RIP Adrienne Rich
Poet, prophet, original thinker, essayist, writer, provocateur, feminist, LGBT icon, lightning rod for those who hate to hear free and prophetic voices. Mystic. Poet of consciousness, life, death, suffering and rebirth. There's more I could say, but I'll let her own words speak for her.
In creating a situation in which they could nurture and rear infants safely and effectively, women became the civilizers, the inventors of agriculture, of community, some maintain of language itself.
. . .
My heart is moved by all I cannot save:
so much has been destroyed
I have to cast my lot with those
who age after age, perversely,
with no extraordinary power,
reconstitute the world.
. . .
The most that we can do for one another
Is let our blunders and blind mischances
Argue a certain brusque abrupt compassion.
. . .
a touch is enough to let us know
we're not alone in the universe, even in sleep
. . .
Language cannot do everything—
chalk it up on the walls where the dead poets
lie in their mausoleums.
. . .
You played heroic, necessary
games with death
since in your neo-protestant tribe the void
was supposed not to exist
except as a fashionable concept.
. . .
I had been trying to give birth to myself, and in some grim, dim way I was determined to use even pregnancy and parturition in that process.
Here's the New York Times obituary, which says in part:
Widely read, widely anthologized, widely interviewed and widely taught, Ms. Rich was for decades among the most influential writers of the feminist movement and one of the best-known American public intellectuals. She wrote two dozen volumes of poetry and more than a half-dozen of prose; the poetry alone has sold nearly 800,000 copies, according to W. W. Norton & Company, her publisher since the mid-1960s.
Triply marginalized — as a woman, a lesbian and a Jew — Ms. Rich was concerned in her poetry, and in her many essays, with identity politics long before the term was coined.
She accomplished in verse what Betty Friedan, author of “The Feminine Mystique,” did in prose. In describing the stifling minutiae that had defined women’s lives for generations, both argued persuasively that women’s disenfranchisement at the hands of men must end.
For Ms. Rich, the personal, the political and the poetical were indissolubly linked; her body of work can be read as a series of urgent dispatches from the front. While some critics called her poetry polemical, she remained celebrated for the unflagging intensity of her vision, and for the constant formal reinvention that kept her verse — often jagged and colloquial, sometimes purposefully shocking, always controlled in tone, diction and pacing — sounding like that of few other poets. . . .
For all her verbal prowess, for all her prolific output, Ms. Rich retained a dexterous command of the plain, pithy utterance. In a 1984 speech she summed up her reason for writing — and, by loud unspoken implication, her reason for being — in just seven words.
What she and her sisters-in-arms were fighting to achieve, she said, was simply this: “the creation of a society without domination.”
And here is a short section of a longer poem, "Letters to the Young Poet" from Rich's 1999 collection Midnight Salvage, which I find to be typically fierce and forthright, honest, both present-moment and timeless:
Would it gladden you to think
poetry could purely
take its place beneath lightning sheets
or fogdrip live its own life
screamed at, howled down
by a torn bowel of dripping names
—composers visit Terezin, film-makers, Sarajevo
Cabrini-Green or Edenwald Houses
if a woman as vivid as any artist
can fling any day herself from the 14th floor
would it relieve you to decide Poetry
doesn't make this happen?