adrienne rich, 1929-2012

How did I fail to acknowledge the passing of Adrienne Rich? She gave the world so much - in politics and in art, and by example. Recognizing my own mind in Rich's prose was one way I realized I was a radical. From The Guardian:
Adrienne Rich, who has died aged 82 of complications arising from rheumatoid arthritis, was one of the most influential and political American poets of the last century. The author of more than 30 widely read books of poetry and prose over six decades, she believed that art and politics are indivisible. Her radical focus on feminism, sexuality, civil rights, Jewish identity and the anti-war movement positioned her as a leading activist as well as writer.

In her poem Snapshots of a Daughter-in-Law (1963) she described the drudgery of marriage and domesticity before feminism had properly found its feet: "Banging the coffee-pot into the sink / she hears the angels chiding, and looks out / past the raked gardens to the sloppy sky." Motherhood was another sacred cow tackled by Rich; her non-fiction book Of Woman Born (1976) is a brutally honest and personal examination of motherhood, and a classic feminist text.

Rich soon became one of the leading lights of the women's liberation movement. Tiny in stature, but with a big presence, she captivated audiences. I heard her read on several occasions and was always struck by the reverence she inspired in literary critics and feminists alike.

Coming out as a lesbian in 1976, at a time when it engendered extreme hostility, she began a relationship with the editor and writer Michelle Cliff, who was to become her lifelong companion. That year, Rich published Twenty-One Love Poems, her homage to lesbian passion: "Whatever happens with us, your body / will haunt mine – tender, delicate / your lovemaking, like the half-curled frond / of the fiddlehead fern in forests / just washed by sun."

In 1980, Rich published the essay Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence, in which she argued that it was necessary to break the taboo about lesbianism and reject the heterosexuality routinely forced upon women. Prior to this, the almost universal assumption – even among the most radical of feminists – was that sexual preference was biologically determined as opposed to a social construction that benefited patriarchy. [More here.]
The New Yorker has gathered some of Rich's poetry: read it here.

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