The poet Adrienne Rich passed away on March 28th. The New York Times’ obituary described her as a “poet of towering reputation and towering rage “, for whom “the personal, the political and the poetical were indissolubly linked; her body of work can be read as a series of urgent dispatches from the front.” I read the obituary and then went back to re-read some of her poems. She was a prolific writer and a forceful speaker, so it was a double delight to watch her recite some of her poems at this or that poetry festival and event.
I went back to interviews posted on the Internet, and read one where she said “… poetry can break isolation, show us to ourselves when we are outlawed and made invisible, remind us of beauty where no beauty seemed possible, remind us of kinship where all that seems possible is separation”. And, in poem after poem, I found that that is exactly what she aimed to do. Her message is one, I think, that one needs to be especially mindful of these days, when many politicians would have us take many decades worth of steps backwards. This poem really stood out for me:
What Kind of Times Are These
BY ADRIENNE RICH
There’s a place between two stands of trees where the grass grows uphill
and the old revolutionary road breaks off into shadows
near a meeting-house abandoned by the persecuted
who disappeared into those shadows.
I’ve walked there picking mushrooms at the edge of dread, but don’t be fooled
this isn’t a Russian poem, this is not somewhere else but here,
our country moving closer to its own truth and dread,
its own ways of making people disappear.
I won’t tell you where the place is, the dark mesh of the woods
meeting the unmarked strip of light—
ghost-ridden crossroads, leafmold paradise:
I know already who wants to buy it, sell it, make it disappear.
And I won’t tell you where it is, so why do I tell you
anything? Because you still listen, because in times like these
to have you listen at all, it’s necessary
to talk about trees.
And here is Adrienne Rich herself reading the poem: