- How do you see these two poems navigating the personal and the political? What imagery and historical/political references do you find interwoven with more personal details of the poet’s life? Does this change the nature of the personal I?
In the first couple of lines in the poem “Sisters in Arms” there is already an established tension. “The edge of our bed was a wide grid where your fifteen-year-old daughter was hanging gut-sprung on police wheels” (1-3). Lorde seems to be with a South African woman in a bed with a young girl who needs to be buried. Lorde is unable to come with this woman to bury her daughter. “So I bought you a ticket to Durban on my American Express and we lay together in the first light of a new season” (13-16). Then we are introduced to a more significant problem, more specifically the most important problem in the entire poem. “I reach for the taste of today, the New York Times finally mentions your country, a half-page story of the first white south african killed in the “unrest” Not of Black children massacred at Sebokeng six-year-olds imprisoned for threatening the state not of Thabo Sibeko, first grader, in his own blood” (19-25). The New York Time’s news stories that are only mentioning the problems in this country, and which they have only given a half of a page”. The biased article is only even mentioning a problem because a White South African person was killed in this conflicted area. However, this article completely obscures all of the Black children that are massacred in Sebokeng, as well as the young children who are confined for being a threat. After this political moment in the poem, there is a shift. “We were two Black women touching our flame and we left our dead behind us I hovered you rose the last ritual of healing” (33=35). These lines become much more personal. They show a deeper, more joyous moment. Almost as if they are validating this almost excitement that they feel. This excited moment is shown again where she states, “and wherever I touch you I lick cold from my fingers taste rage like salt from the lips of a woman who has killed too often to forget and carries each death in her eyes” (39-44). This moment was very sensual and erotic. This is where the more personal traces of Lorde creep into the poem. I found it very interesting that she referenced salt in this line, and related that salt to death. In a Passover Seder it is said that salt water symbolizes the tears and sweat of enslavement. Paradoxically, it’s also a symbol for purity, springtime, and the sea, the mother of all life. It is ambiguous which meaning Lorde meant, and one could argue both.
The poem “North American Time” also discusses a very controversial topic. “Everything we write will be used against us or against those we love. These are the terms, take them or leave them. Poetry never stood a chance of standing outside history” (11-17). This line definitely reminded me of the book 1984 where people were not allowed to write down anything at all, especially not any of their. I love the verbal irony of “stood” and “standing” Both come from the same exact word root, but the two forms take on different meanings that contradict one another. Words never stand alone. Once they separated from their original context, they all take on very different meanings. Her poem describes this idea of what happens when people take language out of context? Rich shows the true power of language. How languages have the ability to take on many different forms. Another interesting idea that Rich discusses is the consequence of becoming a writer. “We move but our words stand become responsible and this is verbal privilege” (24-26). This concept that by writing things down, are voice is held responsible for what we say. But then we are also given this amazing privilege to have the freedom to say whatever we want. “It doesn’t matter what you think. Words are found responsible all you can do is choose them or choose to remain silent. Or, you never had a choice, which is why the words that do stand are responsible and this is verbal privilege” (39-46). Although we do have the freedom, we have to keep in mind that the words we write will stand, and we must respect this privilege.
What is the true meaning of written language? How can we really manipulate our words and change their meanings. Should we be responsible for everything we write?
What could Lorde really be protesting other than the failure to bring attention to the massacres in South Africa? Is there a deeper message, a more ambiguous one?