Chosen Poems Critical Essays

Audre Lorde


(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

In Chosen Poems, Old and New, Lorde undertakes a complex naming process that combines self-expression with social protest and art. By developing an Afrocentric feminist perspective that validates self-affirming, woman-identified speech, she illustrates her belief that language has concrete material effects. Many of the pieces in Chosen Poems reflect Lorde’s contention that in order successfully to challenge Eurocentric, patriarchal constructions of female and ethnic identities, women must overcome their self-imposed silences. In “Neighbors” (1970) and “The Winds of Orisha” (1970), for example, she emphasizes her poetry’s transformational power by drawing analogies between her work, magic, and the Yoruban orisha, or spiritual forces. In these poems and others, Lorde implies that speaking out enables people to defy oppressive social systems and to develop empowering forms of community. Thus in “Conversations in Crisis” (1962) and “Sister, Morning Is a Time for Miracles” (1979), she associates silence and false speech with self-denial and emphasizes the importance of open communication between women friends and lovers.

This desire for direct speech shapes Lorde’s poetic style. She utilizes revisionist mythmaking, multiple speaking positions, accessible language, and an intimate, conversational voice to invest her personal insights with communal meaning. In “October” (1980), she calls on Seboulisa, a Yoruban creation figure, to empower her words, thus enabling her to name the unspoken connections between herself and others. In “Need: A Choral of Black Women’s Voices” (1979), “The Evening News” (1979), and “Za Ki Tan Ke Parlay Lot” (1980), she speaks in the voices of African American and black South African women and associates the silences surrounding their lives with the systematic degradation of black womanhood. She employs a confrontational mode of address that compels readers to recognize and begin naming the connections between themselves and these silenced women. Lorde’s willingness to explore even the most painful issues, coupled with her belief in poetry’s transformational power, gives her work an intensity that challenges readers to examine their...

(The entire section is 910 words.)