Thursday, March 29, 2012

Adrienne Rich 1929 -2012

Feminist poet and essayist Adrienne Rich has passed into the next world, leaving behind shoes too big to soon be filled. An award-winning poet, her socially conscious verse influenced a generation of feminists and anti-war and gay rights activists, and explored topics such as economic justice, the love between women, sexuality, racism and women’s rights. Rich authored more than a dozen volumes of poetry and five collections of nonfiction and won the National Book Award in 1974 for her collection of poems, Diving Into the Wreck. In 2004 she won the National Book Critics Circle Award for The School Among the Ruins. A socialist, she believed "socialism represents moral value -- the dignity and human rights of all citizens. That is, the resources of a society should be shared and the wealth redistributed as widely as possible." She won a MacArthur "genius" fellowship, two Guggenheim Fellowships and many top literary awards including the Bollingen Prize, Brandeis Creative Arts Medal, Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize and the Wallace Stevens Award, but when then-President Clinton awarded her the National Medal of Arts in 1997, Rich refused to accept it, citing the administration's "cynical politics." "The radical disparities of wealth and power in America are widening at a devastating rate," she wrote to the administration. "A president cannot meaningfully honor certain token artists while the people at large are so dishonored." In 2003, Rich and other poets refused to attend a White House symposium on poetry to protest to U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. Rich was 82.

I offer this poem in remembrance:


I stand on this bitter shore waiting
         for the boat that never comes,
         transport to the mapless land.

I have a gold coin clamped
         in my cramped-up palm,
         my hoarded fare.

By all accounts
         the boatman is fierce
         beneath his blackened sails.

Sometimes, across the water
         I think I see peaks
         that may be only clouds.

The busy people jeer me - -
         a slacker, a weakling
         they say.

How could they know
         what courage
         simply to stand

before the pitiless sea,
         the blank stare of the coming time
         and wait?

All I know for sure:
         far landfall's outer rim
         glows on night's horizon
         like a dawning sun.

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