Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Adrienne Cecile Rich---Dead at 82

In the Seventies
More Recently
Adrienne Rich, a magnificent poet and ground-breaking feminist died today at 82, She wove her identities of woman, lesbian, a Jew and counterculture spokesperson together into an incredible fabric of words. Rich lit up the seventies with her ground-breaking exploration of women as a class and culture separate from the mainstream. Along with Audre Lorde, Judy Grahn, Chrystos  and others who spoke  out from the newly emerging women's culture.

Her sense of Jewish identity was strong in spite of the fact that only her father was of Jewish descent. Her mother, Helen Elizabeth Jones, was a Southern Protestant and both she and her sister were raised as Christians.

Following her marriage to Alfred Conrad and the birth of three sons, she came out as a lesbian. In 1976 she met Michelle Cliff who became her life-long partner. Cliff, a prominent editor and novelist in her own right, was born in Jamaica . Much of her work explores identity as well, the pain of growing up light-skinned and black in a racially focused, colonial culture.

The couple lived in Santa Cruz. Where Rich occasionally taught writing workshops. The women I know who studied under her described her as a tough task master.

Adrienne Rich's voice was literary and sophisticated yet accessible; passionate and politically attuned but not dogmatic. Her writing plumbed the contradictions of society and the nuances of human nature. A dedicated poet, she wrote prolifically and won prominence and acclaim for her poetic voice. She leaves behind over 25 books of poetry along with several collections of essays and non-fiction. 

As we mourn her passing, we can rest with the certainty that her work will live on. Here is a verse from her poem, "North American Time," written in 1983:

                           I am thinking this is a country
                           where words are stolen out of mouths
                           as bread is stolen out of mouths
                           where poets don't go to jail
                           for being poets, but for being
                           dark-skinned, female, poor.
                           I am writing this in a time
                           when anything we write
                           can be used against those we love
                           where the context is never given
                           though we try to explain, over and over
                           For the sake of poetry at least
                           I need to know these things