HELLO EVERYONE! LONG TIME NO SPEAK!!!! I am truly very sorry that I have been so neglectful tending my little nook of internet, but this year I am trying to be happier, badder, and in control of my self-made destiny (whatever the fuck that means) – hence, I have been a busy bee. Every weekend since the New Year has consisted of me cramming as much littiness and love into 48 hours as is humanly possible. I’ve been to the pub from 6 until 1 am with my cousin, been clubbing in Leeds, rolled many a zoot in Guildford and even managed to fly out and gallivant around the Netherlands. So you can see I haven’t been quiet for nothing, but now it’s time to get this show back on the road! I am starting 2019 (and today is Chinese New Year’s, so it does count!!!! YEAR OF THE PIG, OINK OINK BITCHES) with a bang, and will talk about one of the most beautiful, tender and courageous books I have read in a while. I am happy that I have started this new year with such an inspirational tome to guide me onwards: Zami: A New Spelling of my Name by Audre Lorde will be the jewel in the crown of today.
For anyone who hasn’t been blessed by her presence yet, Audre Lorde is the fat, black, queer poet/lover/essayist/activist/teacher of your dreams. Audre ended up being the poet laureate of New York before her tragic and too early death of Cancer at the young age of 58; in her reign upon earth, she befriended James Baldwin, was admired by Adrienne Rich and anthologized by Langston Hughes. Audre is a big fucking deal, to be frank. But this book is the story before her canonization into modern literature. This book follows her growing up as a young girl, an outsider determined with visions of poetry and survival through love, making her way in a cruel world that at best doesn’t give a fuck, and at worst actively hates her for being a fat, half-blind black girl who loves girls.
Although this book isn’t a feminist theory study guide, it is a fascinating look into the experience of what it is like to live in clashing intersections of identity, and what feminism must do to include these people. The way Audre frames her personal narrative enables her to talk honestly about the loneliness she felt in self-professed, so-called ‘progressive’ circles- and the need, if feminism truly wants to uplift all people, for feminists to encourage more discussion of difference and clashing perspectives. For instance, Audre being a lesbian in hetero-centric black spaces made her feel alienated, but simultaneously her being black in predominantly white queer spaces also made her feel aberrant. Audre lived a life of difference, embracing and cultivating all the separate influences which made up who she became, regardless of whether people approved or not. Audre knew she couldn’t please everybody, and so performed for nobody; Zami is a reckoning of different histories and mythologies- personal and private, uniquely combining to build up one life – of all the people and stories that clashed, merged, and catalysed to create the mystical being that is Audre.
Moving on from the feminist aspect, the way Audre writes her environments gripped me like a kid going to the cinema for the first time. She infuses the streets and markets with sounds and light like you’re a tiny bug flying through the air next to her, drinking in a new way of seeing. Her gentle power manifests in the sustained attention to detail throughout, turning a stoic eye on the most fleeting of moments to craft a world of mundane beauty and vibrancy. One of the most evocative moments for me is when Audre is a child and first gets new glasses (and I don’t just like this part because I too am a four eyed poet child). The world transforms with a new pair of glasses, from a smudged blur of thick shapes and shades, occasionally startled with the glamour of warbling white lights, into an unforeseen language. “Enthralled, I started up at the sudden revelation of each single and particular leaf of green, precisely shaped and laced about with unmixed light.” For Lorde, poetry is a way of seeing, of reorganizing worldly objects into alignment with unworldly emotions and ideas, shaping ‘reality’ into a coherent meaning and art. Just how her glasses helped Lorde to make sense of her place in the world, enabling her to study and appreciate the delicacies of her surroundings, poetry is also a guide towards creating new worlds. Audre didn’t just write poetry, she lived in it too.
I know I am writing a lot, but please bear with! I just AM OBSESSED with this book a lot!!!
Another reason I cherish this book as a bible for survival, is for how precious and important love is. Love, and specifically love for women, whether it be friendship, romance or familial, is a serious and driving force behind Lorde’s activism. Let me quote: “Any world which did not have a place for me loving women was not a world in which I wanted to live, nor one which I could fight for”. It gave me Goosebumps to read her lines of intimacy, when Audre bares her soul in poetry remembering the love she made real. With different women, in different ways, sometimes believing she could never love again, but always surviving with a heart softer and stronger after suffering.
It starts with Ginger, the effervescent chubby girl Audre works at a factory with; coarse, direct and giggling in daily life, but who becomes “precious beyond compare” in Audre’s embrace. Lorde’s respect, admiration and devotion to the pleasure of the female body is serious big pussy energy which I and the world needs more of. Specifically, it warmed my soul throughout to read fat and chubby women being written as elegant, as desirable, and unquestionably loveable. The adoring way she describes Ginger as having “skin the colour of well-buttered caramel… (and) gorgeously fat, with an open knowledge about her body’s movement that was delicate and precise”. Today, fat bodies are pathologized into caricatures of negativity and shame- but Audre will have none of it. To read the pride and beauty of fat black lesbians having sex is a life affirming moment, a big fuck you to the powers that be that want us all to ignore or berate each other. This book’s revolution is in the bed sheets- tender and delicate- resonating an energy of love and togetherness that remains when we go out into the streets. I think this is a good quote to show the scope and strength that Audre believed love, WOMEN LOVE, AUTHENTIC SINCERE INCLUSIVE LOVE, could provide us to survive this cruel society: “We had come together like elements erupting into an electric storm. Exchanging energy, sharing charge, brief and drenching. Then we parted, passed, reformed, reshaping ourselves the better for the exchange…”
One of the most enduring loves in all her escapades through our hostile society is Audre’s love for her first best friend, Gennie. Gennie was “the first person (she) was conscious of loving”– reading the deep, sincere and unspeakable amounts of devotion in these words made my heart flush a hundred shades of wow. Gennie and Audre would toast marshmallows on pencils lounging on Gennie’s mother’s sofa, smoke cigarettes and craft various outfits for exploring the city, transforming each other into different characters. “Bandits, Gypsies, Foreigners of all degree, Witches, Whores and Mexican princesses”. The freedom and fun the girls relish in, exploring New York’s avenues and side-streets with candour still engrossed in their own private fantasies made me want to sing with happiness. But, it is this enchanting warmth that makes the pairs’ ending even more brutal and devastating than it already is. Without giving too much away, Gennie is lost to Audre, and it is enough to make the grim reaper weep. I couldn’t believe what I was reading when their lives started to unravel on the page, and I haven’t cried at a book like I did reading about Gennie in a long time. But, it isn’t the sadness that shines out the most. It is what Gennie taught Audre in their togetherness. That love doesn’t have to be obedience, or fear or a tradition. Love makes you feel like you can do anything, that you deserve everything, too. When love is built and then stolen, it is possibly the most devastating thing that can happen to a person. But the fact that this doesn’t necessarily have to destroy us, that we can learn from what we have lost to create new versions of the same emotion, is the hallelujah and amen of life Audre is trying to get us to sing… “how hard it was to explain to anyone who didn’t already know it that soft and tough had to be one and the same for either to work at all”.
I wish I could summarize how much this book means to me and all it can teach in a neat little explanation, but that is futile. Instead, I will leave you (at last) with a quote as per usual. But, if you think I have missed anything important in talking about this book and Audre, if there are any other Audre stans out there please join me!!!! I hope this post hasn’t been too long, but it is good to be back xoxoxo
“In a paradoxical sense, once I accepted my position as different from the larger society as well as from any sub-society- black or gay- I felt I didn’t have to try so hard. To be accepted. To look femme. To be straight. To look straight. To be proper. To look ‘nice’. To be liked. To be approved. What I didn’t realize was how much harder I had to try merely to stay alive, or rather, to stay human. How much stronger a person I became in that trying.”