I was half asleep when I finally registered the radio alarm, a few minutes past seven - I cannot face the day yet. And then I heard the announcer, and his words, and my eyelids vanished, and the day had begun.
Adrienne Rich has passed away, at the age of 82, a great American Feminist Poet.
A life reduced.
Adrienne Rich has been gone for nearly two days, she died this past Tuesday. And I did not know. And I, my knowing, matters so little, and yet, the distance created by that absence of knowledge, has floored me. Rich’s voice was one I carried with me, have carried with me since I first read Diving Into the Wreck. Like many. It was reading herTwenty-One Love Poems that allowed for Rich’s voice to come within, to be integrated. As all of us who love to read, and read to love, know - there are voices so familiar, in their ability to articulate the heart’s song, that they are immediately ‘absorbed’. It is a moment of pleasant rupture, the beginning of a dialogue between yourself and the mind behind the ink. Call it an instance of recognition, but I find that word to be dishonest. To recognize is to have seen previously, whereas this encounter is the first of its nature. A dear friend of mine often returns to a single author, a single book, a single sentence to articulate the state she finds herself in… the unbearable lightness of being. Rich, gave me words to understand my own state, my own status.
She is gone, and I try desperately not to be saddened by this. Her work remains. Her words, her struggles, her life - but there are sometimes no greater presences, than absences.
It is such an insufficient testimony of love, to offer thanks. Actions draw us nearer to our goals then words, and yet words, for some of us, are our actions.
What kind of beast would turn its life into words?
What atonement is this all about?
—and yet, writing words like these, I’m also living.
(VII, from Twenty-One Love Poems)
I have grown weary of late of the popular and easy political discourse that has devolved into polemic, devolved because of its ostentation, and lack of sincerity, lack of knowledge. Everyone has an opinion, for the sake of being opinionated, for the sake of appearing to be informed. There is an absence of humility in the face of how complex all situations must by nature be, if only given the complexity and innately contradictory nature of single human beings. My experience of politics has become one of increasing polarization, and the only truth to surface from this division, is our collective ignorance. When did we acquire the experiences, the expertise, the right, to know, to judge, and to convict. At 23, I am humbled constantly by the forests of question marks I wander through daily. My peers act like lumberjacks. I know why. I understand why. I was raised to always know, even when I didn’t. My reluctance to further contribute to this charade has inclined me to severely shrink the parameters of my wisdom. For months I have focused my attention on the personal. Know your biases before pointing out anyone else’s. But this was a mistake. And I return to Rich, with less grace than I had hoped. There cannot be a separation of the personal from the political. Our world does not permit it. There is no art, for the sake of art. None worth that label, in my opinion. I foolishly have dwelt on questions at the heart of my own person, questions of love, of agency, of reality, believing that subjective answers were within my grasp. Those questions, necessarily, are political. The question of love, of loving, for example, was at the core of Rich’s work: how to love, and who one was allowed to love, and in what ways should that love be manifested. As a woman, and a lesbian, these questions were of particular import to her, but they are to all of us.
There are many paths to understanding how and why we love, all of which should be ventured on, namely the path of psychoanalysis (I find myself still skeptical of this one, despite reliable encouragement from trustworthy sources) and the path carved, the trench rather, of political systems and how they have molded us to act, to love, “normatively”.
Rich’s voice comes to me now in a new tonality: questions of identity, of self-identification, are not a justification for solipsism (nor are they meant to bolster generalities). They are a reminder of the indissoluble relationship between the I and Us.
Many would agree that there is often no poetry, free of politics. Perhaps more should argue for less politics, free of poetry. Poets after all, like Rich, have often been activists, with the tools to move people, where people can be moved.
To a phenomenal woman, who will continue to inspire, who has reminded me today to do more, to always try to do more. As knowledgeably, and passionately as possible. For these qualities, are not mutually exclusive.