I first encountered Audre Lorde’s poetry on a subway in New York City. It was an image of her on a multi-colored poster that read, “Rushing headlong into new silence your face dips on my horizon….” I remember its stark imagery and distinct voice stood out to me, so I typed her name in my phone. I never looked back at my notes app to find her and her name would stay there for another year before I ran into her again.
I encountered her again in a Black history class I took in the spring. We had to write an essay, and her name was in the list of potential readings to choose from. I recognized her, and I realized then why her voice had been so distinct, yet familiar.
The voice in her work spoke to marginalized people, but more specifically Black femininity in general. She defines herself as “black, lesbian, warrior, poet.” Further, she deeply analyzes each of these categories and assigns each of them an inherent beauty and complexity. It was after reading her takes on Black women’s encounters with misogyny in her work, “Feminism and Black Liberation,” that her work sparked an interest in me.
I grabbed a book of her collected works and read it through the summer. This collection included some of her most famous works including both essays and poems. The works selected in this book gave me a more well rounded view of Lorde as not just an artist, but a Black, queer woman. This outlook, while unique and often left unexplored, is also one of comfort for many who usually feel out of place.
One of the main reasons for Lorde’s significance as a writer is how she tackles intersectionality as a tool of relating to all. As she grapples with race, gender, sexuality and family, she always seems to find a common thread of relatability that runs through anyone who is willing to receive her art. Her work is primarily based on the art of inclusion.
“The Black Unicorn,” one of Lorde’s most popular collections of poetry, is a prime example of this. According to The California Journal of Women Writers, it is described as an exploration into Lorde’s “relationship with womanhood as she provides insight on the interwoven nature of oppression, sexism, African culture… and race, affirming that feminism necessitates focus on each element.”
Throughout her poems, Lorde utilizes lyrical language and vibrant imagery to capture her audience in a unique way. Kaisa Illmonen, expert in minority and feminist literature, notes Lorde’s use of “polemical language” that dismisses “the demands of objectivity.”
This is significant because Lorde manages to use divisive language in her poetry, while centering inclusivity. Illmonen also highlights Lorde’s mixing of genres and writing styles in her poetry that allows her writing to remain dynamic as time goes on.
Audre Lorde and her art leaves a lasting impact on those that encounter her. Her art necessitates it. The dynamic and intersectional nature of her art lends itself an inherent significance based on its uniqueness alone.
By going into such uncharted territory for her time and creating a distinctive voice in the literary world, Lorde creates art that outlives her and greatly impacts those that encounter it.