Feminist, Lesbian And Poet
If I could take all my parts with me when I
go somewhere, and not have to say to one of them, "No, you stay
home tonight, you won't be welcome," because I'm going to an
all-white party where I can be gay, but not Black. Or I'm going
to a Black poetry reading, and half the poets are antihomosexual,
or thousands of situations where something of what I am cannot
come with me. The day all the different parts of me can come
along, we would have what I would call a revolution. -- Pat
Parker (Movement In Black)
Southern born and educated, Pat Parker began her life in
Houston, Texas, on January 20, 1944, as the youngest of four
daughters in a Black working class family. Urged by her father
to take "the freedom train of education," Parker later emigrated
to Oakland, California, in the early 1970s to pursue work,
writing and opportunities for activism. Working from 1978 to
1987 as medical coordinator at the Oakland Feminist Women's
Health Center, which grew from one clinic to six sites during
her tenure, Parker also participated in political activism
ranging from early involvement with the Black Panther Party and
Black Women's Revolutionary Council to formation of the Women's
Press Collective to wide-ranging activism in gay and lesbian
organizations and positions of national leadership regarding
women's health issues, especially concerning domestic and sexual
Parker gave her first public reading of her poetry in 1963 while
married to playwright Ed Bullins. The challenge of "competing in
a male poetry scene" as the wife of a writer, Parker notes,
helped develop not only her voice but also her willingness to
write about contemporary issues -- about civil rights and
Vietnam as well as an emerging African-American lesbian feminist
perspective on love and lust. Reading before women's groups
beginning in 1968 brought Parker notice and satisfaction,
especially as she joined Judy Grahn, a white working class Bay
Area poet, to read lesbian poetry in public, arranging readings
not only at women's bookstores, but also intermixing poetry with
musical performances at local women's bars, coffeehouses and
“It was like pioneering,” Parker once said. “We'd go into these
places and stand up to read poems. We were talking to women
about women, and, at the same time, letting women know that the
experiences they were having were shared by other people ... I
was being gay, and it made absolute sense to me that was what I
had to write about.” Critics like Barbara Smith and Cheryl
Clarke agree that Parker's poems were designed to be spoken,
designed to confront both black and women's communities with, as
Clarke notes, “the precariousness of being non-white, non-male,
non-heterosexual in a racist, misogynist, homophobic, imperial
Parker's five collections of poetry take their central images
and process of self-creation as well as political analysis from
autobiographical moments in Parker's life and from publicized
incidents or community discussions related to race, class,
gender, sexuality. The Firebrand Books' edition of Movement in
Black -- with its title poem and a collection of poems from
three earlier Parker collections -- is the only work by Parker
that remains consistently in print. A well-crafted compilation,
Movement in Black reflects key patterns in Parker's work: "It is
the moment of her creative impulse to communicate: the love, the
anger, the fear, that powerful sense of justice -- and injustice
-- the cynicism, the humor that she gives us," Cheryl Clarke
notes in a review of this collection. Of the work overall,
Clarke continues, “Her themes are circular and cumulative. The
earlier poems...are monothematic, short, sharp; the later
poems...are multi-thematic, reaching back to older themes to
integrate them into newer, expanded concepts, completing the
circle and sharply demarcating the black lesbian poet's space in
the hermetic world of Afro-American letters.”
The “Goat Child” of Child of Myself, Parker's first collection,
chafes at the confinement and conformity she's expected to learn
in marriage, and then tentatively comes out as a lesbian via
several love poems to women.
Pat Parker was a revolutionary, raw, and as they used to say,
“righton sister.” Pat Parker would be celebrating her 57th
birthday had she not died from breast cancer in 1989. To honor
her work and call attention to the significance of her
contributions, Firebrand Books published a new, expanded edition
of her classic Movement in Black. the new edition features
remembrances and tributes from ten outstanding AfricanAmerican
women writers, and a section of previously unpublished pieces.
She wrote about gut issues: the lives of ordinary Black people,
violence, loving women, being queer. She was a woman who engaged
life fully, both personally and as a political activist, linking
the struggles for racial, gender, sexual, and class equality
long before it was PC to do so. She died as she livedfighting
forces larger than herself.
Voices Beyond The Gap
FOR THE STRAIGHT FOLKS WHO DON'T MIND GAYS
BUT WISH THEY WEREN'T SO BLATANT
You know, some people got a lot of nerve.
Sometimes I don't believe the things I see and hear.
Have you met the woman who's shocked by two women kissing and,
in the same breath, tells you she is pregnant? But gays,
shouldn't be so blatant.
Or this straight couple sits next to you in a movie and you
can't hear the dialogue because of the sound effects. But gays
shouldn't be so blatant.
And the woman in your office spends an entire lunch hour talking
about her new bikini drawers and how much her husband likes
them. But gays shouldn't be so blatant.
Or the "hip" chick in your class rattling like a mile a minute,
while you're trying to get stoned in the john, about the camping
trip she took with her musician boyfriend.
But gays shouldn't be so blatant.
You go into 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.
Or your go to an amusement park and there's a tunnel of love
with pictures of straights painted on the front and grinning
couples are coming in and out. But gays shouldn't be so blatant.
Fact is, blatant heterosexuals are all over the place.
Supermarkets, movies, on your job, in church, in books, on
television every day and night, every place--even in gay
bars--and they want gay men and woman to go and hide in the
So to you straight folks I say, "Sure, I'll go if you go too.
But, I'm polite so, after you."
Voices From The Gap