Monday, August 17, 2009

Adrienne Rich, the wreck and not the story of the wreck, the thing itself

Chris Hutchinson chooses Diving into the Wreck: Poems 1971-1972, Adrienne Rich, W. W. Norton, Norton, 1973
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.
For the entire poem, and to hear Anne Waldman read it visit the Poetry Foundation.

Adrienne Rich reading

A response to Rich

Carol Dorf on Rich
First, and foremost both of these writers (Grahn and Rich) are coming out of a political context, that of the feminist movement which was the primary social movement of the 70s and 80s (not that the anti-war and black power movements weren't still significant forces; but by and large the creative energies of that period were tied to the feminist movement). I'll focus on Rich's book The Dream of a Common Language. The first poem of the book is called "Power," and like many of the poems it ties in the life of a feminist forebearer, Marie Curie, to the struggle for women to find a common language to encompass their experience. At the same time, she critiques the denial she sees in Curie's approach to power:
She died ... denying
her wounds came from the same source of her power.
In the long poem "Natural Resources," Rich connects environmental struggles to the feminist project. The poem connects the reader to another set of forebearers -- the workers who make use of the earth's resources. Later in the poem, Rich writes,
There are words I cannot choose again:
humanism androgyny
Such words have no shame in them, no diffidence
before the raging stoic grandmothers:
(section 13)
Then she concludes this 14 part poem
My heart is moved by all I cannot save:
so much has been destroyed

I have to cast my lot with those
who age after age, perversely,

with no extraordinary power,
reconstitute the world.
Rich connects the poet to all of those "grandmothers" who take on the work to "reconstitute the world."

The 70s radicalism of Rich's position is based in her contextualizing the work of poetry along with other work. I see this as a rejection of the romantization of the role of the poet, as a person with an extraordinary sensibility.


Martha Nichols said...

It's truly wonderful to have Rich's lines in my head again, and to remember how much "The Dream of a Common Language" meant to me. And I think you're right, Carol, she was rejecting romantic images of the poet, and making connections between writing and much more workaday work like mothering.

thereginamom said...

Oh, oh, oh! I missed this this summer and am happy to have found it now, thanks to my sometimes-friend, Google!

Two years ago, I was involved in a recording project, My Heart Is Moved, and I had to write about that amazing experience! There's a teaser MP3 here. That a poem published when I was 16 was turned into a song and recorded when my daughter was 16 still gives me goosebumps!

On Monday, at the Vertigo Reading Series, I'm planning to read a poem inspired by that snippet from Rich's, "Natural Resources." Of course, mine is nowhere near as good, but it's my meagre attempt to honour her work in some way.