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Monday, 20 January 2014

Pat Parker (1944 - 1989): "Poet laureate of the Black and Lesbian peoples

b. January 20, 1944 
d. June 19, 1989
I'm waiting for the revolution that will let me take all my parts.

"This loud and rich-mouthed poet," Lyndie Brimstone writes of Pat Parker in Feminist Review, "who planted her feet firmly on platforms all over America and demanded that her audiences, whoever they may be, pay attention, was not only working class, she was black and lesbian: the very first to refuse to compromise and speak openly from all her undiluted experience." Parker was a contemporary of such writers as Audre Lorde, Adrienne Rich, and LeRoi Jones/Amira Baraka. Until her early death from cancer in 1989, she was not only a highly visible black Lesbian poet - Adrian Oktenberg, writing in the Women's Review of Books, called her "the poet laureate of the Black and Lesbian peoples" - but a committed activist in radical politics and community issues. In addition to urgent, angry poems against racism, sexism, and homophobia, Parker wrote "exquisitely sensual love poems," Brimstone reported.

In a Callaloo review of the 1978 collection Movement in Black: The Collected Poetry of Pat Parker, which includes poems from her earlier books, Gerald Barrax commended Parker's qualities of "wit, humor, and irony" but suggested that her work often falls into "rhetoric, sentimentality and didacticism." He particularly praised the autobiographical poem "Goat Child" for its "ease, speed and charm." Brimstone termed the same poem "a courageous, sinewy work" and "a fine example of Pat Parker's skill." In her review of Parker's final book, Jonestown and Other Madness, Oktenberg suggested that if Parker's poetry is "simple," it is "deceptively so." "She gets down on paper complicated states of feeling, lightning-quick changes of thought, and she deals with complex issues in language and imagery that any bar dyke can understand," Oktenberg said, adding, "You don't have to have an education in poetry to read [Parker's work], though the more you have, the better the work becomes." Parker's "standpoint as a black lesbian mother," Rochelle Ratner commented in Library Journal, "imbues her poetry with a highly political consciousness." The feeling and vision behind Pat Parker's poetry may perhaps be summed up in the closing lines of the first poem in Jonestown and Other Madness: "I care for you / I care for our world / if I stop / caring about one / it would be only / a matter of time / before I stop / loving / the other."

On the tenth anniversary of Parker's death, and the twenty-first of its original publication, Movement in Black was re-issued in 1999 in an expanded edition that included more poems (some previously unpublished), ten tributes by other writers (mostly black lesbian activists), and a new introduction by Cheryl Clarke. Echoing the comments of earlier reviewers, Clarke dubbed Parker a "lead voice and caller" of the lesbian-feminist movement. While criticizing Parker for careless editing, Clarke suggested that this fault may have been intentional on Parker's part, reflecting the author's fear that her poems would lose their vernacular power if they were subjected to extensive critical attention. This vernacular consisted of short rhythmic lines (sometimes rhymed; sometimes not) that relied not on the strength of original images or language to achieve its effect, but on an inspired resolution or punch line. For example, Parker's description of making love to a women in "For Willyce":

and your sounds drift down
oh god! oh jesus!
and I think 
here it is, some dude's
getting credit for what
a woman
has done
-read full biography at Browse Biography

Where will you be, When they come? –
Boots are being polished…trumpeters clean their horns
Chains and locks forged…the crusade has begun.
Once again flags of Christ…are unfurled in the dawn
and cries of soul saviors…sing apocalyptic on air waves.
Citizens, good citizens all…parade into voting booths
and in self-righteous sanctity…X away our right to life.
I do not believe as some…that the vote is an end,
I fear even more…it is just a beginning.
So I must make assessment…look to you and ask:
Where will you be…when they come? [...]
Where will we _all be_
when they come?
And they will come-
they will come…because we are defined as opposite…perverse
and we are perverse.
Every time we watched…a queer hassled in the
street and said nothing…it was an act of perversion.
Every time we lied about…the boyfriend or girlfriend
at coffee break…it was an act of perversion. [...]
Every time we let straight relatives…bury our dead and push our
lovers away…it was an act of perversion.
And they will come.
They will come for…the perverts
& it won’t matter…if you’re
homosexual, not a faggot
lesbian, not a dyke
gay, not queer [...]
They will come…they will come
to the cities…and to the land
to your front rooms…and in _your_ closets.
They will come for…the perverts
and where will…you be
When they come?

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