Parker, Pat. “The Complete Works of Pat Parker”, (Sapphic Classics), edited by Julie R. Enszer, Sinister Wisdom and A Midsummer Night’s Press , 2016.
Being Black, Queer, a Poet and a Feminist
I must confess that although I consider myself to be a well-read person, I had never heard of Pat Parker before this book won the Lambda Literary Award, Best Lesbian Poetry. Even more surprising is that it was edited by Julie Enszer whose work I have followed since her first book an whose poetry has always been an inspiration for me. I am very happy to have plugged that hole in my education. However, it was not enough just to read this book, I also wanted to learn about Parker, the person and quite frankly, I was surprised that her name never came up in any of Women’s Studies courses as a graduate student or in Black Literature classes that I enrolled in. I can’t help wondering if that is because I went to school in the South or if I just missed those classes.
Pat Parker was very aware of black suffering, of violence against black people (especially women) and of the suffering brought on by unending oppression. “The Complete Works of Pat Parker” give us a window into her life and we quickly see her importance regarding black women’s literary traditions, lesbian erotica, black queer struggles, and global social justice movements. As I was writing that sentence, I thought how much better it would be if we could leave the word “black” out of it and just talk about Parker as a person. We can hope that day will come when people are not judged by color.
None of us can deny that Black people in this country have faced hard times as people and even harder times as literary people. Unlike the white majority, black writers and artists have had to find a way to bring together the personal and the political in their artistic output. Pat Parker, however, was able to do so. Her poetry affects the consciences of thinking people everywhere. Unlike others she dared….
Since this is the first and only complete collection of all of her poems, it is very special and a blessing for the reader. As I read I found it difficult to hold back tears as I thought about the atmosphere in which many of these poems were written.
The collection includes many new and previously unpublished poems, essays, and stories but it is stunning to think how long it took for some of what she wrote to be available to the public.
Julie Enszer has done an incredible job of bringing all this together in one volume and I have no doubt that this was simply a labor of love and respect for a great voice. Not only do we have the poems (which are grouped topically, i.e. “Married”, “Liberation Fronts”, “Being Gay”, “Love Poems” and “Uncollected Poems” 1970s” for example but we also have a wonderful introduction by another great voice in the field, Judy Grahn and an introduction to “Movement in Black” by Audre Lord. We have a note from editor Enszer, End Notes, Acknowledgments, a bibliography, appendix, photographs and drawings. As is customary, I knew that the question of which poem is my favorite and my answer would have to be, all of them. Who can possibly pick a favorite when they all are so good. However, I do have a great love for “For the Straight Folks Who Don’t Mind Gays But Wish They Weren’t So BLATANT”. At first reading I thought to myself that the beauty of this poem is its “cheekiness” but on the second reading I found it to be so very honest. Let me share two stanzas with you:
“Have you met the woman
who’s shocked by 2 women kissing
& in the same breath,
tells you that she’s pregnant?
BUT GAYS SHOULDN’T BE SO BLATANT.
You go in a public bathroom
and all over the walls
there’s John loves Mary,
Janice digs Richard
Pepe loves Delores, etc. etc.
BUT GAYS SHOULDN’T BE SO BLATANT”.
There is a lot to read and take in (almost 500 pages” but you will feel that Parker’s poetry is more than just a read, it is a total experience— one you do not want to miss. I personally am so sorry that I only discovered this in late life so I do not have many years left to contemplate it but I have made myself the promise to read a poem a day from it and when I finish it, I will start over in much the same way that the Jews read the Torah. I am sending a special thank you to Julie Enszer for having edited this— it has made a huge difference in my life, I can tell that already.