Heidi Perez, Senior, Guest Writer to The Phoenix Flyer
Words, the very essence of communication, bring meaning to most aspects of our lives. Poets use this influence to their advantage and transcend the medium into a spectacle of aesthetics or even political commentary. Their take on inequality can be expressed in ten pages or a short stanza, but the magnitude of their words greatly exceeds page number. During the Gay Rights Movement, poetry was used to detail, protest, and reflect the injustices imposed on a targeted group of people. The following poets have notably used their talents for the greater good, which historically has evoked change and still continues.
Allen Ginsberg (1926-1997)
As an acclaimed member of the Beat Generation, Ginsberg had unconventionality in his blood. He was born in Newark, New Jersey, where as a young child he witnessed his mother go through many mental health breakdowns. Upon becoming a member of the Beat writers, he used this power to detail the many injustices in society, most notably, gay rights. His most famous poem, “Howl” (1957), dissects the corruption of modern society and became an anthem for same-sex rights. This particular work of art was classified as an obscenity, and in some part of the US were banned entirely due to its “detailed” content. In 1957, U.S Customs seized over 500 copies of this piece attempting to ban it entirely due to its content. This later sparked the The Howl Trial, in which writers, scholars, and even critics testified against the confiscation of the book notably arguing its cultural significance and value. After heated debate and testimony, the poem was ruled not obscene. His poem sparked social change and his protest is still being heard today. Some notable events were “firsts” when Illinois decriminalized homosexual acts (1962) and when the Stonewall Riots (1970) occurred. Equal rights were brewing the minds of ones faced by this injustice, and Ginsberg was used as their motivation.
Here is an excerpt from "Howl":
I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness,
starving hysterical naked,
dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn looking for an angry fix angelheaded hipsters
burning for the ancient heavenly connection to the starry dynamo in the machinery of the night
Audre Lorde (1934-1992)
Famously self-describing herself as “black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet,” she is greatly known for her writing on homophobia, sexism, and racial inequality. Not only did she use poetry for social change, but also she used it as a way to heal and document her struggles such as her fight with cancer. Born in Harlem, New York, her mother played an important role in her love for words and writing. She won various awards on her writing such as the Walt Whitman Citation of Merit, given to her in 1987. Famous poems include “I Am Your Sister: Black Women Organizing Across Sexualities,” “The Black Unicorn,” and “A Woman Speaks”.
An excerpt from “Woman”
I dream of a place between your breasts
to build my house like a haven
where I plant crops
in your body
an endless harvest
where the commonest rock
is moonstone and ebony opal
giving milk to all of my hungers
and your night comes down upon me
like a nurturing rain.
“About Audre Lorde.” The Audre Lorde Project. The Audre Lorde Project. Nd. Web. 19 Oct 2017.
“Audre Lorde.” Poetry Foundation. Poetry Foundation. nd. Web. 19 Oct 2017.
Biespiel, David. David Biespiel’s Poetry Wire: Allen Ginsberg’s Howl meets Gay Marriage. The
Rumpus. 6 July 2016. Web. 19 Oct 2017.
Ginsberg, Allen. Howl. Museum of American Poetics Publications. 1957. Print. 19 Oct 2017.
Sederberg, James. “The Howl Obscenity Trial.” The Howl Obscenity Trial. FoundSF. FoundSF. nd. 19 Oct 2017.