Sunday, 1 April 2012

Adrienne Rich (16/4/29 - 27/3/12) - Poet of Liberation R.I.P

The American poet Adrienne Rich passed away last week at her home in Santa Cruz, California. Born in Baltimore, Maryland, the elder of 2 daughters of Arnold Rich a doctor and Helen Jones Reed, a gifted pianist and composer.
She married in 1953 and bore 3 sons, at a time when she was still struggling with conflicts over the prescribed roles of womanhood verses that of artistry. But as time moved forward she confimed her identity as a lesbian, which radicalised her fusion of political commitment and poetic artistry.
She first published a volume of poetry in 1951, which earned praise from W.H Auden.Her poems were ones of defiance and fury, against convention, and as a force for change, which also revealed a tenderness and warmth, with moments of uncertainty and self questioning. She is considered to be one of the most influential poets of the late twentieth century. There is scarcly an anthology of feminist verse that does not contain her work or engage with her ideas.  She is credited with bringing the oppression of women and lesbians to the forefront of poetic discourse.
Her concerns also included questions of language and history, the denial and claiming of power, the action of poetic imagination in change, a politics of place and of struggle.
In one of her uncompromising essays she wrote 'All human life on the planet is born of a woman. The one unifying, incontrovertible experince shared by all women and men is that months - long period we spend unfolding in a womans body.'
Her pamphlet ' Twenty one Love Poems' 1977 which was incorporated into the following years 'Dreams of a common language.' marked one of the first direct treatments of lesbian desire and sexuality, a theme which she continued with throughout her work.
As well as using words as a force for change, she attended rallies against the vietnam war, organised poetry reading for peace and marched for womens rights, fundraised for the Black Panthers, and was a supporter of the progressive Jewish movement New Jewish agenda. In 1997 during the Clinton administration she rejected the National Medal of the Arts, because of Clintons anti-arts policies. writing ' There is no simple formula for the relationship of art to justice. But I do know that art- in my own case the art of poetry - means nothing if it simply decorated the dinner table of power which holds it hostage. The radical disparities of wealth and power in America are widening at a devastating rate. A President cannot meaningfully honor certain token artists while the people at large are so dishonoured.' and as late as 2002 with painful arthritis marched against the Iraq War, she was also a supporter of Palestinial  liberation.
She despised oppression of every kind and hurled against it. Throughout her life she spun words from a revolutionary tongue, pointed the direction while embodying the essence of the destination, with declarations of love and war. She said ' The poem arrives at itself with the immedacy of sunlight stinging glass.'
Long may her spirit be remembered. R.I.P.

Adrienne Rich - What kind of Times are these

There's a place between two stands of trees where the grass grows uphill
and the old revolutionary road breaks of into shadows
near a meeting-house abandoned by the persecuted
who dissapeared into those shadows.

I've walked there picking mushrooms at the edge of dread,
but don't be fooled this isn't a Russian poem, this is not somewhere else but here,
our country moving closer to its own truth and dread,
it's own ways of making people dissapear.

I won't tell you where the place is, the dark mesh of the woods
meeting the unmarked strip of light -
ghost-ridden crossroads, leafmold paradise:
I know already who wants to buy it, sell it, make it dissapear.

And I won't tell you where it is, so why do I tell you anything?
Because you still listen, because in times like these
to have you listen at all, it's necessary
to talk about trees.

Adrienne Rich at a glance.

WAIT (2006)

In paradise every
the desrt wind is rising
third thought
in hell there are no thoughts
is of earth
sand screams against your government
issued tent  hell's noise
in your nostrils   crawl
into your ear-shell
wrap yourself in no-thought
wait  no place for the little lyric
wedding-ring glint the reason why
on earth
they never told you


My three sisters are sitting
on rocks of black obsidian.
For the first time, in this light, in this light, I can see who they are

My first sister is sewing her costume for the procession.
She is going as the Transparent lady
and all her nerves will be visible

Ny second sister is also sewing,
at the seam over her heart which has never healed
At last, she hopes, this tightness in her chest will ease.

Ny third sister is gazing
at a dark-red crust spreading westward far out on the
Her stocking are torn but she is beautiful.



Either you will
go through this door
or you will not go through.

If you go through
there is always the risk
of remembering your name.

Things looks at you doubly
and you must look back
and let them happen.

If you do not go through
it is possible
to live worthily

to maintain your attitudes
to hold your position
to die bravely

but much will blind you,
much will evade you,
at what cost who knows?

The door itself
makes no promises
Is is only a door.


To have seen you exactly, once:
red hair over cold cheeks fresh from the freeway
your lingo, your daunting and dautless
eyes. But then to lift towards home, mile upon
back when they'd barely heard your name
- neither as terrorist nor as genius would they
detain you-
to wing itback to my country bearing
your war-flecked protocols-
that was a mission, surely my art's pouch
crammed with your bristling juices
sweet dark drops of your spirit
that streaked the pouch, the shirt I wore
and the bench on which I leaned.


It's only a branch like any other

green with the flare of life in it

and ifI hold this end, you the other

that means it's broken
broken between us, broken despite us
broken and therfore dying
broken by force, broken by lying
green, with the flare of life in it

But say we're crouching on the ground  like children
over a mess of marbles, soda caps, folil, old foreign coins
- the first truly precious objests. Rusty hooks,glass.
Say I saw the earrings first but you wanted it.
Then you wanted the words I'd found. I'd give you
the earrings, crushed lapis if it were,
I would look long at the beach glass and the sharded shelf
of the lightbulb. Long I'd look into your hand
at the obsolete copper profile, the cat's eye, the Lapis.
Like a thief I would deny the words, deny they ever
existed, were spoken, or could be spoken,
like a thief I'd bury them and remember where.

The trade mames follow trade
the translators stopped at passport control:
Occupation: no such designation-
Journalist, maybe spy?
That the books are for personal use
only -could I swear it?
That not a word of them
is contaband - how could I prove it?



I know you are reading this poem
late, before leaving your office
of the one intense yellow lamp-spot and the darkening window
in the lassitude of a building faded to be quiet
long after rush-hour. I know you are reading this poem
standing up in a bookstore far from the ocean
on a grey day of early spring, faint flakes driven
across the plain's enormous spaces around you
I know you are reading this poem
in a room where too much has happened for you to bear
where the bedclothes lie in stagnant coils on the bed
and the open valise speaks of flight
but you cannot leave yet. I know you are reading this poem
as the underground train loses momentum and before running
up the stairs
toward a new kind of love
your life has never allowed
I know you are reading this poem by the light
of the television screen where soundless images jerk and slide
while you wait for the newscast from the intifada.
I know you are reading this poem in a waiting-room
of eyes met and unmeeting, of idetity with strangers.
i know you are reading this poem by fluorescent light
in the boredom and fatique of the young who are counted out,
count themselves out, at too early an age. I know
you are reading this poem through your failing sight, the thick
lens enlarging these letters beyond all meaning yet you read on
because even the alphabet is precious
I know you are reading this poem as you pace beside the stove
warming milk, a crying child on your shoulder, a book in your hand
because life is short and you too are thirsty
I know you are reading this poem which is not your language
guessing at some words while others keep you reading
and I want to know which words they are.
I know you are reading this poem listening to somethiing, torn
between bitterness and hope
turning back once again to the task you cannot refuse.
I know you are reading this poem because there is nothing else
left to read
there where you have landed, stripped as you are.


A revolutionary poem
will not tell you who or
when to kill, what and
when to burn, or even
how to theorize. It
reminds you . . . where and
when and how you are
living and might live, it is
a wick of desire

Selected works

Selected Poems. Chatto & Hogarth P Windus 1967

Twent-one Love Poems. Effies press. 1976

Selected Poems, 1950-1995.Salmon Pub 1996

Dark Fields of the Republic : Poems 1991-1995.W.W Norton 1995

Tonight No Poetry Will Serve: Poems 2007-2010

Diving into the Wreck. W. W. Norton 1975

A wild Patience Has Taken Me This Far: Poems 1978-1981. W.W Norton 1982.

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