It is awfully poetic to say that she is now one with the sun’s rays, beaming down on all the feminist poets in this world.
But having met Adrienne Rich in Washington, D.C. in the mid-1990s, I’m doubtful. She was physically diminutive, but politically large, all the years of her life, which ended last week, at the age of 82.
So on this occasion, to pay homage to an amazing talent, voice, visionary and activist, I pulled out my notes from October 9, 1995, to share here the exquisite gift of meeting Adrienne Rich when I was a budding poet, in awe of everything this tiny Jewish poet, and her life and writings, stood for.
AR: “I published my first book when I was 21…I had been writing poetry most of my life because I loved it so much…I think all poetry that’s any good has form…The first poem I ever published, ‘Storm Warnings,’ about self-protection in a world of great tumult and storms and uncontrollable forces, I wrote that in 1947…the nuclear bomb impinging on our consciousness.”
AR: “Young people in my generation were very well aware that it was now possible to destroy the world…I would like to think that my poetry is always searching and that I haven’t ever come to some conclusion…you never come to a finishing point, a place where you say, ‘Well now I know it all.'”
Question: What is your goal, if any, when writing poems?
AR: “To connect…individual and community…poetry renews our sense of community and what language can be.”
Question: What is the poet’s responsibility?
AR: “Not to sell the people short. To give them your very best. And not just to keep repeating yourself in order to stay popular.”
[When asked about the genre of Jewish feminist poetry and American Jewish identity…]
AR: “I’m concerned about the American Jewish community, about class and what does it mean that there is now a very distinct, right-wing community which is very hostile to the left and progressive tradition and to those of us who are trying to work out of that tradition…I believe American Jewish continuity is linked to the survival of movements for justice, for social and economic justice, that we’re not going to survive in any desirable way alone.”
AR: “Secular for me is not just an emptiness, it’s not a void. It’s not the absence of something. It has a very positive content which has to do with work and love and justice and ethics in this world. With passion. And with a strong desire to see each and every human being fulfill themselves to the utmost of their capacity and try to create the conditions for that in the world. I am attuned to the hunger for justice which rolls down like mighty waters.”
There is so much more I could share here, but I’ll stop with this. Goodbye, inspiring voice of the 20th century. Goodbye brave woman, who took so many stands, not because they were popular ideologies but because they were right.
Goodbye, Adrienne Rich. I hope your mark on the American, feminist, and Jewish landscapes is indelible and far-reaching.