When A Poet Dies
By Jorge Antonio Vallejos
Last week today I found out Adrienne Rich, 82, the well-known American poet, past on (1929-2012). I read the thoughts of mourners posted on Face Book. Sadness prevailed.
Adrienne Rich is someone I knew by name only. Rich was recommended to me by my friend Marcia: “You must read Adrienne Rich!” said Marica as she gave me two of Rich’s books.
My friend Catherine said I would love Rich after she saw my VLOG “FREE BOOKS!!!” where I talked of the books Marcia gave me.
Still, I felt no deep sadness about Rich’s passing.
The sadness I felt, and which I expressed in my obituary for Rich, did not come from a place of connection to her body of work, it came from me being connected to her politics, process, and persistence–poetry.
When a poet dies I feel that we lose a truth teller; we lose a brave person who put their beliefs out there for everyone to see and sometimes their life on the line because of it; we lose a teacher.
Rich did all of the above.
But she wasn’t perfect, nobody is.
While there was celebration for Rich there was also valid criticism.
A comment posted under my obituary for Rich pointed out that Rich was transphobic. Proof of Rich’s transphobia was given via a quote by Rich from a very famous book which is an attack on Trans women.
The truth came out about the truth teller.
I approved the comment because I am for truth. And I think it’s OK to have the bad pointed out about someone; it shows they were human, they were flawed, they had learning to do, all of which applies to everyone.
Rich’s corrupt view of Trans women doesn’t take away from the good work she did in her life. She stood up against war; she turned down an award by President Clinton because of his contradictory politics; she taught underprivileged youth how to read and write; she opened doors for queer and women writers; and the list goes on.
This is not a defense of Rich. I’m not a fan. Maybe I will be after studying her work.
I just wonder what will come out after my favorite poet, Chrystos, dies? The critiques are already there: “Chrystos is so angry”; “Chrystos hates white people”; “Chrystos is racist”.
First, what is wrong with being angry? Wasn’t Martin Luther King angry? There is corrosive and productive anger. And who are we to judge why someone is angry? Have we lived Chrystos’ life?
And what happens when a poet dies?
I’m talking about a real poet, one who has something to say, one who studies the written word, one who puts themselves out there, one who effects change in society and people.
For me, one such poet is to be honoured, studied, and be inspired by.
Rich said horrible things about Trans Women. And she said great things in challenge to peoples and ideologies that oppressed people like her as well as Trans women.
I’ll take the good from Rich, remember the bad so as not to follow in her footsteps, and grow as a poet and person.
When a poet dies we lose a great deal which most of society doesn’t realize: honesty, challenge, and change.