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LitHub kindly reminded me that five years ago today Adrienne Rich died. You may or may not know her as one of the most amazing women and thoughtful poets ever. If, for the rest of my life, the only thing I could read were her words, both prose and poetry, I would not feel deprived for a moment. Yeah, I know. I love her work that much. When she died I had just started reading what turned out to be her last poetry collection. I have not been able to bring myself to finish it. Last year her collected poems were published and of course I had to buy it.

The LitHub article that reminded me of her death uses Rich’s prose to provide “life advice.” I am not sure she would have liked that much. Her work is deeply personal and specific and she dated everything as a way to indicate that. Nor did she ever try to offer advice, only explored thoughts and ways of being, searching for a path, a way to be a more complete human. She tried to see the connections between things, how the seemingly unrelated was linked into a spider’s web of relationship. And she sought to re-member that which had been broken or lost.

So it seemed appropriate to share some of her poetry but I find I am having a hard time choosing. I keep picking up a book, reading familiar poems I have read dozens of time, catching my breath in astonishment at their beauty and power, bursting into tears because the words tear into (or maybe even from?) my body. It’s been five years since I picked up her books, read her words. I feel like I have been away a long time but have somehow never left. I want to sit and keep reading, poem after poem and not stop until I have read them all and then I want to start over and read them all again. And again.

Well. So. To choose something for now, here is the final stanza of “Dreams Before Waking” written in 1983 and published in the collection Your Native Land, Your Life

What would it mean to live
in a city whose people were changing
each other’s despair into hope? —
You yourself must change it. —
what would it feel like to know
your country was changing? —
You yourself must change it. —
Though your life felt arduous
new and unmapped and strange
what would it mean to stand on the first
page of the end of despair?

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