For the first time since the 1984 edition of The Work of a Common Woman (Crossing Press), there is a collection of Judy Grahn’s poems. Readers are in for a treat. love belongs to those who do the feeling gathers poems from six previous collections and includes twenty-two pages of new poems written between 1987 and 2006. Substantial portions of Edward the Dyke and Other Poems are included as well as all seven poems of The Common Woman series. She Who, a mesmerizing and incantatory series of poems, is well represented as well as Confrontations with the Devil in the Form of Love. Selections from Grahn’s more recent epic series, Queen of Wands and Queen of Swords are also included.
Although her work has been contextualized by scholars in important and meaningful ways, Grahn’s own introduction to this collection, combined with the prefatory notes for each of the selections, further expands how we can think about this path-breaking work. Each of the opening essays provide fascinating insights to understanding Grahn’s own sense of her work retrospectively as well as her reflections on the intentions of her work. Though brief, these prose passages are one of the surprising gems of the book. They are interesting to common readers encountering Grahn’s work for the first time and are important to positioning Grahn in relationship to other contemporary poetics.
In her introduction to “The Common Woman Poems,” Grahn’s analysis demonstrates the complexity and intentionality of her work. Grahn notes the need for “complicated metaphors to encompass life experiences that hadn’t been made public” and how she combined these metaphors with objects of everyday life and colors to expand their impact. Grahn discusses how “The Common Woman Poems” circulated among a variety of communities – including, but not limited to lesbian, feminist, religious, and musical communities. That circulation and reverence alone is a testament to the power of Grahn’s poems, not only “The Common Woman Poems” but also the larger body of her work.
Reading the accumulation of her work over four decades is a reminder of the beauty of her work in short lyric form. These are poems to dwell on. Their brevity invites reading and rereading them as well as copying them into letters or emails to share with others. Reading love belongs to those who do the feeling is also a reminder of the influence of Grahn’s work on contemporary poets. From “The Common Woman Poems,” the notion of “common” and “commonality” reentered discussions of poetry in the feminist and lesbian communities and were expanded and extended by other writers including Adrienne Rich. Extending back to 1966, Judy Grahn’s poetry offers a touchstone to understanding queer lives and sensibilities across four decades. In addition to being a significance voice of lesbian-feminism and gay liberation, Judy Grahn’s poetry reminds us of the importance of working-class voices in American poetic culture as well as the poetic impulse of popularizing and capturing everyday experience. The collection as a whole also affirms the continued significance of Grahn’s work as well as the continuity of her commitments – both poetic and politic.
Missing from this important collection is the original artwork of Wendy Cadden, which provided a powerful dialogue with Grahn’s poems, particularly in Edward the Dyke, The Common Woman Poems and She Who. Perhaps at some future date these images will be reunited with the poems, until then, to have these poems, collected together and in print for a new generation of readers is an exciting development. Love belongs to those who do the feeling is a collection that should be part of every library.
love belongs to those who do the feeling: New and Selected Poems (1966-2006)
Red Hen Press / $21.95
Paperback, 268 pp.