On Poetry and Culture Shock

Mary Dorcey and the problem of minority authors

The cover of Mary Dorcey’s The River that Carries Me, lying misplaced at the library, looked inviting. The back used words like “love” and “the struggle of women”. So I took it, and once at home I read the author’s biography inside: it said that Mary Dorcey is a lesbian.

The problem with minority authors that aren't gloriously original, classic and perfect is that the nagging question always remains: would this person be famous in their own right if he or she was not a feminist/ not white/ not Christian? Sometimes the answer is not easy: I’d rather read Christopher Marlowe than Aemilia Lanyer, but she was one of a tiny handful of Elizabethan women poets and I have to read her if only for historical reasons (meaning I’m more interested in her writings as expression of a female point of view than as art). Other times the reverse is true and a work is disregarded because it was written by a “minority” writer even though it is brilliant. Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God is an example. The world was not ready for a black woman writer in the early 20th century.

Here is something by Mary Dorcey so that you can judge if she belongs to the “special point of view” group or to the “this is good no matter who wrote it” select club. It is a bit long, but I didn’t want to edit it to give you a better picture. I picked on purpose a poem without obvious lesbian or feminist themes.

This Day I have Turned my Back on Sorrow.

Enough of this.
I have had enough of repining,
Of loss and lament.

I want to dance in the street.
I want laughter –
Loud days and wild nights.
I will make it up,
If I have to
Until it happens.
I will make it happen
If I have to.

I have had enough of repenting
Of loss
And lament.
I want
Dancing in the streets,

I will go into the fields
And under a white hawthorn tree
Dig a grave
Six foot deep.
Into it I will put
Regret and remorse.
I will cover it up,
Shovel the clay
And lay down my cross.

I have had enough
Of lament
And loss.
After all
I wrote my own story,
Chose my course.
I brought myself
To this edge of the river.

It is over;
the sad times
the bleak.
Put behind me.
I have taken what I need –
The few things of value
Salvaged from the wreck.
I carry the in my flesh and blood
Until the last day.

Enough of loss and lament.
I want to dance in the street
I want laughter
Luminous mornings, long nights.
It is over,
Remorse and lament
I have buried them,
Turned the clay
Six foot deep, under
The white hawthorn tree.

This day
I have turned my back
On sorrow.

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