Three Gay Poets You Ought to Know
Audre Lorde / Author
b. February 18, 1934 – d. November 17, 1992
“When I dare to be powerful, to use my strength in the service of my vision, then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid.”
A self-proclaimed “Black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet,” Audre Lorde dedicated her life to combating social injustice. She helped found Kitchen Table: Women of Color Press, the world’s first publishing company run by women of color.
Lorde was the third daughter of immigrant parents from Grenada. She began writing poetry at age twelve and published her first poem in Seventeen magazine at age fifteen. Lorde was strongly influenced by her West Indian heritage, which she explored in her autobiography, “Zami: A New Spelling of My Name.”
In 1954, Lorde attended the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM), where she solidified her identity as both a poet and a lesbian. She entered the Greenwich Village gay scene after her return to New York in 1955.
She continued her studies, receiving a bachelor’s degree from Hunter College in 1959 and a master’s degree in Library Science from Columbia University in 1961.
Lorde worked as a librarian while continuing to write and publish poetry. In 1962, she married Edwin Rollins. The couple had two children before their marriage dissolved. Much of Lorde’s poetry written during these years explores themes of motherhood and love’s impermanence.
In 1968, Lorde received a National Endowment for the Arts grant and published her first volume of poetry, “The First Cities” as a poet-in-residence at Tougaloo College in Mississippi. She began a romantic relationship with Frances Clayton that same year that would last until Lorde’s death in 1992.
Rich with introspection, Lorde’s work contains extensive sociopolitical commentary. As a lesbian woman of color Lorde asserted, “I have a duty to speak the truth as I see it and to share not just my triumphs, not just the things that felt good, but the pain, the intense, often unmitigating pain.”
Lorde explored her long battle with cancer in her last work, “The Cancer Journals” (1980). In an African naming ceremony shortly before her death, Lorde took the name Gamba Adisa: “Warrior: She Who Makes Her Meaning Known.”
Federico Garcia Lorca / Poet
b. June 5, 1898 - d. August 19, 1936
“To burn with desire and keep quiet about it is the greatest punishment we can bring on ourselves.”
Federico Garcia Lorca was a celebrated Spanish poet and dramatist. He is internationally recognized as one of the most important poets of the 20th century.
Born in Grenada, Lorca was the son of a wealthy farmer and a pianist. He attended the University of Grenada to study law, but soon abandoned his studies to pursue poetry and theater.
In 1919, Lorca moved to Madrid, where he organized local theatrical performances and read his poetry in public squares. He wrote “The Butterfly’s Evil Spell” (1920), “Book of Poems” (1921) and “Gypsy Ballads” (1928), which garnered him international fame. Lorca became associated with a group of artists known as Generation 27, which included filmmaker Louis Bunuel and artist Salvador Dali.
In 1929, Lorca moved to New York City to study English at Columbia University. The experience inspired him to write “Poet in New York,” which was published posthumously. The book explores the oppression of minorities, a common theme in his works.
Lorca returned to Spain during a period of political turmoil. He founded a theater company and wrote the well-known tragedies “Blood Wedding” (1933), “Yerma” (1934) and “The House of Bernarda Alba” (1936).
Spain’s traditional Catholicism caused Lorca to conceal his sexual orientation. While he never used the word homosexual, many of his poems speak of his “secret desires.”
Shortly after the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War, Lorca was arrested by right-wing nationalists because of his outspoken liberal views. Two days later, he was murdered. His books were publicly burned in Grenada’s Plaza del Carmen and his works were banned in Spain. Controversy still surrounds the details of and motives for his death.
Jalal al-Din Rumi / Sufi Mystic/Poet
b. September 30, 1207 – d. December 17, 1273
“Only from the heart can you touch the sky.”
Jalal al-Din Rumi was a poet, theologian and Sufi mystic. He founded the Order of the Whirling Dervishes, a branch of the Sufi tradition that practicies a gyrating dance ritual representing the revolving stages of life.
Rumi was born in the Persian province of Balkh, now part of Afghanistan. Rumi’s father was an author, a religious scholar and a leader in the Sufi movement—the mystical dimension of Islam.
When Rumi was 12, his father moved the family to escape the impending invasion of Mongol armies, eventually setting in Konya, Anatolia, the westernmost tip of Asia where Turkey is today.
In 1231, after his father died, Rumi began teaching, meditating and helping the poor. He amassed hundreds of disciples who attended his lectures and sermons.
Rumi was married and had one son. After his wife’s death, he remarried and fathered two more children. In 1244, Rumi met a man who changed his life. Shams of Tabriz was an older Sufi master who became Rumi’s spiritual mentor and constant companion. After Shams died, Rumi grieved for years. He began expressing his love and bereavement in poetry, music and dance.
Rumi had two other male companions, but none would replace his beloved Shams. One of Rumi’s major poetic works is named in honor of his master, “The Works of Shams of Tabriz.” Rumi’s best-known work is “Spiritual Couplets,” a six-volume poem often referred to as the greatest work of mystical poetry.
In “Rumi: The Book of Love Poems of Ecstasy and Longing” (2003), Rumi expresses his perception of true love. “Lovers don’t finally meet somewhere. They’re in each other all along.”
Rumi died surrounded by his family and disciples. His tomb is one of the most revered pilgrimage sites in Islam and is a spiritual center of Turkey.