I am resisting the temptation to neatly capture this first week in Berlin. I confess my vulnerability by way of distance. I am unwilling to decouple place (Berlin by way of California) from the messiness of culture (as a white American woman engaged with a slice of time: West Berlin in spring and summer of 1984).
What follows is an early reflection of my first week of poetics inquiry at the Audre Lorde Archive.
Most of my assumptions of German culture are from a bias of chosen childhood memories. Specifically, my formative connections to Germany were through my step-grandmother. She sprinkled German phrases into her conversations as often as she baked us strudel and kuchen. From what region or context she drew from, I will never know. When I was 7, my grandfather died. My connection to her after that was denied for reasons unclear as a child but strongly enforced. It was a loss of relationship I was not allowed to question.
My perspective is also informed by way of being a temporary guest in Berlin. I own that the edges of this synopsis are both mutable and, at times, concrete.
It is familiar to write from this place of confliction and tension. With discipline, I have weaved disparate experiences and their connections for over a decade. In this way, my writing practice feels as ordinary as a Sunday morning.
Audre Lorde said, “Poetry is a way of life.” I know the intimate truths in her declaration. She continues: the first lesson of being a poet is that you have survived.
Bruised, battered, bent, you have survived. It is now your right to use what you have survived, to learn from, to communicate with, to move beyond. You cannot do that unless you bring it to consciousness, to usefulness. We have survived so much more than we can admit. — Audre Lorde, May 6, 1984, Creative Writing Workshop, Frein Universität Berlin (Audre Lorde Archives)
I understand the use of “we” as mutual and collective. It is also in reference to her essays “Poetry is Not a Luxury” and “The Transformation of Silence into Language and Action.” This intentionality of internal excavation and her ethics of a shared future is a deep source of power for Lorde.
It is an unapologetic position that requires a method of dealing with difference in a creative way. A way that moves us beyond what we have been taught is possible.
Lorde believed that poets must “evoke past the particular experience [in the poem] to make connection across difference.” An emotional response is an integral purpose of a poem.
The dignity around that exchange is dangerous territory depending on one’s position in patriarchal, racist, heteronormative, and classed cultural systems. As she often says, “Poetry is one of the most subversive uses of language there is.”
The emotional teeth of poetry is, according to Lorde, “to move us to action and living.”
To explore experiences poetically is inherently political. Lorde spoke often of how “socialization robs us of our language.” How the poet makes meaning of their lived experience and that active translation to the reader is the transformative power of poetry. It is why Lorde chose to use poetry as a weapon.
I do not believe either in poetry or in the actual fact of our living..that change occurs externally. I think that it occurs both poetically as well as socially slowly and internally from the inside out so that in fact any larger movement and larger change must happen first of all within the people who are involved.” — Audre Lorde, May 10, 1984, The Poet as Outsider, Frein Universität Berlin (Audre Lorde Archives)
This collectived and creative organizing is now ours to envision and evoke. This is our mutual survival.