Adrienne Rich, May 16, 1929 – March 27, 2012
It really does. Poetry matters.
Adrienne Rich mattered. To me. As a kid growing up and finding my voice, as a high school student, then a university student, a hardcore academic after that and even now, as a woman, a wife, a mother. Always as an English Lit. major, a writer, a poet at heart.
Adrienne Rich is one of only a handful of strong, authentic, unafraid female poets who have had an unequivocal impact on me. She wore her feminism just as proudly as her politics. I didn’t agree with her politics all the time, but I always, always agreed with her boldness. I have loved her – admired her – fiercely, for as long as I can remember.
Audre Lorde (another hero of mine), Meridel Lesueur and Adrienne Rich, 1980
At 82, I realize she lived, fully and passionately. She must have known these were her twilight years. Still, my heart is heavy, disbelieving. To have lost such a special voice….it leaves me feeling oddly hollow, yet profoundly aware of a strange, reverential place in my heart. The lady had an incomparable talent and spirit that fed (still feeds) through words.
There are a million and one memorable quotes left behind, so many poems that I have loved, studied, absorbed and leaned on. It would be an utter exercise in futility to choose the best or my favourite.
Instead, I share with you with these, Adrienne Rich’s thoughts on responsibility, which best sum up, in my opinion, the things she represented best, lived best and most personally, taught me best.
Responsibility to yourself means refusing to let others do your thinking, talking, and naming for you…it means that you do not treat your body as a commodity with which to purchase superficial intimacy or economic security; for our bodies to be treated as objects, our minds are in mortal danger. It means insisting that those to whom you give your friendship and love are able to respect your mind. It means being able to say, with Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre: “I have an inward treasure born with me, which can keep me alive if all the extraneous delights should be withheld or offered only at a price I cannot afford to give.
Responsibility to yourself means that you don’t fall for shallow and easy solutions–predigested books and ideas…marrying early as an escape from real decisions, getting pregnant as an evasion of already existing problems. It means that you refuse to sell your talents and aspirations short…and this, in turn, means resisting the forces in society which say that women should be nice, play safe, have low professional expectations, drown in love and forget about work, live through others, and stay in the places assigned to us. It means that we insist on a life of meaningful work, insist that work be as meaningful as love and friendship in our lives. It means, therefore, the courage to be “different”…The difference between a life lived actively, and a life of passive drifting and dispersal of energies, is an immense difference. Once we begin to feel committed to our lives, responsible to ourselves, we can never again be satisfied with the old, passive way.
Adrienne Rich, 2001
Kimberly Grey (2012-2014 Stegner Fellow in Poetry at Stanford University) tweeted yesterday, “Adrienne Rich is trending. Yes, poetry does matter.”
She’s right. It does. It matters a lot.
Adrienne Rich matters.
Thank you, so much, Ms. Rich.
Top image courtesy of Poetry Foundation
Middle image courtesy of K. Kendall
Bottom image courtesy of Metro Weekly
IF YOU ENJOYED THIS POST, YOU MAY ALSO LIKE:
Remembering Wistawa Szymborska: Nobel Prize Winner and “Mozart of Poetry” Leaves A Profound Impression
The additional tribute photo of Adrienne Rich in Pics of the Week 2: Destiny, Dahlia, Dog Speak and Tulip Skirt…Green Pea and a Goodbye