The Lesbian Poets of Headmistress Press: Amy Lauren and Wendy DeGroat in Conversation

There are many things you don’t know about lesbian poets. The poetry establishment—major literary journals, male poets, poetry professors—cannot hear, see, recognize or value lesbian poetry. Lesbian poetry is largely ignored. Headmistress Press is determined to make a change in this status quo. In this special Ms. series, the brilliant, lively, lesbian poets of Headmistress Press are bringing you their conversations with each other, in a sort of online lesbian poetry conference. 

Previously, Jessica K. Hylton and Jen RouseJoy Ladin and Risa DenenbergGail Thomas and Lesléa NewmanMarissa Higgins and Samantha PiousRobin Reagler and Diane FurtneyLaura Foley and Maureen Bocka, Freesia McKee and Farrell Greenwald Brenner and Carolyn Boll and Ruth Lehrer conversed. 

This week, Wendy DeGroat interviews Amy Lauren about her book God With Us, and Lauren interviews DeGroat about her book, Beautiful Machinery.

DeGroat: How does your faith identity interact with your lesbian identity in God With Us?

Lauren: Growing up in the Deep South, I heard every Bible story, usually from perspectives that excluded LGBT people. After attending a church that welcomed us instead, I discovered that my sexuality could actually inform my faith. Verses about caring for the outcasts encompass new and visible meaning, for example.

DeGroat: I’m intrigued by the contrasting father/mother personas of God in your poems and the ways this stylistic layer ties into the title theme of God dwelling among us.

Lauren: Though I learned in college that ancient Hebrew even refers to God as feminine, or gender-neutral plural pronouns, I had to work to undo years of the masculine default. If every person is created in the image of God, as the Sunday School lessons insisted, God is always with us—and particularly present in expressions of love.

DeGroat: Of the social justice efforts you evoke in God With Us, in which are you most deeply involved?

Lauren: Misogyny underlies most of the problems I face as a lesbian, so feminism is the most personal social justice issue present. When there is justice for all the women on the margins, divine light will more freely shine in the world.

DeGroat: How important is your lesbian identity in your poems?

Lauren: Because I feel that so many people misunderstand lesbian experience, my hope is that they’ll gain at least a glimpse of one lesbian’s world through my poetry. How do you identify, and how important is your identity in your poems?

DeGroat: I identify as a lesbian and appreciate the way this sturdy, luscious word communicates both my gender identity and sexual orientation. In Beautiful Machinery, my journey to understanding and embracing my lesbian identity is a central narrative thread, and in most poems, this aspect of who I am influences the ways I experience and interpret the world.

Lauren: I love the title, Beautiful Machinery. How did you come to choose it?

DeGroat: The poems move from discomfort and disappointment with my body to an appreciation for the body’s miraculous, mysterious intricacies. I also grew up in a family with a passion for machines: cars, tractors, motorcycles.

Lauren: Many poems deal with autonomy. Did you intentionally begin writing with that theme in mind?

DeGroat: During the journey these poems trace, I learned to make difficult decisions and accept my accountability for them, even when they caused pain to me and those I loved. As I moved toward the possibility of a life with love and passion and spirituality, better aligning how I live with what matters most to me, I developed a deeper sense of integrity.

Lauren: References to birds, particularly their songs and other noises, appear throughout. What drew you to this symbol?

DeGroat: Most days I wake to a bird soundscape: the mourning dove’s coo, a wren’s insistent song. Hawks frequent a nearby park, longing and declaration in their cry. The way these sounds can shift my emotions even when I can’t see the birds creating them is one of the most beautiful arguments I know for the interconnectedness of all beings.

About and

Mary Meriam advocates for the right of women to love each other in their poetry and art, and strives to give their work a place at the table. She writes about and publishes such work in the journal she founded, Lavender Review, at the press she cofounded, Headmistress Press, and at Ms. magazine, The Critical Flame, and The Gay & Lesbian Review. Her poetry collections, The Countess of Flatbroke, The Poet's Zodiac, The Lillian Trilogy, and Lady of the Moon, honor a cosmos of strong, creative women. Her latest collection, My Girl's Green Jacket, was published in 2018, and her poems have appeared recently in Poetry, Prelude, Subtropics, and The Poetry Review.
Headmistress Press publishes books of poetry by lesbians, Lesbian Poet Trading Cards and Lavender Review. Their definition of "lesbian" includes both women who identify as lesbians and people who identify with lesbians, recognizing that lesbian communities have been and continue to be informed by bi women, trans women, Two Spirit, genderqueer, gender non-comforming and non-binary people, and that many of these labels are not mutually exclusive categories. In that spirit, they welcome submissions from all poets who feel an intimate connection with the term "lesbian." They will be accepting submissions for the annual Charlotte Mew Chapbook Contest from May 4 to July 4, 2018.