Holly Lu Conant

Holly Lu Conant first published a poem in Sinister Wisdom’s Spring 1977 issue. The issue focused on the relationship between mothers and daughters, including various photographs, personal essays, and poems. Conant submitted a poem called “disunited nations,” which explores the relationship between Mother Earth and Native Americans.

In the poem, Conant explores the extent to which the colonists violated the American continent, detailing how they “landed on my body / planted flags between my breasts / charted trade routes and highways across my belly” (Conant, “disunited nations,” lines 1-3).

Her diction indicates a distinct tone of desecration and mutilation of the beauty of Mother Nature. But Mother Nature is protective and declares, “ALL COLONISTS WILL BE REPATRIATED / this is the motherland / I will not be settled” (Conant, “disunited nations,” lines 11-13), and in this declaration the motherland establishes her conviction to resist the colonial influence that directly harms the Native American people who are, by extension, her children.

Holly Lu Conant’s untitled poem. Featured in Sinister Wisdom vol. 5, page 80.

And so, in this poem Conant steps outside the immediate impression of what a mother-daughter relationship is, and elevates it to a greater level. She accomplishes something similar in her second poem, published in Sinister Wisdom’s fifth issue (winter 1978). In her untitled poem, Conant focuses on the sound of silence. The poem begins with a child in sleep, and ends with the speaker stunned and contemplative. However, the lines between are rich with sensory language and imagery, suggesting that even in silence a powerful message can be conveyed. This seems to contradict the focus of Sinister Wisdom’s fifth issue. The issue aimed to counteract social deafness and amply women’s voices. But Conant’s poem focuses so heavily on silence, that it actually rings louder than words. By focusing on the silence, Conant’s piece highlights the importance of everything that women do not say, keeping in line with the theme of the periodical. In this way, Conant stepped outside the expected to illustrate the theme, the same way she did in “disunited nations”.

We could infer that this unconventional presentation is simply Conant’s artistic style, but these appear to be the only two poems published by Conant. Even though Conant describes herself as, “born 22 years ago, am not dead yet & am writing furiously in between,” her other pieces never seemed to make it to print (Desmoines and Nicholson, “Contributors”, p103). Thus is the nature of the press culture during the Feminist Movement. Even though the platform provided opportunity for expression and many women did utilize it, not every woman found a future in press and literature, though their words are immortalized in the record.

Martha Courtot

Martha Courtot first featured the poem, “This is trying not to be a love poem,” in a 1974 issue of Women: A Journal of Liberation. Up until the 1980’s, Courtot proceeded to publish in various periodicals; including,  Lavender Woman, Heresies, WomanSpirit, and Sinister Wisdom.

Timeline of some of Martha Courtot’s publications in Feminist periodicals: 1974-1980

Sampling her poems from various periodicals, it is evident that Courtot often focuses on women’s relationship with nature. Some of her poems following this pattern are “the snake woman,” which was featured in Sinister Wisdom’s sixth issue,  and “The Woman Who Lives with Owls,” in Sinister Wisdom’s ninth issue. In these two poems, Courtot explores the idea of women finding their true identities.

At the start of “the snake woman,” Courtot details all the ways in which this snake woman is undesirable. “She is a snake woman / she has no eyelids / she wears the skin of dead animals” (Courtot, “Snake Woman,” lines 1-3) and she hides from the light. But Courtot ends the poem with,

this woman is bad

her name begins with your initials

her face is very familiar

this woman moves the way your body does

crawling toward morning


do you know this woman?

do you know her?

do you know? (Courtot, “Snake Woman,” lines 35-42)

This sequence of questions pushes the reader to look below their own skin, to find their dark insides, and to truly come to terms with it no matter how disfigured it may be. In “The Woman Who Lives with Owls,” Courtot equates women to nature once again, but this time to illustrate how society is deaf to the female voice.

The woman who lives with the owls speaks with the birds, learning the intricacies and secrets of the owl language, a metaphor for a woman’s connection to nature and the primal. However, when the woman transcribes what the owls have taught her she attempts to share her findings with the world. But, “no one will look her in the eye / they claim she writes like everyone else / on white paper and sends them through the mail,”  highlighting the prominence of sexism in publishing at the time (Courtot, “The Woman Who Lives With Owls,” lines 10-13). Eventually, the woman who lives with owls becomes the owl woman, secluded in nature away from the society that refused to hear her. The owl woman is happy in her new state, suggesting that the modern woman can find joy in her craft regardless of whether the society she lives in can properly appreciate it.

Jacqueline Lapidus

Jacqueline Lapidus was active in the Paris women’s movement, but submitted many of her pieces to American feminist presses (Desmoines and Nicholson 95). Lapidus was primarily a poet, but did occasionally review other feminst literary works. Her poetry was featured in WomanSpirit, Sinister Wisdom, Conditions, Heresies: A Feminist Publication on Arts & Politics, Big Mama Rag, 13th Moon, as well as Sojourner.

In her work, Lapidus frequently takes a cultural canon, such a as a nursery rhyme or myth, and twists it to illuminate a feminist perspective. Sinister Wisdom’s ninth issue, published in the spring of 1979, featured two of Lapidus’s poems. Each took Greek stories and reimagined them under a feminist lens. The first, “Thirteenth Moon,” mentions the Greek goddesses Persephone, Artemis, and Hera. What is most interesting is Lapidus’ representation of Hera. In the third section of the poem, Lapidus writes,

where Hera reigns

behind her curtained face her courage flames

blood simmers in her womb

heavy as soup

spoonful by spoonful

she feeds the baby secrets

it was not Zeus who lived the cycle of transformations!

it was I who loved Leda – Io – Danaë! (Lapidus, “Thirteenth Moon,” lines 33-41)

In Greek mythology, Leda is the mother of Helen of Troy, the woman who was the cause of the war between Troy and Sparta (Gill). Unlike most Greek figures, Leda’s genealogy is unclear: her father is known but her mother is not. Io was the first priestess of Hera, with whom Zeus, Hera’s husband, became infatuated. To protect Io from Hera’s wrath, Zeus turned Io into a white heifer (“Io”). Danaë was the mother of Perseus (“Danae in Greek Mythology”). Lapidus’ claim that Hera was the one who loved all three of these women, has radical implications, suggesting that Hera, the goddess of marriage, is a queer woman. Typically, Artemis is the Greek symbol of queer solidarity, but when Lapidus poses Hera this way, she becomes a symbol for queer women with an entirely different set of connotations than those of Artemis. Hera is the queen of the gods of Olympus, the most powerful female goddess in the pantheon, and she is queer. For lesbians in America, this is a novel symbol of the power of lesbian women. Furthermore, in the case of Leda and Danaë, Hera is the grandmother of powerful figures: Helen, a woman capable of bringing entire nations to war, and Perseus, the slayer of the Gorgon Medusa. This correlation illuminates the power of the maternal influence, even if it is not readily apparent in this generation. In the case of Io, it paints Zeus as a jealous king who transformed Io out of spite. This parallels the way in which the patriarchy condemns queer women, and then reorients the story to paint them as the savior of the story.


Timeline of some of Jacqueline Lapidus’ Features in Feminist Periodicals (1975-1980)

Robin Ruth Linden

Robin Ruth Linden began her journey within the Second Wave of the Feminist Movement in Sinister Wisdom’s eigthth issue. At the time, she was simply a normal woman. Her author description at the back of the periodical was simply, “lives in San Francisco” (Desmoines and

Robin Ruth Linden’s untitled poem featured in Sinister Wisdom vol. 8, pg 22

Nicholson 103). She submitted an untitled poem in which she tackles the complexities of the lesbian identity. In a society where lesbian love felt unstructured when stacked against the strong heteronormative influences of love, Linden asserted that there was no set formula for lesbian relationships, which she articulated as “We are the points along the matrix    phonemes / We are the matrix, syntax” (Linden 15-16).

It’s reasonable to think that Linden set a precedent for herself when she published herself as a poet, but Linden did not continue with poetry. Though in Sinister Wisdom’s tenth issue, she submitted a creative writing piece that expressed her views on age, rage and language, Linden found her calling in editing. Alongside Darlene R. Pagano, Diana E. H. Russell, and Susan Leigh Star, Linden curated an anthology of feminist works called Against Sadomasochism: A Radical Feminist Analysis. This anthology received support from the majority of feminist periodicals of the time. Periodicals such as WomanNews, Big Mama Rag, New Women’s Times, and Sojourner all featured an advertisement for the anthology, illustrating how interconnected the feminist press culture was at the time. Linden made a name for herself in the Lesbian community, bolstered by the collaborative nature of feminst periodicals. By Sinister Wisdom’s sixteenth issue in 1981, Linden’s author description was, “an editor and video producer living in San Francisco” (Cliff and Rich 115).

Judith McDaniel

Judith McDaniel, a professor at Skidmore College, appeared in print in the seventh issue of the third volume of Big Mama Rag in 1975 (Desmoines and Nicholson 103). Ironically, her first debut in print was not with her own words. McDaniel was quoted saying “‘I learn by going where I have to go’ – Judith McDaniel, quoting someone else,” but McDaniel would go on to disseminate her words in a variety of mediums.

McDaniel made a name for herself primarily as an essayist, typically writing about her own experience as a lesbian. One of her most notable essays, “Is There Room For Me In The Closet Or My Life As The Only Lesbian Professor” was published in Heresies: A Feminist Publication on Arts & Politics, volume 2 issue 3, in the spring of 1979. This essay provides a window into the social climate at the time when McDaniel writes, “We spoke briefly about our work. ‘Why did you leave your last job?’ they asked. ‘I was fired,’ I said, ‘with another woman. We were too “feminist.”’ ‘Did you sue them?’ one woman asked. ‘It was difficult,’ I said. ‘We were both lesbians.’ My comment lay like something unpleasant in the middle of the table. No one referred to it” (McDaniel, “Is There Room For Me In the Closet…”, p36). By retelling this experience, McDaniel provides a window to the treatment that lesbian women face at the time and it reveals the degree of the injustices that spurred the Women’s Liberation Movement.

McDaniel gained enough notoriety for her essays that her pieces were featured in a plethora of feminist periodicals, such as Sinister Wisdom, Conditions, Chrysalis, and the Lesbian Tide. With this reputation, McDaniel also made a point of speaking at panels; a transcript of her speaking at 1975 Modern Language Association seminar about sexism in publishing was included in Sinister Wisdom’s second issue in 1976. McDaniel also dabbled in poetry, publishing a poem in Sinister Wisdom’s third issue and two more in the fourth. In the short time that McDaniel wrote poetry, she experimented with both long and short prose.

McDaniel’s “Ideograms” in Sinister Wisdom’s third issue follows a stricter poetic structure. Each stanza is four lines and even though the syllable count of each line varies and the stanzas do not all follow the same pattern, the beat of the poem is consistent. In the fourth issue, McDaniel submitted a longer poem that broke her self set precedent. In “Circe’s Cup,” McDaniel’s stanzas vary in length and canter, and she explored with composition, setting the second half of the poem adjacent to the first. This placement reinforces the dichotomy at play within the poem. The first half of the poem retells the story of Circe from the feminist perspective. Instead of Circe being a temptress who cruelly abused Ulysses and his men, Ulysses, “sank/ into a haze / of bestiality” (McDaniel, “Circe’s Cup” lines 8-10), causing him to forget his wife and son as he feel victim to Circe’s charms.

This perspective shift exposes the sordid qualities of man and shifts the blame away from Circe. The poem then moves horizontally across the page, to a stanza detailing how the speaker is intoxicated by Circe’s presence. This suggests that the reader can find strength and power in Circe and rightly rebel against the vile actions of men that contribute to sexist oppression.

Judith McDaniel’s literary versatility allowed her to spread the ideals of the Feminist Movement through a variety of forms. Her essays found their way to nearly every feminist periodical of the time, either directly or through quotations in other authors’ pieces. Though short lived, McDaniel’s poetry aligned with the sentiment of the time and advocated for women’s empowerment.


Timeline of some of Judith McDaniel’s publications in Feminist periodicals 1975-1980

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