Published in London in 1970 by Paul Breman Limited, was the second volume of poetry written by African American poet, essayist, and activist Audre Lorde. While this collection was only republished once (1972) under the same title, more than two-thirds of the pieces in the early volume were later selected for inclusion in Chosen Poems: Old and New (1982) and Undersong: Chosen Poems Old and New, Revised (1992).
Although Lorde's poetry was published in several British and European anthologies as well as in African American literary magazines during the 1960s, it was not until she received a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts in 1968 that she was able to devote herself full-time to her writing. Her experience as a poet in residence at Tougaloo College in Mississippi (her first trip to the Deep South, her first workshop situation with young African American students, her first time away from her children) and the circumstances that followed her stay there (Martin Luther King Jr.'s assassination, Robert Kennedy's death, a close friend's accident) made her see the shortness of life and the necessity for immediate action. The pieces in her second volume of poetry reflect this urgency and the function, for Lorde, of art to protest if not change destructive social patterns.
Rooted in her anger at the racism and sexism that have marked the history of the United States, the poems in Cables to Rage introduced themes that carried through much of Lorde's work: violence, hunger, cloaks of lies, dishonest silences, struggle for voice, faith in the capacity to love, growth through dreams, desperate hope and defiance amid dying and loss, and painful birthing. Recurrent in these poems are images of shedding and of fiery renewal: obsolete or false coverings (snakeskin, cocoon, weeds, dead poems) must be stripped and discarded so that the new can grow. While many African American poets of her time focused on black nationalism and urban realism, Lorde placed relationships amid global concerns and gave voice to what many had rejected, hidden, or ignored. “Martha”, for instance, Lorde's first overtly lesbian poem to be published and the longest piece in the volume, was strategically centered in Cables to Rage. A writer who saw herself in relational dialogue with the rest of the world, Lorde explained that her work owed much to her ancestors, to the love and support of women, and to African and African American artists, and she insisted in her poetry and prose that without community, coalition across differences, and freedom from all oppression, there is no true liberation at all.
Claudia Tate, ed., Black Women Writers at Work, 1983, pp. 100–116.Audre Lorde, “My Words Will Be There”, in Black Women Writers, 1950–1980, ed. Mari Evans, 1984, pp. 261–268.
Ann E. Reuman