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Saturday, 29 December 2012

Elsa Gidlow (1898 -1986) Canada: Pioneer Lesbian Poet

b. December 29, 1898
d. June 8, 1986

Elsa Gidlowwas a poet, who in 1923 published the first volume of openly lesbian love poetry in the United States, "On A Grey Thread". She promoted alternative spiritualities including Buddhism and Goddess Worship. In the 1940s she founded a rural retreat center, The Druid Heights Artists Retreat, in Marin County, California. She lived there until her death in 1986. Other residents at Druid Heights have included well-known figures such as her close friend Alan Watts and feminist theorist Catharine MacKinnon.

Born in Hull, Yorkshire, England, when Elsa was six years of age the family emigrated to Tetreauville, Québec, Canada. As a child she didn't have formal education, she helped her mother in the household while secretly nurturing her ambitions to be a poet. When she was sixteen, she moved with her parents to Montréal.

There she took a typing job, attended courses at McGill College (now University), and had her first passionate relationship with a woman. After changing several works, she also co-founded and owned a publishing house.

Gidlow lived openly as a lesbian. Her long-term partners were Violet Henry-Andreson and Isabel Quallo.

Her publications include:

For the Goddess Too Well Known

I have robbed the garrulous streets,
Thieved a fair girl from their blight,
I have stolen her for a sacrifice
That I shall make to this night.

I have brought her, laughing,
To my quietly dreaming garden.
For what will be done there
I ask no man pardon.

I brush the rouge from her cheeks,
Clean the black kohl from the rims
Of her eyes; loose her hair;
Uncover the glimmering, shy limbs.

I break wild roses, scatter them over her.
The thorns between us sting like love's pain.
Her flesh, bitter and salt to my tongue,
I taste with endless kisses and taste again.

At dawn I leave her
Asleep in my wakening garden.
(For what was done there
I ask no man pardon.)

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