National Poetry Month

John is posting wonderful selections–they remind me that poetry matters and creates affective communities.

I’ve been trying to figure out how to recognize the month, whether to post poems, reviews of black gay poetry (because we need them!), or some kind of criticism. This is undecided. But I did want to have something in place.

Here is Gladys Casely Hayford’s love “Rainy Season Love Song,” one of the most beautiful lesbian poems of the Harlem Renaissance.

Rainy Season Love Song

Out of the tense awed darkness, my Frangepani comes:
Whilst the blades of Heaven flash round her, and the roll of thunder drums,
My young heart leaps and dances, with exquisite joy and pain,
As, storms within and storms without, I meet my love in the rain.

“The rain is in love with you darling; it’s kissing you everywhere,
Rain pattering over your small brown feet, rain in your curly hair;
Rain in the vale that your twin breasts make, as in delicate mounds they rise;
I hope there is rain in your heart, Frangepani, as rain half fills your eyes.”

Into my hands she cometh, and the lightning of my desire
Flashes and leaps about her, more subtle than Heaven’s fire;
“The lightning’s in love with you darling; it is loving you so much
That its warm electricity in you pulses wherever I may touch.
When I kiss your lips and your eyes, and your hands like twin flowers apart,
I know there is lightning, Frangepani, deep in the depths of your heart.”

The thunder rumbles about us, and I feel its triumphant note
As your warm arms steal around me, and I kiss your dusky throat;
“The thunder’s in love with you darling; it hides its power in your breast,
And I feel it stealing o’er me as I lie in your arms at rest.
I sometimes wonder, beloved, when I drink from life’s proffered bowl,
Whether there’s thunder hidden in the innermost parts of your soul.”

Out of my arms she stealeth, and I am left alone with the night,
Void of all sounds save peace, the first faint glimmer of light.
Into some quiet, hushed stillness my Frangepani goes.
Is there peace within the peace without? Only the darkness knows.

From Caroling Dusk, ed. Countée Cullen (1927)

4 thoughts on “National Poetry Month

  1. Thanks so much for posting this poem. I think I’ve only seen it cited or invoked once, which probably says more about my lack of knowledge about contemporary LGBTQ scholarship or discussions around poetry than anything else, so I ask: are it and other queer works from that period being discussed and invoked in the same way as “Smoke, Lilies and Jade” are? Are you writing about this? Please clue a brotha in!

  2. This poem is on a back-burner for a project on women of the Harlem Renaissance, a very FAR back burner at this point.

    Gladys is difficult to figure out. As far as I can tell, she published only one collection–it was at the holdings at Illinois, so I read it many years ago. Was born in Ghana, educated in the UK, and never visited the US. So, she is “diasporic,” or at least the publication of her work in Caroling Dusk makes her diasporic. She orbits around the black queer diaspora, and I’m still to make sense of how to read her.

    As far as I can tell, there’s a lot of work on queer men in the Harlem Renaissance (Nugent, Hughes, McKay, Cullen) and comparatively less work on women–which is tragic. And, even less so, as far as I can tell, on women’s poetry. So, for instance, lesbian erotics in Nella Larsen continue to receive attention, but comparatively less is given to Angelina Weld Grimke or Georgia Douglas Johnson. Arguably, this has much to do with the status of women’s poetry in the Harlem Renaissance, which does not receive as much attention as it should. I’ll know more in the next few months as I renew my research into the field.

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