Poetry in Motion: The Raw Honesty of Leah Horlick's For Your Own Good

July 20, 2015

When poet Leah Horlick could not find any writing about sexual assault between queer women after surviving her own experience, she wrote  For Your Own Good, her second collection of poetry. The book explores survival of a domestic and sexual violence in a lesbian relationship. Read "Nine Swords", a harrowing poem from the collection, and watch Leah read three others in today's Poetry in Motion.

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When Leah Horlick was nineteen, her first girlfriend sexually assaulted her. But the idea that a relationship between two women could be abusive eluded her. She asked herself, How could this happen?: “Like many survivors, I was desperate for any representation of my own story—but I found nothing. I was a freak. I made women do things women aren’t supposed to do—be sexually violent. It was my fault, I deserved it.”

Feeling as though she couldn’t talk to anyone about her experience, she read – zines, lesbian poetry, contemporary feminist work, archival materials from the Lesbian Herstory Archives in Brooklyn and more – but she still could not find anything describing the experience of rape within a lesbian relationship. 

So she wrote.

The result of that work is her second collection of poetry, For Your Own Good. In the canon of contemporary feminist and lesbian poetry, For Your Own Good breaks this silence. A fictionalized autobiography, the poems in this collection illustrate the narrator’s survival of a domestic and sexual violence in a lesbian relationship. There is magic in this work: the symbolism of the Tarot and the roots of Jewish heritage, but also the magic that is at the heart of transformation and survival.

These poems are acutely painful, rooted in singular and firsthand experiences. But Horlick also draws from a legacy of feminist, Jewish and lesbian writers against violence: epigraphs from the works of Adrienne Rich and Minnie Bruce Pratt act as touchstones alongside references to contemporary writers, such as Daphne Gottlieb and Michelle Tea.

The tone of these poems is direct and matter-of-fact, never self-pitying or psychoanalytical, yet also “deeply emotional,” as described by AfterEllen.com. Xtra West calls them “arresting poems … impassioned but meditative pieces.”  But most importantly, it is a necessary collection, especially among queer communities. As Mette Bach writes in Plenitude magazine, “Reading Leah Horlick’s collection, I felt a sense of relief. Finally, we’re here. Finally, we’re talking about this.”

 

Nine Swords

I remember lying under your drunk, white
         body while the snow fell, watching the crows land on the power

lines, thinking This is what everyone
         wants. This is love. I remember trying to speak plainly

You tried, too. Sorry I kinda raped you
         last night. To finally hear that word from your mouth. You fishtailed

home from pitchers with that awful man,
         another one of your vulturing friends: How will your girlfriend feel 

about you coming home like this? How will your girlfriend
         feel—He was into it. You were, too. Don’t lie. And me,

half-asleep, resistant still. Good job, body—
         this body, your secret, your shadow. Your sister? everyone asked.

It’s amazing what people will want
         to believe. What I do and don’t remember: easing myself down

your stairs in the morning, that your hands were painful, that it was
         my fault. It was always my fault. And I laughed at you,

that word, at first, unbelieving
         even myself.

 

Here's Leah reading "Fortune Teller", "The Disappearing Woman", and "The Yellow Scarf" from For Your Own Good

 

See also:

  • Leah's article on sexual assault between women, "This Happens", on  Autostraddle.
  • More poetry by Leah Horlick.

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Thanks so much to Caitlin Press, especially Andrea, for sharing For Your Own Good with us.


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