Martha Courtot

Martha Courtot (1941 – 2000) was a lesbian, an activist, the mother of three, the grandmother of one, and a prolific poet. In her lifetime she published books and chapbooks. Some of her poems took on lives of their own, passed lesbian to lesbian on handwritten, typed, dittoed, or xeroxed pages. My favorite has always been “Lesbian Bears,” which I first found on a dusty broadside at Amazon Books in Minneapolis in the late 1980’s. Other women love “Tribes,” and have used it over the years in bonding and croning ceremonies.

After Martha’s death, her family and friends put together a collection of her poems called The Bird Escapes. You can still find a few copies from good used book sources like Powells.

As I can, I’ll post more of Martha’s poems here, since women looking for her poems keep finding me. Like so many of the lesbian poets who wrote and published in lesbian communities in the 70’s and 80’s, Martha touched many lives without ever being “famous” and without operating in the mainstream (malestream) poetry world. I’m honored to carry on part of her legacy, for she and other dyke poets have shaped my life and my writing profoundly.

Martha’s poem i am a woman in ice

Martha’s poem “Lesbian Bears” with comments from her sister, daughter, friends, and fans

Blogger Cherie W Rolfe’s podcast of “i am a woman in ice” is here.

Activist Adrienne Lauby’s reading of a Martha poem on KPFA: “When the Bear Comes to My Garden”


13 thoughts on “Martha Courtot

  1. I have a poem by martha courtot perhaps originally published in Off Our Backs. It is titled lot’s wife. Has it been published anywhere else?

  2. I have her book of collected poems, “The Bird Escapes,” that her family and close friends put together after she died, and it’s not in there. I’ll have to check in the copies of her little chapbooks, but I don’t think I know it. Could you post a copy? I’ve just been asked to curate a page about Martha on a lesbian poetry website, so am gathering what I can.

  3. OMG! I once had a small purple book with the poem “Tribes” bought at Amazon Book Store in Mpls when it was by Loring Park. I bought several of those little books for gifts. A friend bought me a copy of TRIBE, the chapbook, for my birthday one year. But, try as I could, I could find nothing about Martha Courtot. I wondered if she was Native American?

    Thank you so much for this information. Now I know something of the person behind the poem “Tribes” which I often share when I teach. I look forward to reading more of her poems on your blog site.

  4. Sherry – what a wonderful story! _I_ first found Martha’s work at Amazon Books at Loring Park, a single broad side of the poem “Lesbian Bears”! Then I found a few more poems in small journals like Sinister Wisdom, and then nothing for years. I finally bought a couple chapbooks once ebay existed and I could hunt for them. Not long after she died her daughters and friends put up a website, which is how I found out she had died, and how I got a collected version of her poems that they put out. I posted Lesbian Bears on my blog, because I love it so and didn’t want to lose it again, and Martha Courtot fans and family began appearing constantly. Half the people that come to blog come looking for Martha’s work.

    Some good news about finding her work – Julie Enszer, who runs the Lesbian Poetry Archives, has already scanned two of the chapbooks to post. I’m working on an introduction to them, with some biography but more a reflection of how the poems go on living in communities. Your story is perfect for that! We’re trying to get copies of the other two chapbooks she published, but they are not to be found for sale online. I’m trying to find some now just through lesbian networking.

    Once the books are made public, I’ll post about it here.

  5. Thanks, I found a few of her books on Amazon, try that-but I didn’t purchase them. Are you from or living in Minneapolis? I’m thrilled to know a little bit about her. I’ve tried for years to find out who she was. I’m so sad to hear she died. Was she from Minneapolis? I loved that little purple book and was sad when I couldn’t find any more. They were perfect gifts. And I love how she explains why women enter and leave each others’ lives, it made so much sense.


  6. I went to school for an MS in Women’s Studies at Mankato, so spent a lot of time in Minneapolis around 88-91. I’ve heard lots of women talk about how much that one poem has meant to them, including using it at bonding/wedding rituals and ceremonies. I have to finish up the essay about her soon. May I include your story about finding the book and buying copies for friends?

  7. Thanks, Oriethyia. I have both of those, and they have been digitized already. I got permission to use those books, but have been struggling to get permission to use personal letters. If you knew Martha well, would you be willing to do a phone or skype interview? I need to put together an essay to introduce the books, and need more info about Martha in her world to finish the piece.

  8. My
    Mother was one of Martha’s friends. You could reach out to her for stories and recollections of Martha, I bet. DM me if you’d like her contact info.

  9. Pingback: Black Kripple Delivers Poems and Lyrics | Pushing Limits

  10. “The Bird Escapes” the 171 page retrospective of Martha’s poems is available for $15. each. Write: Adrienne Lauby, 1 Kingston Way, Cotati, CA adrienne_[at]

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