Poets and Artists

  • Public and Private
  • Barbara Grier
  • Pulp Paperbacks
  • Poets & Artists
  • Harry Hay
  • Periodicals
  • Personal Into the Political
  • Gay Games

Eros—creativity, love, and the energy of life itself—speaks to us through artists and poets. We may discover the voices, insights, and experiences of LGBT individuals through their contributions to the arts—luminous connecting threads that run through history and world culture. The ability to move through different worlds, transgressing and transforming boundaries, identities, and awareness, is a skill cultivated by gays and lesbians as well as by artists and poets.

Pat Parker, 1972
Lynda Koolish
Pat Parker, 1972
Gelatin silver print
Poets have iconic stature in lesbian history and culture—beginning with the ancient Greek poet Sappho. A new poetics emerged in the confluence of 1970s feminist activism and the gay liberation movement. A vibrant network of Bay Area women poets included Judy Grahn, Elsa Gidlow, and Susan Griffin. Poetry readings were community events, electrifying rapt audiences at women’s centers, bars, bookstores, and coffeehouses. Among the treasures of the Hormel archives are three original, handwritten poems by Pat Parker, donated by photographer Lynda Koolish.

In considering the history of San Francisco, compelling evidence of its bohemian, gay cultural roots emerges. A special focus on poets and artists active in the Bay Area begins with the figures of a mid-twentieth-century literary movement known as the Berkeley Renaissance or the San Francisco Renaissance. Foremost among these brilliant innovators were the poets Jack Spicer, Robin Blaser, and Robert Duncan, and the artist Jess. Rare materials related to these artists and their contemporaries are housed in the library’s Book Arts & Special Collections Center. The Hormel Center also contains the personal papers of one of San Francisco’s pioneering gay literary figures, Daniel Curzon. His novel From Violent Men (1983) is a gay revenge fantasy about Dan White, the convicted murderer of Supervisor Harvey Milk and Mayor George Moscone.

Photograph from Sylvester’s wedding
Photographer unknown
Photograph from Sylvester’s wedding
Golden Gate Park

San Francisco, CA, 1972
Pictured: Billy Orchid, Pristine Condition, Sweet Pam, Scrumbly
In the Hormel Center mural, Into the Light, there exist many names—spanning centuries, cultures, and creative disciplines—from Rumi to Audre Lorde. One name few people may recognize is We’Wha (1849-1896). A Zuni weaver, potter, spiritual leader, and cultural ambassador, his life exemplifies an alternative gender role recognized in many Native societies. Perceived as entwining both maleness and femaleness in one body, “Two Spirit” people were thought to be a bridge between the sexes, between the temporal and spiritual worlds. Through their special insights, creative gifts, and power, “Two Spirit” people significantly contributed to communal life as shamans, healers, singers, storytellers, and artists.

The poems and songs of Chrystos and Joy Harjo articulate emotions resulting from social injustices committed against Native Americans. With individual, political, and erotic voices, LGBT Native Americans have articulated their challenges in word and song—their strength and conviction confront us with the limitations of our culture, and their words resonate from generation to generation.

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