Thursday, March 29, 2012


Like a lot of poets of my generation I first encountered Adrienne Rich's poetry back when she was part of what a lot of us more-or-less anti-establishment young poets thought of a "academic" and "establishment"—because she was one of the few women, often the only one, included in publications associated with what was taught in "the academy" as contemporary poetry in the 1950s and '60s.

But all that meant was she was that good that the powers that be thought she could compete with the much honored Robert Lowells et. al. But by the time I actually became friends with her in the early 1970s she was moving away from her comfortable established position as academically honored poet, as well as from the equally comfortably established status as "wife" and "heterosexual" female, and experimenting along with the rest of us who were trying to defy age old standards and laws and beliefs about the superiority of patriarchal standards and rules and hierarchies.

She documented the changes that created in her life and perceptions in her poems and they became even more powerful. Some academics objected that she was giving up a more rigorous academically approved technique for a more direct and simplistic approach to what some of them saw as "proselytizing" but the rest of us knew she was taking a stand for not just women, or lesbians, or feminists, but for the future.

It wasn't long before the academy was catching up with Adrienne rather than the other way round. She went on to become a unique force not just in poetry but in the public discussion (or argument, now pretty much implacably resistant sides with no dialogue) about equality of opportunity and the rest for women and for gay and lesbian etc. folks.

I loved being in her presence the few times I was with her in person. She had a very seductively impish grin and way of being humble yet fiercely tough in defending her perspective that was a delight to be around for me. And I found a lot of her poetry and other writing brilliantly clear and reasoned, as well as uniquely expressed in her own voice.

I wish I had stayed in touch more (and for those who have dropped by this post to read about Rich and may not like how this post is a lot about my relationship with her and take on her, that's the point of the blog, to bring to the table my individual experience as a participant in the literary world, as well as the movie, TV, music and political worlds) but the wonderful thing about those who create art, you get to continue to have a dialogue with their work, which I plan to do.

Here's a link to the NY Times obit, a little strident but pretty accurate [The Times has become a little too proprietary online so if you can't get that one, this one from Reuters is maybe better anyway], and here's one to a seminal poem from around the time she was beginning to make the transition in her life that was so much more than what is known as "coming out"—in her case more like "bringing the rest of us along" on the adventure of her ever growing intellect and life.


Robert Berner said...

Lal--First of all, I'm amazed that no one else has posted a comment yet on the obits for Adrienne Rich. Are some of the literary types who read your blog put off by her lesbianism/
feminism/radicalism? Poooh. They maybe prefer the bullshit machismo of James Dickey? Forget it, folks. Mailer is dead, and Mailerism was long ago discredited.
But even Rich's fans can be a bit much betimes. My wife and I went to hear Rich read at Wesleyan several years back and the introduction was delivered by a woman who was a tenured full professor at Wesleyan. OK, predictable enough. But she went on and on and on, about 25 minutes altogether, and it was obvious that she was reading a whole chapter from a book she was working on about Rich. Worse, the upshot of the argument, it turned out, was that the professor's work was even more important than Rich's poems, and weren't we, the audience, lucky to have her explaining everything for us in advance? Well, she finally shut up, and Rich read. For an hour. Non-stop, no condescensions, no underestimating her audience, and no explicating needed. It was one of the two or three absolutely best readings I've ever been to.
Bob B.

Lally said...

Bob, wish I'd been there.