Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry: Explained, NEIGHBORS, by AUDRE LORDE

Poetry Explorer

Classic and Contemporary Poetry: Explained

NEIGHBORS, by             Poet Analysis     Poet's Biography

"Neighbors" by Audre Lorde is a stirring poem that provides an intriguing glimpse into the complexities of human relationships, particularly within the context of a community. Published in 1970, a period marked by immense social and cultural upheaval, the poem brings into focus a paradox: while community offers the promise of shared wisdom and mutual aid, it often becomes a theater of suspicion, isolation, and missed connections. This is all the more resonant given Audre Lorde's own position as a Black lesbian feminist; her voice embodies multiple marginalizations, and this multi-layered perspective often infuses her work with a richness that challenges conventional norms and raises provocative questions about society and human interaction.

The poem opens with the line "We made strong poems for each other," immediately foregrounding the importance of creativity and communal exchange. This concept of shared creation is evocative, portraying a community engaged in the collaborative act of conjuring something powerful and transformative. However, this ideal quickly dissipates. The community members are compared to witches, a historically maligned group that has often been associated with the unconventional and the subversive. This metaphor serves as an admission that the community is not entirely what it seems; there's a pretense, an act everyone is involved in. Despite appearing close-knit and supportive, the neighbors fail to bring their collective magic to fruition because of "some small ingredient" that is always missing. The idea of 'magic' here could be read as a metaphor for mutual support, trust, or even the dream of collective empowerment.

The poem's structure is free-verse, without a fixed rhyme or meter, but the rhythm of the words carries a sort of incantatory quality, echoing the poem's theme of magic and spells. It is as if the very act of utterance is a form of magic, a ritual to conjure reality. However, each time the spell is cast, something is missing. The flaw is not in the magic itself, but in the neighbors' inability to fully hear and understand one another. They are "too busy hearing the other voices," a powerful image that depicts a community in which everyone is guarding their own interests, perpetually cautious and defensive.

One of the most striking aspects of the poem is its focus on failure: the pot that does not boil, the milk that curdles, the wound that continues to bleed. This series of failed transformations underscores the tragedy of human potential left unfulfilled due to a lack of authentic communication and understanding. When the poem concludes with the lines "believing she was always alone / believing / the other / was always lying / in wait," we are left to ponder the price of these missed connections. Each individual returns to her "own particular magic," alone, but now with the added burden of mistrust.

Given the turbulent period in which the poem was written, it is tempting to read "Neighbors" as a commentary on the struggles for civil rights, feminism, and social justice that marked the era. However, its themes are timeless, underscoring the human condition's enduring complexities. Ultimately, Lorde's "Neighbors" serves as a poignant reminder that while the promise of community is powerful, the reality is often fraught with misunderstandings and missed opportunities. The magic that could be conjured by coming together remains elusive, not because it is unattainable, but because the ingredients-trust, understanding, and open communication-are often left out of the mix.

Copyright (c) 2024 PoetryExplorer

Discover our Poem Explanations and Poet Analyses!

Other Poems of Interest...

Home: PoetryExplorer.net