‘Lady Business: A Celebration of Lesbian Poetry’ edited by Bryan Borland
A dozen long-stemmed red roses? Ho hum. How 50s heterosexual can you get? It’s not that I’m disenchanted with roses, their heady fragrance and dizzying blend of fragility and toughness. It’s just, well, I love me some variety.
I also love me some women. And poetry. And women. Back to variety, jump ahead to a sense of belonging and add delight—all of which are to be reveled in by any poetry lover who comes to Lady Business: A Celebration of Lesbian Poetry (Sibling Rivalry Press). It lives up to its title—and the celebration is good for ladies, lesbians, all poetry lovers all along the willowy curve of gender proclivity; also for the poetry curious.
Sibling Rivalry Press editor Bryan Borland has assembled a florist’s dozen of poets, florists being more honest than bakers, apparently. There are twelve poets presented in no-nonsense alphabetical order. While I’m curious to know the selection process, I have no particular quibble—this isn’t the Penguin (or Norton) Anthology of Lady Business, with all the (rightly) formidable lesbian poets. This is a mixed bouquet. Some contributors are making their print debut, while others have more established reputations in poetry, fiction, and/or nonfiction. “Celebration” cannily sidesteps bear traps of “merit” and “reputation” which have daunted recent compendiums of verse. Take note, Penguin (or Norton).
So. From the first line of the first poem, to the first line of the final poem, a girl (real, momentary, sympathetic, interested) feels like she is a lady pasha, or a sister wife (if there were no husbands). For instance.
“We did it everywhere.” That’s the first line of the first poem, “Married Ladies Have Sex in the Bathroom,” by Sally Bellerose, who continues. “We were middle-aged women / with middle-aged husbands / and school-aged children.” Whether by design or miracles of fortune and synchronicity, the opening “We” announces itself as antidote to, and in defiance of, the sad lesbian of the past and her well of loneliness. We’re a congregation, a corpus, a lusting wench (and more).
While not all the poems effected me in the way I want poems to effect me—as if the top of my head were wise, satin, and a prayer—many did. Brit Blalock’s “Ruth 5: 1-8,” for instance, is a poem that might have kept me going to Sunday School. I always the liked the stories, but something seemed off, dishonest. No more.
1Ruth often left the bed of Boaz in the hollow of the night. His arm fell too
harshly against her eggshell ribs.2Hours before the sun began to slope, she
would flee to the room where Naomi slept, holding Ruth’s son like a relic.
3The three of them rested quietly until hearing the sound of men threshing
grain in a nearby room.
There’s fun and/or incitement to action from Teresa De La Cruz. “Because of a few poems / women have taken their clothes off / for me.” And Andy Izenson writes, in “Strawberry,” “I had a poetry professor once tell me / that every poem is a love poem. / Well, this one is not. / This is a lust poem.” Mary Meriam is all about the bounty. Or maybe she just over-identifies as the highly empathic will. From “Farmer’s Market”:
basil: I would not be the teenage boy
scallions: holding his father’s arm
lettuce: legs strangely twisted
string beans: who walks with more vertical than horizontal
beets: movement, as if each step requires
eggplant: a leap into the air and the most intense concentration
As previously stated, the first line of the final poem is an end bookmark to this collection’s unmitigated a) lady-centric-ness and b) intensity. The poem is Jan Steckel’s “Preventative Dentistry.” “On my world, women’s mouths are also their vaginas.”
In 1970s consciousness-raising groups, feminists held mirrors to our nether regions in so we could observe and claim our shell-like secrets. Old hat. The mirror, now, is big as the imagination and reflects great spirit and lots of flesh. I like me some flesh. I like me great spirit. And lots of flesh. And poetry.
(The full line-up is Sally Bellerose, Brit Blalock, Cassandra Christenson, Marty Correia, Teresa De La Cruz, Julie R. Enszer, Gina R. Evers, Andy Izenson, Ronna Magy, Mary Meriam, Maureen Seaton, and Jan Steckel.)
Lady Business: A Celebration of Lesbian Poetry
Edited by Bryan Borland
Sibling Rivalry Press
Paperback, 9781937420185, 146 pp.