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Old 03-29-2012, 03:42 PM
David Mason David Mason is offline
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Location: Colorado
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Default From a Survivor

From a Survivor

The pact that we made was the ordinary pact
of men & women in those days

I don’t know who we thought we were
that our personalities
could resist the failures of the race

Lucky or unlucky, we didn’t know
the race had failures of that order
and that we were going to share them

Like everybody else, we thought of ourselves as special

Your body is as vivid to me
as it ever was: even more

since my feeling for it is clearer:
I know what it could and could not do

it is no longer
the body of a god
or anything with power over my life

Next year it would have been 20 years
and you are wastefully dead
who might have made the leap
we talked, too late, of making

which I live now
not as a leap
but a succession of brief, amazing movements

each one making possible the next
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Old 03-29-2012, 03:45 PM
Philip Morre Philip Morre is offline
Join Date: Nov 2011
Location: Venice, Italy
Posts: 83
Default Yes, but . . .

It seems to me that AR became worse as a poet as she became fiercer as a polemicist. Nothing in the later poems – sometimes hardly more than arhythmical chopped prose – compares to, say, 'Mourning Picture'. The following, from Quincy's link, is magnificent rhetoric:

“But I do know that art – in my own case the art of poetry – means nothing if it simply decorates the dinner table of power which holds it hostage.”

But, on second thoughts, “holds it hostage”? How so? Too much of her later polemic – in poetry and prose – could fog into this sort of sonorous, questionable grandiloquence.
But then immediately follows:

“The radical disparities of wealth and power in America are widening at a devastating rate”

That was fifteen years ago: she saw clear enough.
But, to my ear at least, she failed to bring this sort of challenge into her poetry while hanging on to the poetry.
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Old 03-29-2012, 03:46 PM
Tracey Gratch's Avatar
Tracey Gratch Tracey Gratch is offline
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Location: Quincy, MA, USA
Posts: 355

Cally is right - most definitely a keeper, Mary. I had copied the post earlier and sent it to a friend who had the honor of taking a poetry class with Rich at Stanford as an undergrad almost 25 years ago. Only five students in the class, imagine that! Thanks for posting, Mary.


Last edited by Tracey Gratch; 03-29-2012 at 04:01 PM.
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Old 03-29-2012, 04:25 PM
David Landrum's Avatar
David Landrum David Landrum is offline
Join Date: May 2006
Location: Grand Rapdis, Michigan, USA
Posts: 2,427

I read this poem in my Freshman college poetry book. It was one of the poems that intrigued and delighted me and made me want to write poetry as well:

Two Songs, by Adrienne Rich


Sex, as they harshly call it,
I fell into this morning
at ten o'clock, a drizzling hour
of traffic and wet newspapers.
I thought of him who yesterday
clearly didn't
turn me to a hot field
ready for plowing,
and longing for that young man
pierced me to the roots
bathing every vein, etc.
All day he appears to me
touchingly desirable,
a prize one could wreck one's peace for.
I'd call it love if love
didn't take so many years
but lust too is a jewel
a sweet flower and what
pure happiness to know
all our high-toned questions
breed in a lively animal.


That "old last act"!
And yet sometimes
all seems post coitum triste
and I a mere bystander.
Somebody else is going off,
getting shot to the moon.
Or a moon-race!
Split seconds after
my opposite number lands
I make it--
we lie fainting together
at a crater-edge
heavy as mercury in our moonsuits
till he speaks--
in a different language
yet one I've picked up
through cultural exchanges...
we murmur the first moonwords:
Spasibo. Thanks. O.K.
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Old 03-30-2012, 01:53 AM
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Quincy Lehr Quincy Lehr is offline
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Location: Los Angeles, CA, USA
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[Some things, even if clearly true, are best stated privately if at all.]

Last edited by Quincy Lehr; 03-30-2012 at 06:07 AM.
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Old 03-30-2012, 02:12 AM
Charlotte Innes Charlotte Innes is offline
Join Date: May 2011
Location: Los Angeles
Posts: 3,249

All the poems posted here are ones I've long loved. But I went back to two of her essays this evening--one written in 1973 (on Jane Eyre... and so much more) and the other in 1975 (on "Women and Honor...").

What a joy. So relevant even now. Everyone should read them, but especially women. I looked up from reading, and suddenly remembered she was dead. And yet she was right there with me too. Strange! But lovely.

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Old 03-30-2012, 11:44 AM
W.F. Lantry's Avatar
W.F. Lantry W.F. Lantry is offline
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Location: Inside the Beltway
Posts: 4,067

Originally Posted by Quincy Lehr View Post
[Some things, even if clearly true, are best stated privately if at all.]
I don't know, Quincy. I don't question the wisdom of your restraint - although moderation is this case strikes me as a fairly masculinist viewpoint. And I'm all for peace and productive harmony, but again, I wonder about it in this case.

I remember asking a question about her aesthetics in the graduate student lounge. I thought the question occupied a kind of middle ground. But the room exploded. Women were (mostly) supportive of her work, but some of the men in the room said things that caused me to immediately distance myself from them. It struck me as odd: why would they be so passionately against her? It would be uncivil of me to speculate about their motivations, especially as they're not here to speak for themselves. And yet we see this kind of thing said about any number of women writers: "Oh, that's not poetry, it's politics." I wonder if it's intended less as an argument and more as a cultural marker, a means of identification, almost a badge of membership in a certain group. Or maybe it's worse than that: an attempt to silence a voice.

I suppose such attempts are often effective. Are they effective enough, in this case, to even silence *your* voice? Surely there's a measured way to speak your thoughts. Isn't that at least part of what her work meant?


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Old 03-30-2012, 12:37 PM
Christopher ONeill Christopher ONeill is offline
Join Date: Feb 2012
Location: Cardiff, Wales, UK
Posts: 333

Well into Adrienne Rich' adult years American Poetry courses were still being taught from anthologies like Conrad Aiken's Twentieth Century American Poetry or Van Nostrand and Watts The Conscious Voice. In both selections American poetry means overwhelmingly male, overwhelmingly privileged, and entirely white.
The first time anyone gave me a copy of The Conscious Voice (early 1970's) I honestly thought it was a spoof for well over a week. There couldn't be any academics anywhere in the world that thought that this was the USA (or ever had been).
Even if you think Adrienne Rich got shrill and polemic, it needed doing. She and her generation changed the meaning of Literature, they altered the canon.
Perhaps changing the canon is just as important as writing 'real' poems.
Perhaps it is more important.
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Old 03-31-2012, 02:24 AM
David Mason David Mason is offline
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Christopher, or Chrisso, or whatever this lovely poetic universe decides to call you: I really like your mind, I must say. I like the way you have framed this particular issue. I think Eavan Boland was on the same track in her personal/critical book about the place of women poets in Ireland. It's just fundamentally true that the canon needed a kick in the ass. Yet it's also true that a lot of shoddy writing has been done (even on occasion by Rich) and excused on the grounds that the canon needed that kick in the ass.

What an interesting aesthetic dilemma. When is inclusiveness vitalizing, and when is it enervating? I don't think we will ever come up with generalizations that will help us here, but it remains a very important realm of critical thinking. I don't think the absolutists on either side can quite carry the day.

When I co-edited a poetry textbook, I convinced my co-editor that Rich needed a place in the book, and I really did not mean as a polemicist. I meant as a writer at the level of strong human experience: "Twenty-One Love Poems," "Diving Into the Wreck," etc.

I've just reviewed the new compendium of Larkin (more about that on April 14th when the review is out), and it is fascinating how this most fastidious of poets can be placed next to a much less fastidious poet like Rich, when you gather his uncollected work next to what she chose to publish. Both wrote exquisite things, and each would have despised the other's politics, and both wrote rather large amounts of stuff that will probably not matter in the great scheme of things...

So Larkin matters because of his best poems. Rich matters because of her best poems, and also because of her personal courage and the way she cleared a space for other writers, some of whom are not very good. She matters partly because of her time and her reaction to her time.

It's a blurry picture, isn't it? Still, I think some of her poems will be moving when no one can quite recall their contexts. I feel the same way about her opposite number, Larkin. The dross will be burned away.
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Old 03-31-2012, 06:49 AM
Christopher ONeill Christopher ONeill is offline
Join Date: Feb 2012
Location: Cardiff, Wales, UK
Posts: 333

Hi David!
I kinda like Chrisso. A great big name like Christopher seems inappropriate: I'm tiny, even by Welsh standards.

When is inclusiveness vitalizing, and when is it enervating?

I read a pretty neat article on this by Sheenagh Pugh just last month:

She seems to be arguing that you open the canon, and let the shit in. Because the shit goes away after a while (Laurence Eusden isn't even on the web).

I think that is about right. We need to challenge ourselves as readers, or we might miss some really good stuff. I remember it took me years to get the point of Whitman (I'm ridiculously European).

Ebenezer Cooke I clicked with straightaway.

I never tried to stop anybody else from reading Whitman (in one very important sense, you can never read too much).

I'm still trying to get more people aboard SS Cooke with me.
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