The first time you read or hear, Pat Parker's 1978 poem "For Willyce," the first thing that strikes you is the sheer, visceral intimacy being laid out before you. It's an astonishing and beautiful ode to the art of lesbian love-making. That is, until you get to the last lines and it's impossible not to let out a laugh:
When i make love to you
with each stroke of my tongue
to say i love you
to tease i love you
to hammer i love you
to melt i love you
& your sounds drift down
and i think—
here it is, some dude’s
getting credit for what
By the time "For Willyce" came out, it had been 15 years since Patricia Parker first took a stage in Oakland, armed with a handful of poems and a lot more life experience than many people three times older than her 19 years. In between, she had written and released four groundbreaking poetry collections -- 1978's Movement in Black and Woman Slaughter, 1975's Pit Stop, and 1972's Child of Myself. She would go on to release one more, Jonestown and Other Madness, in 1985.
Parker was born in Houston, Texas on January 20, 1944, and her life was hard from the get-go. In "Womanslaughter," Parker describes her family as “Texas-Hell, survivors / of soul-searing poverty, / survivors of small-town / mentality.”
The Woman Slaughter collection was written in part about the murder of one of Parker's three sisters, the "quiet" Shirley Jones, by her husband. At the age of 18, Parker also found herself in an abusive relationship with playwright and Black Panther Ed Bullins. During their marriage, she lost a pregnancy after he pushed her down a flight of stairs. Prior to that, while still a child, she had experienced sexual assault at the hands of a stranger.
Somehow, Parker not only successfully survived all the trauma and hardship of her earlier life, she was also able to channel the pain and weight of those experiences into words that were as unflinching as they were vulnerable.