Thursday, March 29, 2012


Adrienne Rich, 1929 - 2012

The wonderful poet Adrienne Rich has died. Here's an excerpt from her Twenty-One Love Poems from 1977, via Richard Lawson. (And here are several more, from The New Yorker.)

No one’s fated or doomed to love anyone.
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.
Tristan und Isolde is scarcely the story,
women at least should know the difference
between love and death. No poison cup,
no penance. Merely a notion that the tape-recorder
should have caught some ghost of us: that tape-recorder
not merely played but should have listened to us,
and could instruct those after us:
this we were, this is how we tried to love,
and these are the forces they had ranged against us,
and these are the forces we had ranged within us,
within us and against us, against us and within us.

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I wasn't sure if I loved this poem or not, and then I read the last 4 lines. <3.


I enjoyed the line :
women at least should know the difference between love and death.


@Ophelia @teaandcakeordeath I absolutely loved that line. I wish I had read it 5 years ago.


Yes, indeed. She will be profoundly missed.@a

raised amongst catalogs

Saw the news of her death on the ticker this a.m. while having coffee; immediately after sadness came the comfort that she would be remembered on The Hairpin. Thanks, Edith.


Ahhhhh that is my favorite Adrienne Rich poem and I have it tacked to my wall at work and I've been reading it all morning. I mean, I've been working hard! Yes. That's it. Totally focused.


Please correct the penultimate line.



I mean, I know you have a lot of grad student readers, but "theses" is not the word.

Edith Zimmerman

@atipofthehat Thanks, and sorry about that. I appreciate the catch.


@atipofthehat I am getting "theses are the forces we had ranged within us" tattooed across my face.


@Edith Zimmerman

Not at all, I very much appreciate the poem.

As Sylvester Stallone once shouted, "Adrienne!"


@atipofthehat Well, there's an image I won't be getting out of my head for the rest of the day... In a good way, I mean.

Also, you sound like such the grad teacher. I have been writing the words "please avoid use of..." and "many is not a useful word" for 18 hours straight on bad drafts.



I'm a poet, and I knew the word was wrong because it was out of tone and didn't fit the diction.

Funny you should say that, though: as I wrote the word "very" above I flinched and thought of Mark Twain's advice: "Substitute 'damn' every time you're inclined to write 'very'; your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be."


Heard about this yesterday, immediately called my mom. When I saw her transitioning from "housewife with occassional intellectual curiosity" to "independent woman becoming a poet", as I was transitioning from boy who viewed my mother in a way as reductive as the former to a man who had a huge respect for her and desire to talk to her about the world of ideas, not just whether or not I could be on their insurance, Rich was one of the poets we really bonded over...

...I started out learning about feminism through Rich (I always have loved poetry) and started realizing how important it was in the context of discussing Rich with my mother. It should probably be important to me that Rich made me a better man, but it matters far more that she made me appreciate my mother more than I thought I could.

Ugh, sad. Wish I could hug my ma right now.

H.E. Ladypants

@leon.saintjean I just emailed my mom and told her this this morning. :(

H.E. Ladypants

@leon.saintjean About Adrienne Rich dying. Not about what you said. I just connected via the having moms you like to talk to about THINGS thing.

What you said was utterly lovely, though, and I want you know that.


@leon.saintjean I had that experience with my mom over Sir Thomas Middleton. So unless there is some sort of zombie early modern drama apocalypse, I won't be sending such an email any time soon.

But on a more serious note. Moms. Such badasses. I love how much my mom is awesome, as a mother and as an individual.


I wanted to include this in my teaching philosophy statement when I was applying for jobs last semester... Anyway I share this with my students at the beginning of every semester to explain why we're going to cover what we cover:

"When those who have power to name and to socially construct reality choose not to see you or hear you, whether you are dark-skinned, old, disabled, female, or speak with a different accent or dialect than theirs, when someone with the authority of a teacher, say, describes the world and you are not in it, there is a moment of psychic disequilibrium, as if you looked into a mirror and saw nothing...Yet, you know you exist and others like you, that this is just a game with mirrors. It takes some strength of soul—and not just individual strength, but collective understanding—to resist this void, this nonbeing, into which you are thrust, and to stand up, demanding to be seen and heard.” --Adrienne Rich


@tigolbitties This is amazing. Can you share the original source?


@tigolbitties My mentor wrote a book with a title that comes from this quote. I forgot about the connection. Now I want to go hug her.


@charmcity It's from "Invisibility in Academe," an essay in the anthology Blood, Bread, and Poetry.


"The tigers in the panel that she made
Will go on prancing, proud and unafraid."


This is my favorite; the last 4 lines always make me gulp/tear, every.single.time.

Last night I re-read my favorite poems and Compulsory Heterosexuality. RIP.

fondue with cheddar

@thisisunclear ...the advice given American women by male health professionals, particularly in the areas of marital sex, maternity, and child care, has echoed the dictates of the economic marketplace and the role capitalism has needed women to play in production and/ or reproduction. Women have become the consumer victims of various cures, therapies, and normative judgments in different periods (including the prescription to middle-class women to embody and preserve the sacredness of the home--the "scientific" romanticization) of the home itself). None of the "experts' " advice has been either particularly scientific or women-oriented; it has reflected male needs, male fantasies about women, and male interest in controlling women--particularly in the realms of sexuality and motherhood--fused with the requirements of industrial capitalism.

It's so sad that this statement still applies.


@thisisunclear I just reread Compulsory Heterosexuality this morning. It packs a hell of a punch, and though I'm deeply uncomfortable with the idea of the lesbian continuum, there are sections of that essay which still seem so vital today.

sugar cubism

I am closer to the precipice of FEELING everything this morning than I usually am (and I'm almost always pretty close), and this post and its comments are giving me big time feelings for sure.

She was a good one, and I am glad for her having written what she wrote.

You walk into the woods behind a house
there in that country
you find a temple
built eighteen hundred years ago
you enter without knowing
what it is you enter

so it is with us

no one knows what may happen
though the books tell everything

- a.r. "The Burning of Paper Instead of Children"


@sugar cubism

Thanks for that.


@sugar cubism Wonderful. And me too. I haven't been able to work much since I read it, it's like I'm in emotional shock or something.


She was amazing, and we are fortunate to have read her lovely works.


Here's one, from this painting:


They have carried the mahogany chair and the cane rocker
out under the lilac bush,
and my father and mother darkly sit there, in black clothes.
Our clapboard house stands fast on its hill,
my doll lies in her wicker pram
gazing at western Massachusetts.
This was our world.
I could remake each shaft of grass
feeling its rasp on my fingers,
draw out the map of every lilac leaf
or the net of veins on my father's
grief-tranced hand.

Out of my head, half-bursting,
still filling, the dream condenses—
shadows, crystals, ceilings, meadows, globes of dew.
Under the dull green of the lilacs, out in the light
carving each spoke of the pram, the turned porch-pillars,
under high early-summer clouds,
I am Effie, visible and invisible,
remembering and remembered.

They will move from the house,
give the toys and pets away.
Mute and rigid with loss my mother
will ride the train to Baptist Corner,
the silk-spool will run bare.
I tell you, the thread that bound us lies
faint as a web in the dew.
should I make you, world, again,
could I give back the leaf its skeleton, the air
its early-summer cloud, the house
its noonday presence, shadowless,
and leave this out? I am Effie, you were my dream.



@atipofthehat You know how sometimes you read something and it hits so close to home it actually hurts? "I tell you, the threat that bound us lies/faint as a web in the dew." Ouch.

Thanks for sharing.


@atipofthehat I used to give a talk at the Smith College Museum of Art about that painting, as a volunteer docent. One of the reasons I chose it was the poem. I had completely forgotten. Thanks for this.


I'm so glad to see this post (and all of your wonderful comments) this morning. Re-reading her poems is like become reacquainted with former versions of myself.

I just found this video of Rich reading "In Those Years" and wanted to share: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WXRSUQ7C8No


Her poem "Song" was the first poem I read in school where I felt like, yeah...I could be really into this poetry thing.

You're wondering if I'm lonely:
OK then, yes, I'm lonely
as a plane rides lonely and level
on its radio beam, aiming
across the Rockies
for the blue-strung aisles
of an airfield on the ocean.

You want to ask, am I lonely?
Well, of course, lonely
as a woman driving across country
day after day, leaving behind
mile after mile
little towns she might have stopped
and lived and died in, lonely

If I'm lonely
it must be the loneliness
of waking first, of breathing
dawns' first cold breath on the city
of being the one awake
in a house wrapped in sleep

If I'm lonely
it's with the rowboat ice-fast on the shore
in the last red light of the year
that knows what it is, that knows it's neither
ice nor mud nor winter light
but wood, with a gift for burning


Poetry matters. So, so much. I love reading through these comments and remembering that.

It would be the map by which she would recognize the end of touristic choices, of distances blued and purpled by romance, by which she would recognize that poetry isn't revolution but a way of knowing why it must come. excerpted from Dreamwood.


My favorite from 21 Love Poems is III:

Since we’re not young, weeks have to do time
for years of missing each other. Yet only this odd warp
in time tells me we’re not young.
Did I ever walk the morning streets at twenty,
my limbs streaming with a purer joy?
did I lean from any window over the city
listening for the future
as I listen here with nerves tuned for your ring?
And you, you move toward me with the same tempo.
Your eyes are everlasting, the green spark
of the blue-eyed grass of early summer,
the green-blue wild cress washed by the spring.
At twenty, yes: we thought we’d live forever.
At forty-five, I want to know even our limits.
I touch you knowing we weren’t born tomorrow,
and somehow, each of us will help the other life,
and somewhere, each of us must help the other die.

Dr. Iris Puffybush

I was so sad to hear of her passing this morning. Thanks for acknowledging it here (as I trusted you would).

XIII From 21 Love Poems

The rules break like a thermometer,
quicksilver spills across the charted systems,
we’re out in a country that has no language
no laws, we’re chasing the raven and the wren
through gorges unexplored since dawn
whatever we do together is pure invention
the maps they gave us were out of date
by years… we’re driving through the desert
wondering if the water will hold out
the hallucinations turn to simple villages
the music on the radio comes clear—
neither Rosenkavalier nor Götterdämmerung
but a woman’s voice singing old songs
with new words, with a quiet bass, a flute
plucked and fingered by women outside the law.

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