In her essay, Jennifer Michaels traces the influence of Audre Lorde’s poetic achievements in the work of several Afro-German poets, exploring the texts of May Ayim in particular. Lorde felt that since there was no self-defined Afro-German community (she herself coined the hyphenated term that so many came to embrace), many of these marginalized women had no recourse to an identity that was not always inferior and strictly in the realm of the outsider. Lorde felt that it was imperative that these isolated people no longer be subject to racist stereotypes or ideas, and wanted to build community and alternative identity through political poetry.
This project, taken up with fervor by Ayim, is what Michaels’ essay relates to the reader. Since the Afro-German women were often isolated from an African or an African-American heritage, they had to create something for themselves within the dominant German culture and language that was so oppressive to them. Michaels writes that Ayim “strove to develop a language that can capture experiences excluded from the dominant language,’ (32). One experience, we might propose, that is most excluded from dominant discourse, is that of her being German. Certainly, the hyphenated identity that Lorde set before the nascent community was a term that could work toward self-reclamation. But what Ayim’s work speaks about so often is of her ignored German-ness, and the denial of her own experience by others who work within a racist logic of nationalism. This, I feel, is the strongest resistance to the dominant culture that exists in this kind of poetry. To reveal the ways in which her German life is resisted and protested against by white Germans is a powerful move against the ways she is continually inscribed and reinscribed as other, and as not-German.
Michaels successfully traces a thread of this kind of self-definition from the work of Lorde to the German poets of the next generation in Europe. But while Lorde had a community in America to ally with her political views, and a matrilineal heritage that she used to construct a connection with Western Africa, these women in Germany were by and large isolated from any of these larger groups or narratives. For them, this political and poetic move was to assert themselves in the present, in the only country they knew, and to claim what was continually denied them—an equal German identity.
by Jeannie Freedlund