Poetry is Not a Luxury

Black white image of Audre Lorde smiling. To her left is a white box with a yellow outline and a quote reading: "Poetry is not a luxury. It is a vital necessity of our existence. It forms the quality of the light within which we predicate our hopes and dreams toward survival and change,  first made into language, then into idea, then into more tangible action." The red POC logo is at the bottom of the image. Image via the Feminist Wire.

Black white image of Audre Lorde smiling. To her left is a white box with a yellow outline and a quote reading: "Poetry is not a luxury. It is a vital necessity of our existence. It forms the quality of the light within which we predicate our hopes and dreams toward survival and change,  first made into language, then into idea, then into more tangible action." The red POC logo is at the bottom of the image. Image via the Feminist Wire.

by Abaki Beck

Our reading of the week, by Audre Lorde, is Poetry is Not a Luxury. In this text, Audre Lorde discusses poetry. Not poetry in terms of rhyming words or specific stanzas, as white literature frames it, but poetry as a mode of communicating and accessing our emotions. Too often, she argues, emotions are left by the wayside, and we are viewed merely in terms of our ability to think and produce. For women of color, however, poetry is vital for survival and for thinking of new ways of being and striving for justice in the world. She argues that only through connecting deeply with ourselves and our feelings can we find true ways to make lasting change. Poetry can help name these often intangible feelings and yearnings, and bring them into being. Poetry, she says, helps bring a name to our pain and our joys, which are meant to be destroyed in a capitalist society.

This is a beautiful, brief piece, that discusses similar themes to Uses of the Erotic: Erotic As Power and other of her work. What role do emotions play in social change? How have racism, heterosexism, and capitalism, caused us to deny or ignore our emotions, focusing only on our productivity and (sometimes lack of) “value” to society? How will accessing and giving voice to these emotions - anger, fear, love - challenge white supremacy and western norms of success? Poetry, for Lorde, is not just physical words, but a deep mode of communication and empowerment. How can art, like poetry, help us to better communicate with ourselves and others?

Some of our favorite quotes to get you in the mood to read:

“We can train ourselves to respect our feelings, and to discipline (transpose) them into a language that matches those feelings so they can be shared. And where that language does not yet exist, it is our poetry which helps to fashion it. Poetry is not only dream or vision, it is the skeleton architecture of our lives.”
“The white fathers told us, I think therefore I am; and the black mothers in each of us - the poet - whispers in our dreams, I feel therefore I can be free. Poetry coins the language to express and charter this revolutionary awareness and demand, the implementation of that freedom.”
“Poetry is not a luxury. It is a vital necessity of our existence. It forms the quality of the light within which we predicate our hopes and dreams toward survival and change, first made into language, then into idea, then into more tangible action.”

POC Online Classroom strives to make readings and resources that celebrate the intellectual tradition and knowledge production of marginalized communities more accessible. Rad Reading is a series that highlight texts to read and writers to support! We will post every Tuesday.