countering my expertise in being technically correct), and who I love (cannot simply hold the hand of my wife in many places). Yet, it does not compare to the racial bias and violence deployed against our Black friends and neighbors that enrich every aspect of our collective human experience called life – if we enable them as equal members of our society – which is who they are by our given rights.

One epic poem that stood out based on my concentration and interest in Ancient & Classical History was “The Anniad.” The similarity of the title and thematic narratives should not be lost on those familiar with The Aeneid by Roman poet Virgil (T. Vergilius Maro, 70-19 BCE). To read Virgil’s Aeneid online, a scholarly-sanctioned Loeb translation, go here: http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.02.0054%3Abook%3D1%3Acard%3D1. Gwendolyn Brooks gives the reader a view of feminine sexual idealism and the struggles in a world focused on patriarchy, to include love, imagined and real, warfare, and other tangential scenarios. Dr. Ann Folwell Stanford, professor of multidisciplinary and literary studies, provided a detailed analysis of “The Anniad,” in her article “An Epic with a Difference: Sexual Politics in Gwendolyn Brooks’s “The Anniad.” Dr. Folwell discussed not only “The Anniad,” but also the underlying currents running throughout its cover volume Annie Allen (1949).

Gwendolyn Brooks’s second volume of poetry, Annie Allen (1949), furthers a resistance to white racist hegemony begun in A Street in Bronzeville (1945) but extends its analysis to the confining ideology that (mis)shapes gender and distorts sexual relationships. Many of Annie Allen’s poems interrogate femininity and romantic love, looking at how such constructs restrict women to an oppressive and ultimately unworkable notion of love. Annie continually experiences conflicts be- tween opposites within herself: realism/idealism, assertion/submission, and expression/repression. These dialectical terms dictate struggle, and that struggle inheres in many of the volume’s best poems. Feminized both by title and subject matter, Annie Allen foregrounds a resistance to male co-optation and female passivity and offers a critique of sexual politics focusing on the imbalance of power that frequently characterizes relations between the sexes.

Ann Folwell Stanford. “An Epic with a Difference: Sexual Politics in Gwendolyn Brooks’s “The Anniad,” American Literature 67, no. 2 (June 1995): 283, accessed 18 February 2021, https://www.jstor.org/stable/2927790.

I share below the opening lines of Brooks’ “The Anniad” to wet your appetite to engage her work. I will be reading more of her work, which is beautiful in its complexity and simplicity, and raw portrayal of life impacted by gender inequality and racism.

Think of sweet and chocolate,
Left to folly or to fate,
Whom the higher gods forgot,
Whom the lower gods berate;
Physical and underfed
Fancying on the featherbed
What was never and is not.

Gwendolyn Brooks, The Essential Gwendolyn Brooks, ed. Elizabeth Alexander (New York: The Library of America, 2005), 36.

With this brief introduction, I now challenge you, dear reader, to explore the world of not only Gwendolyn Brooks, but of other black and female authors who bravely broke the codes through their artistic expressions. We are bound to honor and thank them.

Death Comes for the Archbishop

I vaguely recall that I read something by Willa Cather…decades ago. Like many of us, my life became focused on other missions and their recommended or relevant readings. Furthermore, I generally have not been focused on American literature. That is changing as I continue to evolve and broaden my scope. I will read all of Willa Cather’s books in due time as her work is revealing and so descriptive of the Native American Southwest and other adventures that pioneers endured in settling America’s breadbasket, where I grew up.

Within a few phrases I realized why Claire Messud referenced Death Comes for the Archbishop in her book that I briefly discussed in a prior post. I was hooked and could not wait to keep turning the pages. Those of us who have visited our American Southwest, especially New Mexico and Arizona, understand the awe of the desert landscape and its reverberating energy…Native American spiritual energy that is unmistakable in its mystical, pure, and raw forms. When I visited the Grand Canyon in 2002 and arose early with my friend to watch the sunrise, it was a priceless moment, an exquisite example of nature’s splendor. More recently, when my wife and I visited Sedona, and when I visited Taos, the energy was ever-present, tingling one’s senses with its wonderful vibrations. Each time I go to the Southwest, it calls me to be there and live among the ancestors.

Willa Cather paints a beautiful and picturesque scene with her words, strung together like an artist, perfect in their description and ability to transport the reader into her book, a vibrant movie reel in one’s open mind. I share a passage below that popped out when my book simply fell open to its pages. Cather painted the natural yet deliberate array of the vast rock mesas, the grandeur of the Indian pueblo at Ácoma, New Mexico.

In all his travels the Bishop had seen no country like this. From the flat red sea of sand rose great rock mesas, generally Gothic in outline, resembling vast cathedrals. They were not crowded together in disorder, but placed in wide spaces, long vistas between. … The sandy soil of the plain had a light sprinkling of junipers, and was splotched with masses of blooming rabbit brush,—that olive-coloured plant that grows in high waves like a tossing sea, at this season covered with a thatch of bloom, yellow as gorse, or orange like marigolds.

This mesa plain had an appearance of great antiquity, and of incompleteness; as if, with all the materials for world-making assembled, the Creator had desisted, gone away and left everything on the point of being brought together, on the eve of being arranged into mountain, plain, plateau. The country was still waiting to be made into a landscape.

Willa Cather, Death Comes for the Archbishop (1927; repr., New York: Vintage Classics Edition, 1990), 94-95.

Come one, come all and join Willa Cather to vividly explore the adventures of America’s construction. Through her illustrations, find rays of light and rainbows that shone and glittered, in the bitter and destructive wake, of those who were strong and fought for the right to live, and the missions who understood, respected, and supported their way of life. Reminisce in the stars that shine down upon us in our own worlds.

Claire Messud

Last week I finished reading Kant’s Little Prussian Head & Other Reasons Why I Write by Claire Messud (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc, 2020). We learned of this book from a NYT book review and it peaked our interest enough to buy it, which I do not regret. In addition to insight about an author with whom I was unfamiliar, Messud expanded my list of authors. I consider myself to be well-read but there are ALWAYS more books worthy of one’s attention and considering people can get into certain genres, we miss other gems.

I have several works by Albert Camus that I regularly re-read, and read Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro a very long time ago. However, I must confess she highlighted others that have intriguing lives and works. I even enjoyed her coverage of artists, which is definitely out of my scope although I cannot wait for the National Gallery of Art and other museums to re-open for sitting and studying silence their offerings.

I ordered Pulitzer Prize winning The Wild Iris (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1992) by American poet Louise Glück, winner of the 2020 Nobel Prize in Literature. I read it straight through quickly for my first read. I will return to it again and contemplate each verse more slowly as her work demands such attention. I also ordered American author Willa Cather’s Death Comes for the Archbishop (1927; repr., New York: Vintage Classics, 1990), which I am currently reading and will finish by the weekend. Searching for poetry led me to poetry and essays that by three black women that I felt compelled to read to further educate myself about Black History as a part of American History. We are supposed to put ourselves in others’ shoes; however, that is easier said then done in many cases. My desire is that to read from a black woman’s perspective will expand my own aperture to a deeper level of understanding. There are great works by black male authors but as a woman, I turn to these awesome pioneering women for enlightenment. More on them in a future post.

Now I turn back to Messud to close this Friday morning train of thought. Kant’s Little Prussian Head offered numerous insights but there is one in particular that I highlighted, yes in our new hardback copy, toward the end that resonated with my senses. Through the love of books, one can learn connectedness. Just think…

Connection—whether in love or in art—entails risk; risk entails awkwardness. And it is through vulnerabilities that, as humans, we speak most profoundly, from the heart.

Claire Messud, Kant’s Little Prussian Head & Other Reasons Why I Write (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc, 2020), 285.