17 June 2012

Adrienne Rich

I want to write a post about Adrienne Rich.
In fact, I've been trying to write it for two weeks now since I heard of her death this past 27th of March. She was 82 years old.

First, I'm pissed off that I'm just hearing the news now. This is a writer who, according to the New Yorker, comes from "a moment not so long ago when poetry and poets played a central role in our cultural and political life."  Whose obituary was started on the front page of the New York Times. Yet, I heard of her passing as an aside in an article I was reading about something else.  I do not live under a rock. I read the "news" and thus, unwillingly know the most minute of details about the lives of every pop tartlette flavour of the day.  Yet I did not hear of Rich's death. This makes me very sad.

Since hearing the news, I've been struggling with why it matters so much to me. Rich wrote fiercely polemic poems in striking language, all in the name of "living through a time/that needs to be lived through us." She was writing at a time, when such things were literally life and death, about civil rights, coming out as gay, being marginalized in America.  I am neither lesbian, nor black, nor Jewish, nor American - all subjects of her work. I am not a poetry scholar. I admit lack of knowledge of some of the history and context of her work. So why does her passing pain me so much?
Many of the articles and reviews I've been reading these past few weeks speak of how Adrienne Rich, though not a confessional poet, believed that the personal is political. This is something with which I agree. Is it a woman thing, this lack of distinction between the "life" and the "work"?  For the daily life is the work. The living tasks, the caring, the choices. This is why we strive.  This is what we defend as important.
So, in the end, it is only on the personal level that I can write about my experience reading Rich's work.  She quite simply wrote my favourite line in my favourite poem. Ever. 
In "I Dream I'm The Death of Orpheus" from 1971's The Will To Change, she writes,

"I am a woman...
sworn to lucidity"

Simple, right?
But think about it.  Think about the word, lucidity.  It is;
  • the quality, state, or art of clarity in thought and style
  • the ability to see things clearly; rationality; sanity, clarity
  • free from obscurity; completely intelligible; the comprehensibility of clear expression 
Now swear to that.  You can't.  And neither can I.  On my very best day, I will never be able to turn a phrase, create an object, express or understand a concept in a state that is completely sworn to lucidity. Living in the comprehensibility of clear expression is something I deeply desire and aspire toward yet can never fully achieve. Adrienne Rich did achieve it.  For years.
Hence, I mourn her passing. R.I.P.

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