Even at the age of 73, lesbian and feminist poet, activist and scholar Judy Grahn shows no signs of slowing down. Grahn is the latest poet featured in The Poetry Center’s invitational speaker series held Thursday, Feb. 20.
Co-sponsored by The Poetry Center and the women and gender studies department, Grahn read to a small group of about 30 people. According to Steve Dickison, director of the Poetry Center and American Poetry Achieve, Grahn’s last reading at SF State was in 1988.
“(This year is) the 60th anniversary of the Poetry Center, so it’s good timing,” Dickison said.
Grahn read excerpts from her memoir, titled “A Simple Revolution: The Making of an Activist Poet,” which recalls her involvement in the feminist and lesbian movements in the Bay Area in the 60s and 70s. The memoir also goes into major moments of her life before coming to the Bay Area, such as when she was arrested, interrogated and eventually dishonorably discharged from the U.S. Air Force for being openly gay.
Grahn also read from “The Judy Grahn Reader,” a collection of her poems, essays and stories that mostly focus on the feminist and lesbian experience. In addition to reading excerpts from her books, Grahn shared personal stories about her life that influenced her work.
She credits her father for giving her “the gift of poetry.” Grahn said her father was fan of poetry and introduced it to her when she was young. “He was more of a mother to me than my real mother could be,” she said.
Dickison said the readings “don’t put emphasis on promoting a book,” but show “a writer’s ways of thinking, how they work (and) how they see the world.”
Judy Grahn shares a smile with the audience as they laugh at an excerpt from her book “Love Belongs to Those Who Do the Feeling” during her poetry reading at the Poetry Center, Thursday Feb. 20. Photo by Lorisa Salvatin / Xpress
After the readings, Grahn did a Q&A session, during which she discussed her writing process and delivered inspirational words to the audience.
“You can say on paper what (the purpose) is, what you want to do with your work,” Grahn said.
Senior Japanese major Vanessa Hamill is a fan of Grahn’s work and said she is inspired by much of Grahn’s writing, such as the excerpt, “He’s singing the end of the world again/As he done many times before,” from the poem “Spider Webster’s Declaration.”
“I use this quote as inspiration for my writing,” she said.
Brandon Joe, a creative writing major who attended the reading as part of the Poetry Center Workshop class said he enjoyed the event and that Grahn is a good speaker and he thinks her writing is provocative.
“(Grahn) became a heroic figure in women’s writing,” said Dickison.
In 1969, Grahn co-founded the first all-women press, the Woman’s Press Collective, inside A Woman’s Place bookstore in Oakland. She is also one of the founders of the first West Coast lesbian-feminist collective, the Gay Women’s Liberation Group. The last several lines of her poem “The Common Woman” were often recited at rallies, women’s shelters and women’s bookstores.
Grahn said she was amazed that her work was so commonly used during the feminist and women’s movements, and that her work with the movements put her in a place she “was supposed to be.”
Grahn attended SF State in 1984 to complete her Bachelor of Arts in women’s studies. She credits a friend in the department at the time for leading her to the school. Grahn is now a professor in the women’s spirituality program at Sophia University in Palo Alto.
The Poetry Center’s next reading will be held Mar. 6, hosting Matvel Yankelevich and Julien Poirier.