Tag Archives: adrienne rich

April 2, 2012 III

Readers,
there’s not much I can say about Adrienne Rich that you won’t learn from last week’s obit in the NYTimes. She had a prolific and lauded career, writing nearly up until her death at the age of 82. She got married in 1953, had a family, but later came out in the early 1970’s, a process that was political and personal for her. It radicalized her life and her work. Writers that have criticized her poetry have used words like “strident” or “polemical,” but her first collection to address lesbian desire, 1977’s “Twenty-one Love Poems,” could not have been less so. Number III in the series is perfect for our springtime section. If you need advice on how to read an Adrienne Rich poem, just follow the advice built into her nominal anagram: “Read in, enrich.” -ed.
III
Since we’re not young, weeks have to do time
for years of missing each other. Yet only this odd warp
in time tells me we’re not young.
Did I ever walk the morning streets at twenty,
my limbs streaming with a purer joy?
did I lean from any window over the city
listening for the future
as I listened here with nerves tuned for your ring?
And you, you move toward me with the same tempo.
Your eyes are everlasting, the green spark
of the blue-eyed grass of early summer,
the green-blue wild cress washed by the spring.
At twenty, yes: we thought we’d live forever.
At forty-five, I want to know even our limits.
I touch you knowing we weren’t born tomorrow,
and somehow, each of us will help the other live,
and somewhere, each of us must help the other die.
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Monday’s Verse, Jan. 4, 2010

Dear friends,

welcome to the first edition of what promises to be, well, a year. Forgive me if I’m in a saturnine mood; the last 10 days were HORRIBLE for American poetry! So we’ll spend the next couple weeks in mourning. First off, Lilly heiress and poetry benefactor Ruth Lilly died on December 30th, at the age of 94. You may recall the hubbub a few years ago when she donated $100 million to the Poetry Foundation in Chicago, most famous for its world-class magazine, Poetry. I won’t go into the details, but good background is provided in her NYTimes obituary, available here:
One of the most interesting tidbits is that Ms. Lilly suffered from depression and was in institutions or her home for a good portion of her life. Poetry was her only source of succor until about 1998, when the anti-depressant Prozac hit the market. Prozac was developed and marketed by the pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly and Co., founded in 1876 right there in Indianapolis by her grandafther, Eli. Apparently the drug had a salutary effect on her ability to live in the world, which is about the only thing poetic I’ve ever heard about a large drug manufacturer.
I’d hoped to print some of Ms. Lilly’s own rejected poems (it was the encouraging notes she received from Poetry‘s editor that prompted her to support the magazine), but could not find any. Instead, a poem by the very first winner of the Ruth Lilly poetry prize, established in 1986. We already know all about Adrienne Rich, born in 1929, whose name is an anagram for this forum’s motto (“Read in, enrich”), and the title of whose poem is as apt in this new year as it was when it was published. Thanks to Ruth Lilly, a few more Americans have time to talk about trees. -ed.

What Kind of Times Are These

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.
-1995