Saturday, August 30, 2014

Review: The Black Unicorn: Poems by Audre Lorde

First published:-1978

Star rating:-

These poems are like shards of glass refracting the blurred image of some sombre new insight into the human condition - the agony of love, the pangs of coming to grips with the idea of racial segregation in a world one previously thought had no demarcations, the pervasive pessimism of living as reaffirmed by the morning newspaper, an elegy to the memories of a childhood friend whose time on earth ran out too soon, the melancholic ruminations of a prostitute, the absurdity of children of today being raised like slaughterhouse pigs to be sent to the war-front tomorrow. 
Coming in and out of cities
untouched by their magic
I think without feeling
this is what men do
who try for some connection
and fail
and leave
five dollars on the table.

If the annals of literature are to be consulted, most of these are time-worn subjects which other more renowned poets have regurgitated throughout their distinguished careers, after molding them in accordance with their perceptions of the world and its many idiosyncrasies. And yet Audre Lorde's words, imbued with despondency, regret, hope and fortitude at the same time, tempt you to read them again and again. Her lines flow effortlessly despite their innate simplicity, maintaining an enviable rhythmic symmetry, rendering the reader's tendency to puzzle over esoteric references unnecessary since there are almost none. 
There are a handful of poems here, in praise of the female and androgynous forms of divinity worshipped by the inhabitants of the historical kingdom of Dahomey and the Yoruba people of western Nigeria, which bring to light the oft-overlooked aspects of the cultural ethos of African people. But there's a conveniently provided glossary of African terms at the end to better facilitate complete understanding of these. 

You were not my first death.
but your going was not solaced by the usual
rituals of separation
the dark lugubrious murmurs
and invitations by threat
to the grownups' view
of a child's inelegant pain
so even now
all these years of death later
I search through the index
of each new book
on magic
hoping to find some new spelling
of your name

The implications hidden between her verses do not reinforce a kind of self-obsessed confessionalism as often found in Sylvia Plath or Anne Sexton's works or the heavy-handed inclusion of so many allusions that the poet's urge to communicate is buried under towering ambitions of dismantling poetic conventions. 

Sometimes, her words give the impression of mildly cryptic messages casually scribbled at the back of a notebook, perhaps, while she may have been staring out of her window distractedly. Sometimes, they are her anguished lament, her impassioned protest, wrenched out of her by the brutality of the world or the injustice perpetually dished out to those clinging to the lowermost rungs of the societal ladder for dear life. Her 'Power', one of the most influential and well-known poems from her entire oeuvre, simmers with a righteous rage, intense enough to blow a hole through the edifice of 'white supremacist patriarchy' aside from being a tribute to the memory of young Clifford Glover, a 10-year-old African American boy shot dead by a white cop on duty in South Jamaica, Queens, New York in '73, who was later acquitted by a white-majority jury with a single black female judge.

Today that 37-year-old white man with
13 years of police forcing
has been set free
by 11 white men who said they were satisfied
justice had been done
and one black woman who said
"They convinced me" meaning
they had dragged her 4'10" black woman's frame
over the hot coals of four centuries of white male approval
until she let go of the first real power she ever had
and lined her own womb with cement
to make a graveyard for our children.

Lorde remains one of the few poets in American history who had to contend with the tyranny of conforming to the demands of too many labels conferred on persecuted minorities - black woman in a white man's world, radical feminist, lesbian, civil rights activist. And yet she managed to breach the boundaries of these individual identities by singing in a richly resonant voice whose musicality still holds the power of bridging gaps, relaying the stories of the voiceless and the marginalised, healing the scars left by turbulent times and smoothening out our countless differences across continents and timelines. 
In my eyes, that makes her a hero more than a poet.


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