May 16, 1929 to March 27, 2012

Adrienne Rich, known as a feminist poet and activist died this past week. There has been so much political unrest in the nation that her death was noticed, but not as much as if nothing had been going on.

This nation is at a major turning point that may ultimately decide its fate. Women of all races and cultures are succeeding in ways that were previously never seen possible and people who are uncomfortable about those changes happening and unsure about their own place in the world with those changes in effect, are laying down on the ground and throwing tantrums.

But it’s time. It’s time for the system of Patriarchy to end. When it ends, women and men will be equal in all aspects of society. This means men will not be perpetrators of violence on women or on other men. This means people will work together and help each other in this life that can be so difficult rather than trying to climb on their backs to succeed. It means people will not be divided because of race, ability, sexual orientation, gender identity, ethnicity, religion because it will not be a “survival of the fittest” culture. Differences will be celebrated. Violence against women will end because men will not need to conquer women or nations.

Okay, this sounds idyllic and we still have a lot of work to do. Sadly, Patriarchy won’t end in my lifetime, but things are changing in this world and in our nation. And even though it looks bleak at times, it’s because it’s on the up.

As these big changes occur, there is push back. But there is always push back. If Adrienne Rich was here today, I would ask her about powering through the ‘push back.’ I know she got it, she was too radical for her time not to have any push back against her.

Audre Lord, Meridel Le Sueur, Adrienne Rich

Adrienne Rich was an out lesbian feminist activist fighting for women and for lesbian rights and was able to write about women, lesbianism, and all kinds of issues in her poetry and writing with a poise and elegance that was simultaneously fierce and swooning.

Her poetry was just that, poetry, and yet it can be read as personal or political. But isn’t the personal political? It’s personal and political and real without being didactic or pedantic.

I was fortunate to see Adrienne Rich in Santa Fe in the late nineties for a special series she was brought in for that was ridiculously cheap. It cost like ten dollars or something. Tickets sold out quickly and people were turned away at the door. I didn’t know too much about her at the time, but I was excited to see her. I knew enough to know I wanted to be there, that it was important. I was a feminist and I loved poetry. How could I go wrong?

The passage of time has sadly erased many of the details of that night for me, but I do remember being swept away by her poetry as she read and feeling like if the world could read more poetry, it would change in a way more suited for our collective creativity rather than in ways that oppress us.

Adrienne Rich effected change in her lifetime, as a woman, as a feminist, as a lesbian. I can’t help but think that maybe her time was up because her work was done. She paved the path for the many changes that are happening right now in our country and the pushed for equality for all.

Adrienne Rich may you Rest in Peace and Thank you for your gifts to this world, the social change and the poetry.

Enjoy one of her poems:

Diving Into the Wreck

First having read the book of myths,
and loaded the camera,
and checked the edge of the knife-blade,
I put on
the body-armor of black rubber
the absurd flippers
the grave and awkward mask.
I am having to do this
not like Cousteau with his
assiduous team
aboard the sun-flooded schooner
but here alone.

There is a ladder.
The ladder is always there
hanging innocently
close to the side of the schooner.
We know what it is for,
we who have used it.
it is a piece of maritime floss
some sundry equipment.

I go down.
Rung after rung and still
the oxygen immerses me
the blue light
the clear atoms
of our human air.
I go down.
My flippers cripple me,
I crawl like an insect down the ladder
and there is no one
to tell me when the ocean
will begin.

First the air is blue and then
it is bluer and then green and then
black I am blacking out and yet
my mask is powerful
it pumps my blood with power
the sea is another story
the sea is not a question of power
I have to learn alone
to turn my body without force
in the deep element.

And now: it is easy to forget
what I came for
among so many who have always
lived here
swaying their crenellated fans
between the reefs
and besides
you breathe differently down here.

I came to explore the wreck.
The words are purposes.
The words are maps.
I came to see the damage that was done
and the treasures that prevail.
I stroke the beam of my lamp
slowly along the flank
of something more permanent
than fish or weed

the thing I came for:
the wreck and not the story of the wreck
the thing itself and not the myth
the drowned face always staring
toward the sun
the evidence of damage
worn by salt and sway into this threadbare beauty
the ribs of the disaster
curving their assertion
among the tentative haunters.

This is the place.
And I am here, the mermaid whose dark hair
streams black, the merman in his armored body.
We circle silently
about the wreck
we dive into the hold.
I am she: I am he

whose drowned face sleeps with open eyes
whose breasts still bear the stress
whose silver, copper, vermeil cargo lies
obscurely inside barrels
half-wedged and left to rot
we are the half-destroyed instruments
that once held to a course
the water-eaten log
the fouled compass

We are, I am, you are
by cowardice or courage
the one who find our way
back to this scene
carrying a knife, a camera
a book of myths
in which
our names do not appear.