Adrienne Rich, 1929-2012

We mourn the loss of Adrienne Rich, radical, lesbian, feminist, poet, and essayist.  UPDATED: Since the LA Times obituary neglects to mention her lesbianism, I have been requested to reprint one of Rich’s more powerful and memorable quotes, from the forward to On Lies, Secrets and Silence:

It is … crucial that we understand lesbian/feminism in the deepest, most radical sense: as that love for ourselves and other women, that commitment to the freedom of all of us, which transcends the category of “sexual preference” and the issue of civil rights, to become a politics of asking women’s questions, demanding a world in which the integrity of all women—not a chosen few—shall be honored and validated in every respect of culture.

It seems most appropriate to reprint, then, her poem, “For the Dead.”  All of her poems are available here.

For the Dead

I dreamed I called you on the telephone
to say: Be kinder to yourself
but you were sick and would not answer

The waste of my love goes on this way
trying to save you from yourself

I have always wondered about the left-over
energy, the way water goes rushing down a hill
long after the rains have stopped

or the fire you want to go to bed from
but cannot leave, burning-down but not burnt-down
the red coals more extreme, more curious
in their flashing and dying
than you wish they were
sitting long after midnight

Adrienne Rich

12 thoughts on “Adrienne Rich, 1929-2012

  1. Thanks M McD for this: “”Selected for the National Medal for the Arts in 1997, the highest award given to artists, Rich refused it.

    ‘The radical disparities of wealth and power in America are widening at a devastating rate,” she wrote in a letter addressed to then-President Clinton. “A president cannot meaningfully honor certain token artists while the people at large are so dishonored.'””

  2. Very sad. I used a fragment of her poem ‘Integrity’ as the epigraph of my thesis. A wonderful talent.

  3. Isn’t it strange: this news shocked me because I had just gone along all these years thinking of her as she was in 1975 – as if she could not have aged even while the world did.

  4. I too was taken completely by surprise at the news of her death. Perhaps too “unplugged,” I found out the old-fashioned way this morning. About to embark on coffee, newspaper (lately a too-seldom treat), and editing, instead I spun into memory and poetry and an unplanned blog post. Her poems invite so many readings. Like @povich, I have used them as epigraphs on multiple occasions and love returning to them for the thoughtfulness they evoke and demand.

  5. And yet it’s complicated, read “My complicated mourning: RIP, Adrienne Rich”

    “When the news came across the internet yesterday that Adrienne Rich had died, my first response was a painful welling of sorrow that she was gone, because her contributions to American poetry and the lives of innumerable women have been uncountable. Her contribution to my own writing has been tremendous. But then I felt a different kind of sorrow, because I couldn’t just mourn her without complication. I had to ask myself about her transmisogyny, which has been largely overlooked in the wash of admiration. What I needed to know was whether or not she had ever disavowed statements about trans women in which she called them “castrated men” and other hateful things. I needed to know whether she had ever stepped back from her friendship and collaboration with Janice Raymond, who made a career out of her virulent, dangerous hatred of trans women.

    I can’t just think, “Oh, well, she was a poet, and she changed poetry, so her views on trans women are private and don’t matter.” That would be dangerous, and it would also be untrue.”

  6. I’m so glad you posted that Sam. I’ve been in a really difficult position the last few days because I’ve seen many people I respect and am friends with mourning this loss, but with an undercurrent of people who find it impossible to. If this was Germaine Greer or Janice Raymond (or Julie Bindel in these times), then the legacy of their transphobia and the painful and tremendous effect (less so with Bindel, she seems to be the child of radical feminists like Greer, Raymond) would certainly be mentioned.

    There is no doubt that she had a huge influence on transphobic discourse at the time, and I find it extremely difficult to accept the argument that she was a product of her times. It’s the kind of oppression and invisibility that’s affected all marginalised groups.

    There is also no doubt that she had a very positive effect of people’s lives. So I don’t want to deny people the chance to mourn her death, but at the same I can’t help but feel like I can just let go of the awful things she contributed to. And the effect she had on access to medical treatment and the whole conceptualisation of trans people was -awful-.

    But what do you do when someone has done a lot of good and a lot of bad?

  7. I’d say, you mark their passing as best you can. I’m not sure it’s possible to mourn anyone in an uncomplicated way. And public figures, especially, are only mourned uncomplicatedly when we ignore anything perturbing that they did.

    Loss is loss. The harms of the lost person don’t make her less of a loss to those who didn’t want her to go.

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