Reading Comprehension: "Coal," by Audre Lorde

Mr. Steel




Information about Audre Lorde:


Audre Geraldine Lorde (February 18, 1934 in Harlem, New York City - November 17, 1992) was a writer and an activist. Lorde was born in New York City to parents of West Indian heritage; Frederick Byron Lorde and Linda Gertrude Belmar Lorde. Lorde was nearsighted and legally blind. The youngest of five children, she grew up in Harlem during the Depression, hearing her mother's stories about the West Indies. She learned to talk while she learned to read, at the age of four. Her mother taught her to write during this time. She wrote her first poem when she was in the eighth grade. After graduating from high school, she attended Hunter College from 1954 to 1959, graduating with a bachelors degree. While studying library science, Lorde supported herself working various odd jobs: factory worker, ghost writer, social worker, X-ray technician, medical clerk, and arts and crafts supervisor. In 1954, she spent a pivotal year as a student at the National University of Mexico, a period described by Lorde as a time of affirmation and renewal because she confirmed her identity on personal and artistic levels as a lesbian and poet. On her return to New York, Lorde went to college, worked as a librarian, continued writing, and became an active participant in the gay culture of Greenwich Village. Lorde furthered her education at Columbia University, earning a masterís degree in library science in 1961. During this time she also worked as a librarian at Mount Vernon Public Library and married attorney Edward Ashley Rollins; they later divorced in 1975 after having two children, Elizabeth and Jonathan. In 1966, Lorde became head librarian at Town School Library in New York City where she remained until 1968. She died of cancer on November 17, 1992 in St. Croix after a 14 year struggle. In her own words, she was a "black lesbian, mother, warrior, poet". Before she died, Lorde in an African naming ceremony took the name Gamba Adisa, meaning Warrior: She Who Makes Her Meaning Known. Lordeís poetry was published regularly during the 1960s: in Langston Hughes's 1962 New Negro Poets, USA, in several foreign anthologies, and in black literary magazines. During this time she was politically active in the civil rights, antiwar, and feminist movements. Her first volume of poetry, The First Cities (1968), was published by the Poet's Press and edited by Diane di Prima, a former classmate and friend from Hunter College High School. Dudley Randall, a poet and critic, asserted in his review of the book that "[Lorde] does not wave a black flag, but her blackness is there, implicit, in the bone." Lorde's second volume, Cables to Rage (1970), which was mainly written during her tenure at Tougaloo College in Mississippi, addresses themes of love, betrayal, childbirth, and the complexities of raising children. It is particularly noteworthy for the poem "Martha" in which Lorde poetically confirms her homosexuality: "we shall love each other here if ever at all." Later books continued her political aims in gay rights, and feminism.


Questions about the poem:


1. Explain the metaphoric/symbolic significance of the relation between the author, coal, and "the earth's inside" (Paragraph form).


2. Explain why the author might use the imagery of coal and diamonds together (Paragraph form).


3. What is the general mood of this poem? Explain how it is created (Paragraph form).


4. Examine in detail what you think the author means when speaking about words like "diamonds," words being coloured, words singing, words like adders, words exploding, words like young sparrows (Paragraph form).