Adrienne Rich

March 29th, 2012 | Other Projects

adrienne rich

I just heard that Adrienne Rich died. The NY Times obituary ends with this:

What she and her sisters-in-arms were fighting to achieve, she said, was simply this: “the creation of a society without domination.”

Of course her work had a huge influence on me. In fact a chapter of my new book revolves around her. The excerpt above is from a lecture I heard her deliver when I was 23. I wrote down practically everything she said in a notebook.

I wish I had time to write more now but I have just begun my fellowship at the U of Chicago and am so busy I can’t breathe. But here’s another Rich reference. Back when I was still struggling with my book I wrote about a dream I had, and our blog friend Alex K realized that the image came from Rich’s poem Diving Into the Wreck.

30 Responses to “Adrienne Rich”

  1. Alex K says:

    This is the place…

    We circle silently
    about the wreck
    we dive into the hold.

    On reading of Rich’s death I turned first to you, Alison, and turning find you, like her, there — at the place — before me.

  2. Eva says:

    Thanks Alison.

  3. Kate L says:

    Sad news, indeed.

  4. Ellen Orleans says:

    At Norcroft, a writer’s retreat in Minnesota, I stayed in the “Adrienne Rich” writing shed, a working space dedicated to her and stocked with her books. I was/am amazed at her capacity to be so deep and complex in thought, but also immediately recognizable in her experiences and concerns. Also, gorgeous, gorgeous words.

  5. 'Ff'lo says:

    So sad.

  6. Cathy says:

    Alison, I just knew you would create an appropriate tribute to Adrienne Rich. Your doing so is a gift both to her memory and to your blog readers given your heavy workload. Upon hearing of Rich’s death, I thought of her powerful work “Of Woman Born” and of your newly completed book.

  7. Andrew B says:

    All we can read is life.    Death is invisible.
    A yahrzeit candle belongs
    to life.    The sugar skulls
    eaten on graves for the Day of the Dead
    belong to life.     To the living.     The Kaddish is to the living,
    the Day of the Dead, for the living.     Only the living
    invent these plumes, tombs, mounds, funeral ships,
    living hands turn the mirrors to the walls,
    tear the boughs of yew to lay on the casket,
    rip the clothes of mourning.     Only the living
    decide death’s color: is it white or black?
    The granite bulkhead
    incised with names, the quilt of names, were made
    by the living, for the living.
    From “Living Memory”, 1988; collected in Time’s Power

    (The software has screwed up the formatting a little bit. I think you can still get the idea.)
    [Andrew B– I tried to tweak the formatting; I don’t think it’s perfect but I think it may have helped a little. –Mentor]

  8. chatroyale says:

    I did the same thing when I saw her speak at age 21, in 1999. I think I filled the little notebook. She was profoundly moving and I am still in awe of her words.

  9. Anna in Albuquerque says:

    We’ve got to come up with a better word than “fellowship”. Anyone?

  10. PJeannechild says:

    Adrienne. It seems to me she was always there and always would be, to hold one’s newly feminist feet to the fire of integrity and honor and universal compassion. And motherhood. The fire of motherhood. On Lies, Secrets, and Silence: her words replaced the Bible of my early days, and have proved a resonant guide and consolation, consonant with my soul. I return time and again to her pages, for myself and to offer others her wisdom, so bone real. She seemed always at my shoulder, my conscience. I am so grateful she was here.

  11. PJeannechild says:

    Thank you, Alison.

  12. Acilius says:

    Thanks to all of you.

  13. Anonymous says:

    The word “fellow” does mean both males and females–if you don’t like it, you could do a riff on “colleague.” Or, you could try “preceptorship.”

    I’m not joining the crowd on Rich. She could be unpleasant to anyone who wanted to critique her work and would frequently deny people permission to reprint if she did not like what they were saying about her.

    I never have cared for the woman, though her poetry is extraordinary. For example, I have no problem with her desire to meet with only women when she visited campuses, apart from her lecture hall presentations which were open to the public, but that she and her handlers often tried to do so on campus, using campus facilities, always rubbed me the wrong way. A person as famous as she–particularly a white person as famous as she–has a lot of power to throw around, and little reason for pretending to have her voice overshadowed by anyone. If she wanted to only meet with women, all she had to do was set up something at a professor’s house–not that hard, and quite a good bit less disingenuous.

    Still, there’s a wonderful interview with Audre Lorde done by Adrienne Rich that appeared in Signs published by the University of Chicago Press back in 1981. Their discussion of teaching was interesting as well as their discussion of the writing process.

  14. Andrew B says:

    Oh, Anonymous, did all that need to be said three days after the woman died? You and I appear to have common interests and attitudes. In different circumstances, I’d want to follow up what you’re saying.

    Alison was making a joke about “fellow” — a pointed joke. If you hang around here for a while, you’ll see that she is not doctrinaire about verbal usage. She may once have been. She created a bestselling book that is in large part about abandoning her youthful certainties. Fun Home. Check it out.

    You and I agree that Rich was foremost a poet, although I don’t know much about her behavior as opposed to her writing. Rich was many things — poet, essayist, theorist, speaker/performer — and different people value each of her contributions differently. I’m not sure which crowd you think you’re not joining.

    Finally, you’re going to stand out from the crowd but you’re going to be Anonymous. The irony is intentional, right?

  15. Anna in Albuquerque says:

    I understand the joke about “fellow” of course. I’ve just never been able to come up with a better word myself and wanted to see if I could stir a little creativity amongst y’all.

  16. Alison,

    You’re one of the people I thought of when I heard that Adrienne Rich had died. Yesterday I wrote a piece about her work for Lambda Literary. I’ll put a link to it below. I spent the last two days surrounded by her books, rereading. It was so powerful, and put me in a fog of poetry, memory and moral rigor. Or something like that — felt like a good way to mourn her. Can’t wait to see the chapter of your new book that revolves around her.

    http://www.lambdaliterary.org/features/03/29/adrienne-rich-send-something-back/

  17. freyakat says:

    [Taken care of. –Mentor]

  18. Ginjoint says:

    [Taken care of. –Mentor]

  19. Ginjoint says:

    Danke schoen, M.

  20. freyakat says:

    Yes indeed, thank you M.

  21. Ginjoint says:

    Susan, your tribute to Adrienne is personal, heartfelt, and lovely. So is Victoria Brownworth’s. Thanks for that link.

  22. Thanks, Ginjoint. Much appreciated. I thought that Victoria Brownworth’s is beautiful, too.

  23. Christine says:

    Beautiful panel, Alison. Hearing Adrienne Rich read “What Kind of Times Are These” in spring 2003 (around the dawn of the Iraq War) was an experience that I’ll never forget. Her poetry’s verbal beauty and deep concern with justice was also life-changing for me.

  24. Acilius says:

    I wouldn’t presume to speak for Adrienne Rich, but if I were as famous and as fearless as she was, I imagine I’d be disappointed to think that my death would occasion only praise. What’s the point of building the kind of reputation she did if people don’t have strong reactions to you, both for and against? Remember when Bill Clinton offered her an award and she turned it down with as much publicity as she could arrange? That’s hardly the action of someone who wants to become a national institution, a figure who must be saluted like the flag.

    So I can’t help but suspect that someone so distinguished as she was in the art of the well-placed provocation would have found something to appreciate in the criticism offered in #14 above, if not in the fact that it was offered anonymously. And of course such appreciation would be best expressed by an annihilating counterblast.

  25. Ready2Agitate says:

    Another feminist influenced in my budding consciousness in 1980s by the work of Adrienne Rich. I’ll have to re-read some of those works in the near future. Thanks to you all.

  26. The Lesbrary says:

    […] Alison Bechdel posted Adrienne Rich.* […]

  27. I’ll offer some not at all anonymous criticism of Adrienne Rich. She helped edit thge vile ‘The Transsexual Empire’ even reciving an acknowledgment in it. That book cause and is still causing a lot of very real harm to trans women. As a direct result of it’s publication a major transsexual health care program was shut down.

    So while she may have been an inspiring poet she alaso caused great harm in the world.

  28. gay guy who likes poetry says:

    These are some assumptions I am making about Adrienne Rich’s thinking:
    I believe she later disagreed with The Transsexual Empire. I am certain she broke away from the group of feminists (Janice Raymond and Mary Daly) who helped formulate the ideas behind The Transsexual Empire. That book is about thirty five years old and I think Adrienne Rich’s thinking changed a lot in that time period. At least she had colleagues since 1980 who were transgender.
    I met her extremely briefly at a book signing in Yspilanti, Michigan around 2000. She was speaking at Eastern Michigan University and she talked about how important Rilke was to her when she was growing up, as a poetic influence. At the book signing she seemed somewhat guarded and defensive when I told her she was an important writer to me. If you read the article in The Guardian, 2002, about her where they interview Hayden Carruth, he says the same thing. Granted, my interaction was 3 minutes and his was fifty years. I think in US society we all want famous people to be our friends and she was probably wary of that along with inability of a lot people to actually listen and grapple with ideas.
    She had a long career full of contradictions and a lot of brilliant moments. Also, I find her later work extremely difficult, which is a compliment. For some reason I go into it thinking it’s going to be easy but it demands work.

  29. Shaed says:

    Whitewashing the memory of great, flawed people does not do anyone a service. She supported harmful, institutionally enforced bigotry and never denounced it publicly.

    She wrote moving poems, she fought for cis lesbian’s acceptance, and she actively participated in the creation of a rotten stain on the garb of feminism that has not washed out in all these years.