American Poet, Non-Fiction Writer and Essayist
Adrienne Rich, fully Adrienne Cecil Rich
American Poet, Non-Fiction Writer and Essayist
It's exhilarating to be alive in a time of awakening consciousness; it can also be confusing, disorienting, and painful.
My own luck was being born white and middle-class into a house full of books, with a father who encouraged me to read and write. So for about twenty years I wrote for a particular man, who criticized and praised me and made me feel I was indeed special. The obverse side of this, of course, was that I tried for a long time to please him, or rather, not to displease him. And then of course there were other men - writers, teachers - the Man, who was not a terror or a dream but a literary master and a master in other ways less easy to acknowledge. And there were all those poems about women, written by men: it seemed to be a given that men wrote poems and women frequently inhabited them. These women were almost always beautiful, but threatened with the loss of beauty, the loss of youth - the fate worse than death. Or, they were beautiful and died young, like Lucy and Lenore. Or, the woman was like Maud Gonne, cruel and disastrously mistaken, and the poem reproached her because she had refused to become a luxury for the poet.
Passion for survival is the great theme of women's poetry.
Re-vision--the act of looking back, of seeing with fresh eyes, of entering an old text from a new critical direction--is for women more than a chapter in cultural history: it is an act of survival. Until we can understand the assumptions in which we are drenched we cannot know ourselves. And this drive to self-knowledge, for women, is more than a search for identity: it is part of our refusal of the self-destructiveness of male-dominated society. A radical critique of literature, feminist in its impulse, would take the work first of all as a clue to how we live, how we have been living, how we have been led to imagine ourselves, how our language has trapped as well as liberated us, how the very act of naming has been till now a male prerogative, and how we can begin to see and name--and therefore live--afresh. A change in the concept of sexual identity is essential if we are not going to see the old political order reassert itself in every new revolution. We need to know the writing of the past, and know it differently than we have ever known it; not to pass on a tradition but to break its hold over us.
The beauty of darkness is how it lets you see.
The liar leads an existence of unutterable loneliness.
The poet is endowed to speak for those who do not have the gift of language, or to see for those who - for whatever reasons - are less conscious of what they are living through. It is as though the risks of the poet's existence can be put to some use beyond her own survival.
There are no angels yet here comes an angel one shut-off the dark side of the moon turning to me and saying: I am the plumed serpent the beast with fangs of fire and a gentle heart. But he doesn?t say that His message drenches his body he?d want to kill me for using words to name him I sit in the bare apartment reading words stream past me poetry twentieth-century rivers disturbed surfaces reflecting clouds reflecting wrinkled neon but clogged and mostly nothing alive left in their depths. The angel is barely speaking to me. Once in a horn of light he stood or someone like him salutations in gold-leaf ribboning from his lips. Today again the hair streams to his shoulders the eyes reflect something like a lost country or so I think but the ribbon has reeled itself up. He isn?t giving or taking any shit We glance miserably across the room at each other. It?s true there are moments closer and closer together when words stick in my throat ?the art of love? ?the art of words.? I get your message Gabriel. Just will you stay looking straight at me awhile longer.
This is where I live now. If you had known me once, you'd still know me now though in a different light and life. This is no place you ever knew me.
War is an absolute failure of imagination, scientific and political. That a war can be represented as helping a people to 'feel good' about themselves, or their country, is a measure of that failure.
We need poetry as living language, the core of every language, something that is still spoken, aloud or in the mind, muttered in secret, subversive, reaching around corners, crumpled into a pocket, performed to a community, read aloud to the dying, recited by heart, scratched or sprayed on a wall. That kind of language.
When I learn that in 1913, mass women's marches were held in South Africa which caused the rescinding of entry permit laws; that in 1956, 20,000 women assembled in Pretoria to protest pass laws for women, that resistance to these laws was carried out in remote country villages and punished by shootings, beatings, and burnings; that in 1959, 2,000women demonstrated in Durban against laws which provided beerhalls for African men and criminalized women's traditional home brewing; that at one and the same time, African women have played a major role alongside men in resisting apartheid, I have to ask myself why it took me so long to learn these chapters of women's history, why the leadership and strategies of African women have been son unrecognized as theory in action by white Western feminist thought.
Women have married because it was necessary, in order to survive economically, in order to have children who would not suffer economic deprivation or social ostracism, in order to remain respectable, in order to do what was expected of women because coming out of abnormal childhoods they wanted to feel normal, and because heterosexual romance has been represented as the great female adventure, duty, and fulfillment. We may faithfully or ambivalently have obeyed the institution, but our feelings - and our sensuality - have not been tamed or contained within it.
I've had to guess at her, sewing her skin together as I sew mine, though with a different stitch.
No one ever told us we had to study our lives, make of our lives a study, as if learning natural history or music, that we should begin with the simple exercises first and slowly go on trying the hard ones, practicing till strength and accuracy became one with the daring to leap into transcendence, take the chance of breaking down in the wild faulting the full sentence of the fugue.
People are growing up in the slack flicker of a pale light which lacks the concentrated burn of a candle flame or oil wick or the bulb of a gooseneck desk lamp: a pale, wavering, oblong shimmer, emitting incessant noise, which is to real knowledge or discourse what the manic or weepy protestations of a drunk are to responsible speech. Drunks do have a way of holding an audience, though, and so does the shimmery ill-focused oblong screen.
Rural Reflections: This is the grass your feet are planted on. You paint it orange or you sing it green, but you have never found a way to make the grass mean what you mean. A cloud can be whatever you intend: Ostrich or leaning tower or staring eye. But you have never found a cloud sufficient to express the sky. Get out there with your splendid expertise; Raymond who cuts the meadow does not less. Inhuman nature says: Inhuman patience is the true success. Human impatience trips you as you run; stand still and you must lie. It is the grass that cuts the mower down; it is the cloud that swallows up the sky.
The belief that established science and scholarship--which have so relentlessly excluded women from their making--are "objective" and "value-free" and that feminist studies are "unscholarly," "biased," and "ideological" dies hard. Yet the fact is that all science, and all scholarship, and all art are ideological; there is no neutrality in culture!
The lie [of compulsory female heterosexuality] is many-layered. In Western tradition, one layer?the romantic?asserts that women are inevitably, even if rashly and tragically, drawn to men; that even when that attraction is suicidal (e. g, Tristan and Isolde, Kate Chopin?s ?The Awakening?) it is still an organic imperative. In the tradition of the social sciences it asserts that primary love between the sexes is ?normal,? that women need men as social and economic protectors, for adult sexuality, and for psychological completion; that the heterosexually constituted family is the basic social unit; that women who do not attach their primary intensity to men must be, in functional terms, condemned to an even more devastating outsiderhood than their outsiderhood as women.
The problem, unstated until now, is how to live in a damaged body in a world where pain is meant to be gagged uncured ungrieved over. The problem is to connect, without hysteria, the pain of anyone's body with the pain of the world's body.
There is a cop who is both prowler and father: he comes from your block, grew up with your brothers, had certain ideals. You hardly know him in his boots and silver badge, on horseback, one hand touching his gun. You hardly know him but you have to get to know him: he has access to machinery that could kill you. He and his stallion clop like warlords among the trash, his ideals stand in the air, a frozen cloud from between his unsmiling lips. And so, when the time comes, you have to turn to him, the maniac?s sperm still greasing your thighs, your mind whirling like crazy. You have to confess to him, you are guilty of the crime of having been forced. And you see his blue eyes, the blue eyes of all the family whom you used to know, grow narrow and glisten, his hand types out the details and he wants them all but the hysteria in your voice pleases him best. You hardly know him but now he thinks he knows you: he has taken down you worst moment on a machine and filed it in a file. He knows, or thinks he knows, how much you imagined; he knows, or thinks he knows, what you secretly wanted. He has access to machinery that could get you put away; and if, in the sickening light of the precinct, and if, in the sickening light of the precinct, your details sound like a portrait of your confessor, will you swallow, will you deny them, will you lie your way home?
This is why the classical of the jazz music station plays? to give a ground of meaning to our pain?
War is bestowed like electroshock on the depressive nation; thousands of volts jolting the system, an artificial galvanizing, one effect of which is loss of memory. War comes at the end of the twentieth century as absolute failure of imagination, scientific and political. That a war can be represented as helping a people to ?feel good? about themselves, their country, is a measure of that failure.
We need to imagine a world in which every woman is the presiding genius of her own body. In such a world women will truly create new life, bringing forth not only children if and as we choose but the visions, and the thinking, necessary to sustain, console and alter human existence-a new relationship to the universe. Sexuality, politics, intelligence, power, motherhood, work, community, intimacy will develop new meanings; thinking itself will be transformed. This is where we have to begin.
When I talk of taking a trip I mean forever.