On Wednesday I found out the great American poet Adrienne Rich, 82, past on the day before. Many expressed disbelief and sadness on Facebook. I wasn’t too shocked or sad. I recently learned about Rich from my friend Marcia who was a big fan and gave me two books written by Rich.
Reading about Rich these past few days has me sad that a poet died; a poet who spoke truth; a poet who fought for the underdog; a poet who opened doors for young writers like me.
Rich was bold and had integrity. She left her husband so she could live the life she wanted to live, and she didn’t just write about having a certain politic, she practiced it. In 1997 she refused the National Medal for the Arts given out by the President of the United States who was then Bill Clinton.
In a letter to the former President she wrote: “The radical disparities of wealth and power in America are widening at a devastating rate…A president cannot meaningfully honor certain token artists while the people at large are so dishonored.”
Five years later, 2003, Rich refused to partake in a poetry symposium held at the White House in protest of the U.S led invasion of Iraq.
Rich accepted awards and acclaim when she felt it was right. Her work earned her many fellowships and writing prizes:
Yale Younger Poets Prize
MacArthur “Genius” Fellowship
2 Guggenheim Fellowships
Brandeis Creative Arts Medal
Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize
Wallace Stevens Award
National Book Award
Dorothy Tanning Award
Rich matched her art with her politics. She was a proud lesbian, feminist, and socialist who stamped her beliefs in print.
“For me, socialism represents moral value — the dignity and human rights of all citizens,” said Rich to the San Francisco Chronicle in 2005. “That is, the resources of a society should be shared and the wealth redistributed as widely as possible.”
Rich started teaching underprivileged kids in New York and then taught at prestigious universities and colleges such as Columbia, Stanford, Rutgers, and Cornell to name a few.
Born in Baltimore and living her las days in Santa Cruz, Rich leaves behind three children and a huge legacy.
“You must read Adrienne Rich!” said my friend Marcia when giving me 45 books last month, two being Adrienne Rich’s Poetry and Adrienne Rich: Poems Selected and New 1950-1974.
I’ll start with these two and then move on.
What Kind of Times Are These
There’s a place between two stands of trees where the grass grows uphill
and the old revolutionary road breaks off into shadows
near a meeting-house abandoned by the persecuted
who disappeared into those shadows.
I’ve walked there picking mushrooms at the edge of dread, but don’t be fooled
this isn’t a Russian poem, this is not somewhere else but here,
our country moving closer to its own truth and dread,
its own ways of making people disappear.
I won’t tell you where the place is, the dark mesh of the woods
meeting the unmarked strip of light—
ghost-ridden crossroads, leafmold paradise:
I know already who wants to buy it, sell it, make it disappear.
And I won’t tell you where it is, so why do I tell you
anything? Because you still listen, because in times like these
to have you listen at all, it’s
necessary to talk about trees.
by Adrienne Rich
from The Fact of a Doorframe – Selected Poems 1950-2000
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