Gloria T. Hull: On "Call"

Lorde's seemingly essentialist definitions of herself as black/lesbian/mother/woman are not simple, fixed terms. Rather, they represent her ceaseless negotiations of a positionality from which she can speak. Almost as soon as she achieves a place of connection, she becomes uneasy at the comfortableness (which is, to her, a signal that something critical is being glossed over) and proceeds to rub athwart the smooth grain to find the roughness and the slant she needs to maintain her difference-defined, complexly constructed self. Our Dead Behind Us is constant motion, with poem after poem enacting a series of displacements.

. . . The cover of Our Dead Behind Us consists of "a snapshot of the last Dahomean Amazons," "three old Black women in draped clothes," superimposed upon a sea of dark and passionate South Africans at a protest demonstration. This image projects Lorde's membership in a community of struggle which stretches from ancient to modern times. In "Call" she invokes "Oya Seboulisa Mawu Afrekete," "Rosa Parks and Fannie Lou Hamer/Assata Shakur and Yaa Asantewa/my mother and Winnie Mandela," speaking into exclusionary space a transcendent black woman power "released/from the prism of dreaming.". . .

The oracular voice that powers--at different frequencies--Lorde's work can best be heard full force in the majestic orality of "Call," a spiritual offering of praise and supplication that is chilling, especially when she reads it. Aido Hwedo is, a note tells us, "The Rainbow Serpent; also a representation of all ancient divinities who must be worshipped but whose names and faces have been lost in time." Stanza one summons this


Holy ghost woman

Stolen out of your name

Rainbow Serpent

whose faces have been forgotten

Mother loosen my tongue or adorn me

with a lighter burden

Aido Hwedo is coming.


She invokes this deity in the name of herself and her sisters who, "on worn kitchen stools and tables," are piecing their "weapons together/scraps of different histories.". . . She brings her best while asking for continuing power to do her work as woman/poet. And she is blessed to become not only the collective voice of her sisters, but Aido Hwedo's fiery tongue, "the holy ghosts' linguist."

Critic Robert Stepto pronounced The Black Unicorn "an event in contemporary letters" because of its author's "voice or an idea of a voice that is essentially African in that it is communal, historiographical, archival, and prophetic as well as personal in ways that we commonly associate with the African griot, dyeli, and tellers of nganos and other oral tales." This voice holds in her later volume, which continues to "explore the modulations within that voice between feminine and feminist timbres" and also to chart "history and geography as well as voice."


Title Gloria T. Hull: On "Call" Type of Content Criticism
Criticism Author Cheryl Walker Criticism Target Audre Lorde
Criticism Type Poet Originally Posted 04 Jun 2020
Publication Status Excerpted Criticism Publication Changing Our Own Words: Essays on Criticism, Theory, and Writing by Black Women
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