Archive Fever: New Jersey Lesbian Cat Poetry of the 1970s (and a brief election rant)

I hate everything about this election. I hate the candidacy of a garbage-monster fascist, and I hate that I’m related by blood to people who will vote for him. I hate the neoliberal emotion-management of the DNC, and the fact that brilliant, progressive people I know and admire seem genuinely enthused about a warhawk candidate whose loyalty to the international 1% is so strong that she had to be shamed into supporting a $15 minimum wage (and ecstatic too about Cory Booker, who has made a remarkable career in government without doing much in the way of actually governing). I hate that she and her VP are pretending not to support the TPP until after the election, when they will most assuredly support it (“oh, we didn’t support it as then written; now we fixed that semicolon, all good!”). I hate the third-party-shaming by friends who in some cases actually teach and write about the concept of hegemony but still insist on the need to be reasonable, and I hate the futility of supporting third parties, which I have done since I cast my first vote against Bill Clinton’s reelection. I hate that Facebook is cracking down on dank memes, which often feel like the only worthwhile political commentaries out there. I hate it all.

So what better relief, I ask you, my fellow Americans (and others, of course!), than previously undigitized lesian cat poetry from the 1970s?

I actually began this post a few years ago, but never finished it. Reading Nicole Pasulka’s recent “brief history of lesbian cat ladies” brought it back to mind. I won’t rehash her whole piece (it’s great!), but the central takeaway is:

…adoration of cats represents one of the most enduring lesbian clichés out there. These women mention their cats by name in their work bios and write poetry from their cats’ perspective.

Most women assiduously avoid the “cat lady” label, but lesbians have embraced the association. While the rest of the world cringed and laughed, this stereotype of fierce love for cats has helped queer and gay women build community and visibility for nearly 50 years.

For 20th-century lesbians trying to carve out a place for themselves, the domestic huntress made for a very appealing contradiction.

Pasulka offers a delightful canon of lesbian/cat connections, though she misses a few important ones. Rita Mae Brown, after all, helped pioneer radical lesbian-feminist activism; if you’ve never read the Radicalesbians’ “Woman-Identified Woman,” which she co-wrote in 1970, it’s one of the best and most important manifestos of that very manifesto-laden era. Strongly recommended!

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But later, after a bizarre, amazing career that I won’t recount, ranging from now-classic lesbian novels to slasher screenplays, she co-writes mystery novels with her cat, Sneaky Pie Brown!!! Look at her website for more, or read the best-titled article Time ever published, “Rita Mae Brown: Loves Cats, Hates Marriage.”

Also, Alison Bechdel—I mean, come on!!

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Bechdel hit the bigtime, but when it comes to lesbian comix, Diane DiMassa deserves more attention. Not only is Hothead Paisan the best homicidal lesbian terrorist out there, but her constant companion Chicken merits some love, too. I don’t see them as Clinton voters.

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I could continue, but the actual point of this post, beyond blowing steam, was to uncover something from the archives—in this case, from the Winter 1977 issue of Albatross: The Lesbian Feminist Satire Magazine, published in East Orange, New Jersey. I was going through all the Jersey periodicals in the New York Public Library’s International Gay Information Center looking for material for the Queer Newark Oral History Project (of which I found fairly little, though definitely some gems, including the 1973 poem “Gay in Newark,” recently featured on the Newark Poems blog!). And suddenly, this:

cats

Okay, it’s not great poetry. But I don’t believe any of these have appeared online before, so it’s something new to the interwebz. And vastly more delightful than the slog of this interminable, abominable election.

Hell, just for a bonus, Kristyn Scorsone at the QNOHP did find some Newark cats buried in the microfilm depths of the Newark Star-Ledger from 1940—check out her post at the QNOHP tumblr, with a great illustration. Also, my friend Peter Alilunas shared this with me, from Oregon’s Willamette Bridge in 1969:

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…which in turn reminds me of this, found while digging through microfilm reels of underground periodicals at Wesleyan last summer (don’t ask); think it’s the Berkeley Barb, circa 1970, but I failed to write it down (and I hope they were found!):

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And finally, to wrap this up and return to the sad world of centrist Democrats who are sure to make us feel all those American centrist feels while probably not talking much about trifling things like, oh, actual policies, my own derptastic duo, one of whom, I am sad to say, would surely vote for Trump if only she had the opposable thumbs needed for the task, the hateful little cutie…

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