“When does a life bend towards freedom? grasp its direction?
How do you know you’re not circling in pale dreams, nostalgia,
but entering that deep current malachite colorado
requiring all your strength wherever found
your patience and your labor
desire pitted against desire’s inversion
all your mind’s fortitude?”
– Adrienne Rich
(from the poem Movement in the collection Dark Fields of the Republic)
The poet does well to ask. Her words cut to the quick of our fear, exposing our hesitation at taking the very risk that might save our lives.
I felt this so strongly when I was young, having been opened by poetry, captured by words that promised something more than Southern California 1980s suburbia. My scribblings had gotten me through three boring years of high school, and catapulted me up the coast to San Francisco, where poets still roamed the streets.
Sitting in a packed auditorium, all of 20 years old (or so), I listened to the poet speak. My life was set before me. I wanted to be a poet like that. Like Adrienne Rich. Words on fire, or rising from deep water. Wiser than I. Insightful. Fragile. Strong. Feeling that I wanted her to see me, what I really wanted – and what every poet knows – is to truly see myself.
My words have taken a different form in intervening years. The path I have chosen has moved from the careful craft of poetry to the sweet rush of translating the soul so that I and those around me can better understand. The poet does that, too, but differently. We all find our way, and our successes.
What is your success? What is your road? What opens you, exposing your fear, your sorrow, and the spark of your ambition?
What helps you see yourself? How do you hold up a mirror to help the world?
Adrienne Rich affected my heart and soul, and left me with the wish to shape my life. For this, I am eternally grateful. Her words will continue to inspire. In thanking Adrienne Rich for her life, her legacy, her words, I thank everyone who ever helped someone to see, to listen, or to feel. We all touch one another, in large ways or in small. What choices shall we make about our actions and our speech? How will we craft our lives?
May we learn to walk in power and intention. May we listen well, and speak with the strength of poets.
Having not followed her career after my 20s, only referencing the books that sat upon my shelves, I had no idea that Rich was thanked by Raymond in “Transexual Empire” which is a book that has done great damage to feminist thought.
Yet I see also that she was thanked by Les Feinberg in “Transgender Warriors” and Minnie Bruce Pratt in “S/he” so it seems that Rich changed her thinking regarding trans women.
Too little, too late? Perhaps it would have been good had she had spoken out more clearly and strongly (as Joanna Russ has done), but at least she seems to have learned and changed, for which I feel relieved.
We come up against this with artists so often. One example I often think of when grappling with such things is the terrible misogyny of Picasso. Yet Guernica is still an important statement…
Her poetry lives on. May we learn from her gifts and her mistakes, and from our own.