Rachel Rose’s Song & Spectacle Wins the Audre Lorde Award for Lesbian Poetry; Also, Feelings about Alison Bechdel and Jeanettte Winterson

Rachel-Rose-200x300The Publishing Triangle has announced the winners of their 2012 awards best lesbian and gay fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and debut fiction and I’m happy to report that Vancouver-based poet Rachel Rose is the recipient of the Audre Lorde Award for Lesbian poetry! Congrats Rachel!  She is also the author of Giving My Body to Science (1999) and Notes on Arrivals and Departures (2005), and is a past winner of the Peterson Memorial Prize for poetry and the Bronwen Wallace award for fiction.  I’m so glad the nomination brought this book of poetry to my attention.  It’s a beautiful, thought-provoking, playful, and challenging collection of poems.  I’ve reviewed Song & Spectacle here, but I’d like to share one of the poems that really moved me that I didn’t have a chance to talk about in my review:

Fags Die, God Laughs

-protest sign


She laughs a volcano

from heels to massive belly.  She laughs

earthquakes.  Tremors from her breasts

cause floods in several mid-western states.  She laughs

an avalanche that spills over the Sierra Nevada

mountains.  She roars with laughter

through Christian Arkansas, smashes a thousand

innocent heterosexual trailer homes.

She laughs an oil spill, invaginates

the Gulf Coast in lightweight crude, punishes the atheist

pelicans.  She laughs and floods Pakistan, folds

Sri Lanka in tsunami to say Ha, ha,

too bad you chose the wrong god!  She washes away

whole villages as the women go out at low tide

to gather fish.  She dangles broken bodies

in the flood-torn trees of Burma like temple baubles

because it tickles her.  You dare to believe you know her mind,

she who cannot be contained?


And who are we to think we can distinguish his laughing

from his crying?


There would have been a brother among brothers, different and the same,

but there was not.

There would have been an opportunity, a conversation,

but there was not.

There would have been a door and a song,

but there was not.

There would have been a barbed wire fence empty of flowers,

but there was not.

There would have been a museum of secrets, baskets of bread and chocolate,

but there was not.

There would have been a prophet of desire, a swarm of fritillaries,

but there was not.

There would have been the sanctity of breath in the body,

but there was hate.

I think I’ll just let that speak for itself.

why be happyAlso, I have a lot of feelings about the choice of Alison Bechdel’s Are You My Mother? instead of Jeanette Winterson’s Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? for the Judy Grahn Award for Lesbian Nonfiction.  These feelings are: no, no, no, no, no, no, no.  I haven’t read either of the other books up for the award, but I can unequivocally say, as a longtime and huge fan of Bechdel’s work, that Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? is by far a more stunning piece of art.  The writing is dazzling, Winterson’s honesty is brutal and moving, and the insights are really nothing short of genius.  For example, here’s one of my favourite passages:

Listen, we are human beings.  Listen, we are inclined to love.  Love is there, but we need to be taught how.  We want to stand upright, we want to walk, but someone needs to hold our hand and balance us a bit, and guide us a bit, and scoop us up when we fall.  Listen, we fall.  Love is there but we have to learn it—and its shapes and its possibilities.  I taught myself to stand on my own two feet, but I could not teach myself how to love.  We have a capacity for language.  We have a capacity for love.  We need other people to release those capacities.

Doesn’t that make you want to cry, but in a good way?  Also, Bechdel already won this award the year Fun Home came out, and I think that book does deserve the award; why not give it to another writer this time?  One more nit-picky thing: they have the title!! of Winterson’s book wrong on the Publishing Triangle website (it says ‘can’ instead of ‘could’).  Seriously, folks.  Okay, that’s enough ranting for now.


About CaseytheCanadianLesbrarian

Known in some internet circles as Casey the Canadian Lesbrarian, Casey Stepaniuk is a writer and librarian who holds an MA in English literature. She lives and works in the unceded territory of the Snuneymuxw First Nation (Nanaimo, BC). Topics and activities dear to her heart include cats, bisexuality, libraries, queer (Canadian) literature, running, and drinking tea. She runs the website Casey the Canadian Lesbrarian, where you can find reviews of LGBTQ2IA+ Canadian books, archives of the book advice column Ask Your Friendly Neighbourhood Lesbrarian, and some other queer, bookish stuff. She also writes for Autostraddle. Find her on Twitter: @canlesbrarian. Some of her old reviews, especially the non-Canadian variety, can be found at the Lesbrary.
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8 Responses to Rachel Rose’s Song & Spectacle Wins the Audre Lorde Award for Lesbian Poetry; Also, Feelings about Alison Bechdel and Jeanettte Winterson

  1. Mary says:

    Good stuff! I’m hoping to use some of your excellent poetry reviews to maybe improve my appreciation of the form. Not sure if it can be done, I may be a hopeless case.

    I wonder if it’s my lack of poetic sensibility that makes me less enthralled with Winterson. Don’t get me wrong, I loved WHY BE HAPPY WHEN YOU COULD BE NORMAL? and I think she’s pretty brilliant, but ARE YOU MY MOTHER? struck me for how Bechdel miraculously layers nuance and complication into her work but somehow uses all that to clarify her intentions. Winterson honestly left me feeling dazzled but held at arms length, with questions I wish she had answered in the book.

    Strikes me as mostly a taste issue, anyway!

    Keep up the good work on this blog, thanks for giving me stuff to think about while I’m at work.

    • I think Rachel Rose is a great poet to pick up if you’re unsure about your “poetic sensibility” (I personally think most of us just aren’t trained/used to reading poetry since they don’t expose students to it in school much, or they don’t expose students to the kinds of poetry that would excite them). Rose’s work is very well done but also very accessible to folks who wouldn’t call themselves poetry readers.

      That’s fascinating that you found that Winterson’s book left you with unanswered questions, because that’s exactly what Bechdel’s book did for me. I’m just going to plaigarize myself here and paste what I wrote about that on the lesbrary:

      “I’m not sure, however, how much fans of Dykes to Watch Out For and Fun Home, or queer women readers in general, will really enjoy the psychoanalysis and the concentration on Bechdel’s therapy sessions. I found myself feeling impatient with the amount of the book that focused on these topics. Maybe I’m not a child of the 80s enough to sympathize with the impulse for obsessive and life-long therapy (I’m reminded of a Dykes to Watch Out For strip where Sydney tells Mo “I know it’s so 80s, but you have considered therapy?”). I wanted to know more about Bechdel’s “serially monogamous” adult relationships and more about her mother as an individual; Bechdel seems to have made peace with Helen, reconciling herself to the person her mother is by cathartic means of the book, but I left the memoir still unsure as to what exactly made Helen the woman she was (and is). Ironically, Bechdel dedicates the book to her mother, “who knows who she is.” Maybe this dedication means that Bechdel had to let go of any desire she had to know who her mother is, something that readers have to relinquish as well.”

      I do think Winterson has a more poetic style, whereas Bechdel’s is more intellectual/academic. I enjoy both styles, but I honestly thought Bechdel’s memoir needed some fastidious editing. I found a lot of the discussion about psychoanalysis boring and repetitive, and, frankly, alienating for readers who aren’t familiar with that field.
      I’m curious to know what you felt Bechdel’s intentions were!

      • Mary says:

        I also know very little about therapy, but enjoyed some that stuff from my position of ignorance as it seems a so very strange and weird way to try and understand yourself and the world.

        I think Bechdel tried to write a memoir that acknowledges the fundamental difficulties of writing a memoir, finding meaning in your life, and drawing connections between seemingly unrelated things to make coherent points. I guess for me, acknowledging those structural difficulties as she was entangled in them as the writer, felt very honest and frankly, really awesome and interesting.

        When I podcasted briefly about Bechdel’s memoirs, my main feeling that I expressed was that these were books that I read and felt like everything was exactly as it needed to be. I couldn’t imagine the book better or different without fundamentally changing what made it powerful.

        Anyway. I won’t hijack this comment box any longer! But again I thank you for getting me thinking about this. I need to read more Winterson and pay attention to how I react!

    • Hey, I’m glad to spark conversations / thinking! Comments are awesome and I never feel like anyone is ‘hijacking.’ Hijack away!
      You’re totally right, Bechdel’s memoir is very concerned with its own making and the difficulties of knowing your ‘self’ enough to write about it. I guess the self-reflexiveness was a bit too much for me, but that’ definitely a matter of taste. To each their own, you know.

  2. Widdershins says:

    Interesting, the linguistic difference between, ‘can, and ‘could’, eh?

  3. Pingback: Link Round Up: April 30 – May 8 | The Lesbrary

  4. Cass says:

    That was exactly my reaction to Bechdel winning the award! Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? is BRILLIANT.

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