Adrienne Rich’s work so often demonstrates that poetry and politics are as close in nature as currents in a river. She began as a poet of strict measures and understatement (though already unwilling to be “mastered by” the ordeals inflicted upon women) and moved to an expansive vision of language as a “common dream” necessary but not sufficient in the quest to eradicate sexism and other bigotries. Her ingenuity, gravity and integrity has been the gold standard for more than one generation of poets. The following is a poignant statement about Rich from Washington and Lee poet and professor Deborah Miranda:
Adrienne Rich is one of those Ancestors who found me by accident, when I didn’t know I needed to be found. Another way to put this: she was one of those guides I was looking for (desperately) when I didn’t know I was looking. Either way, she caught me unawares and off-guard when I came upon her poetry in my mid-thirties, just as my life as a wife was ending and my official journey as a scholar and poet began. Rich was more than a role model for me (an intellectual who wrote poetry! a poet who was a mother! a feminist who was a lesbian!) – she was a rock on which I could set my feet and push outward, a validation of my dreams, a comfort, a holy terror to live up to. Indeed, she was a rock for many women in many ways. How were we so lucky to have her for so long? “No one’s fated or doomed to love anyone,” she wrote in Love Poem XVII, “The accidents happen, we’re not heroines, / they happen in our lives like car crashes/ books that change us, neighborhoods / we move into and come to love.” Yes, accidents happen – like the gift of coming to full womanhood with Adrienne Rich in the world. I believe in accidents.
Footsole to scalp alive facing the window’s black mirror.
First rains of the winter morning’s smallest hour.
Go back to the ghazal then what will you do there?
Life always pulsed harder than the lines.
Do you remember the strands that ran from eye to eye?
The tongue that reached everywhere, speaking all the parts?
Everything there was cast in an image of desire.
The imagination’s cry is a sexual cry.
I took my body anyplace with me.
In the thickets of abstraction my skin ran with blood.
Life was always stronger . . . the critics couldn’t get it.
Memory says the music always ran ahead of the words.
Reprinted from Dark Fields of the Republic (1995). Permission granted by the publisher, W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.