Skip to main content

AP Literature: Poetry: Lorde, Audre



A self-described “black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet,” Audre Lorde dedicated both her life and her creative talent to confronting and addressing the injustices of racism, sexism, and homophobia. Her poetry, and “indeed all of her writing,” according to contributor Joan Martin in Black Women Writers (1950-1980): A Critical Evaluation, “rings with passion, sincerity, perception, and depth of feeling.”

Concerned with modern society’s tendency to categorize groups of people, Lorde fought the marginalization of such categories as “lesbian” and “black woman,” thereby empowering her readers to react to the prejudice in their own lives. While the widespread critical acclaim bestowed upon Lorde for dealing with lesbian topics made her a target of those opposed to her radical agenda, she continued, undaunted, to express her individuality, refusing to be silenced. As she told interviewer Charles H. Rowell in Callaloo: “My sexuality is part and parcel of who I am, and my poetry comes from the intersection of me and my worlds… [White, arch-conservative senator] Jesse Helms’s objection to my work is not about obscenity…or even about sex. It is about revolution and change.” Fighting a battle with cancer that she documented in her highly acclaimed Cancer Journals (1980), Lorde died of the illness in 1992.

Poem: Coal


Related Poem Content Details

Is the total black, being spoken 
From the earth's inside. 
There are many kinds of open. 
How a diamond comes into a knot of flame   
How a sound comes into a word, coloured   
By who pays what for speaking. 
Some words are open 
Like a diamond on glass windows 
Singing out within the crash of passing sun 
Then there are words like stapled wagers 
In a perforated book—buy and sign and tear apart— 
And come whatever wills all chances 
The stub remains 
An ill-pulled tooth with a ragged edge. 
Some words live in my throat 
Breeding like adders. Others know sun 
Seeking like gypsies over my tongue 
To explode through my lips 
Like young sparrows bursting from shell. 
Some words 
Bedevil me. 
Love is a word another kind of open— 
As a diamond comes into a knot of flame 
I am black because I come from the earth's inside   
Take my word for jewel in your open light.