The Complete Works of Pat Parker
“…my closet door has no key; it’s impossible for me to go lock myself in it.” –Pat Parker
African-American lesbian feminist poet and performer Pat Parker (1944-1989) is probably best known for her collection Movement in Black. Initially published in 1978 with an introduction by Audre Lorde and reissued with additional material multiple times, Movement in Black and its title poem, written for multiple female voices, are one of the poetic LGBTQ landmarks of the 1970s and ‘80s. Although Pat Parker also published pieces in journals and anthologies, three chapbooks, and another full length collection, Jonestown & Other Madness, finding these and other work by this seminal figure has been difficult.
The arrival of The Complete Works of Pat Parker therefore comes as a revelation. Edited by scholar and poet Julie R. Enszer and with over 100 pages of for the most part previously unpublished poems from Parker’s archives, it broadens our understanding of Pat Parker as a poet and radical activist. Featuring two plays, a selection of speeches, and prose pieces–including fragments of an unfinished autobiography as well as poetry from manuscripts and all of her books–The Complete Works of Pat Parker allows us to see the author as a constantly working artist and thinker, as well as an important part of the gay rights, women’s liberation, and black civil rights movements.
Born in Houston, Texas, Parker moved to Los Angeles after graduating from high school and lived in the San Francisco Bay area until her death from cancer in 1989. Her poetry is direct, plainspoken, and written in simple, clear language that is meant to be read or recited aloud. (She also recorded an album with fellow poet Judy Grahn, who provides the foreword to this collection). The Pat Parker that emerges here is one of the ‘fore-mothers’ of the Spoken Word movement, with much of the work focusing on racism and sexism. Many of her poems have topical subjects or references, relating directly to problems or situations in the world of the 1970s and ‘80s. However, some of these ‘topical’ poems feel contemporary and could be read from stages today with few changes:
my dear sister
safe in Nebraska flatlands
secluded in ivory towers
Think for one minute
If you in this decade
are so tired of
hearing about oppression:
How tired are we
of living it.
Parker could also effectively use humor to get her point across (“For the Straight Folks Who Don’t Mind Gays But Wish They Weren’t So BLATANT”) and penned a number of very touching love poems. Also included in The Complete Works of Pat Parker are song lyrics, rare photographs, and drawings.
Review by Reginald Harris
Lambda Literay Awards - Winner Lesbian Poetry 2017
"Parker stayed woke to black suffering, violence against black bodies especially those of black women to the suffering engendered by multiple, egregious oppressions. With THE COMPLETE WORKS OF PAT PARKER, we are allowed an opportunity to historicize Pat Parker's significance to black women's literary traditions, lesbian erotics, to black queer struggles and black feminism, and to global social justice movements. She was in her time. Now, with this important text, she will be in all time to come." --Alexis De Veaux
"As the Black Lives Matter movement calls attention to the grave risks Black people have always faced and as poets and artists wrestle with the question of how to marry the political and the personal in their work, we have never needed Pat Parker's work more. It is absolutely immediate, searing, salving, saving, and necessary." --Kazim Ali
"The poetry of Pat Parker reaches out to us anew and shakes our consciousness fiercely." --Cheryl Clarke