The Courage to Be Different

ADRIENNE RICH, May 16, 1929 – March 27, 2012

Responsibility to yourself means refusing to let others do your thinking, talking, and naming for you…

I was just introduced to Adrienne Rich two weeks ago — while searching for a way to honor International Women’s Day here on Random Acts of Writing. But her words, her ever-powerful words, have set firm in my mind since.

It means insisting that those to whom you give your friendship and love are able to respect your mind.

“Adrienne Rich,” writes Margalit Fox in the New York Times feature “A Poet of Unswerving Vision at the Forefront of Feminism,” was “a poet of towering reputation and towering rage, whose work — distinguished by an unswerving progressive vision and a dazzling, empathic ferocity — brought the oppression of women and lesbians to the forefront of poetic discourse and kept it there for nearly a half-century….”

Responsibility to yourself means that you don’t fall for shallow and easy solutions…

According to Fox, Rich “wrote two dozen volumes of poetry and more than a half-dozen of prose; the poetry alone has sold nearly 800,000 copies…since the mid-1960s.” Her published works exploring issues of women, identity, sexuality and politics, include Twenty-One Love Poems, Snapshots of a Daughter-in-Law, Diving into the Wreck, Necessities of Life, The Will to Change, Of Woman Born: Motherhood as Experience and Institution, On Lies, Secrets, and Silence, Midnight Salvage, The School among the Ruins, Telephone Ringing in the Labyrinth, and most recently, Tonight No Poetry Will Serve, published in 2011.

It means that you refuse to sell your talents and aspirations short…

The Encyclopedia of World Biography writes: “In her varied roles as wife, mother, teacher, poet, radical feminist, lesbian, political activist, and essayist she explored those experiences that contributed to her growth as a woman and artist. In all her work, from her earliest collection of poetry, A Change of World (1951), to her later efforts as a political feminist determined to reject a suppressive patriarchal culture, the richness of her vision, her creativity, and her willingness to experiment with controversial themes are evident. But it was her ability to sense the shifting ideas, perceptions, and experiences of American women and to give them shape in language at once original and stark that transformed her into a popular and powerful poet.”

It means, therefore, the courage to be ‘different’…

When asked about her role as a poet and the obligations of poetry, Rich told The Paris Review: “I don’t know that poetry itself has any universal or unique obligations. It’s a great ongoing human activity of making, over different times, under different circumstances. For a poet, in this time we call “ours,” in this whirlpool of disinformation and manufactured distraction? Not to fake it, not to practice a false innocence, not pull the shades down on what’s happening next door or across town. Not to settle for shallow formulas or lazy nihilism or stifling self-reference.”

“Nothing “obliges” us to behave as honorable human beings,” she said, “except each others’ possible examples of honesty and generosity and courage and lucidity, suggesting a greater social compact.”

Once we begin to feel committed to our lives, responsible to ourselves, we can never again be satisfied with the old, passive way.

Amazon lists 28 different volumes of Rich’s work in its collection. I’m just not sure where to begin.

• • •

Photo: Adrienne Rich, circa 1951, from the Radcliffe Archives

A Poet of Unswerving Vision at the Forefront of Feminism, The New York Times
The Encyclopedia of World Biography
“Adrienne Rich on Tonight No Poetry Will Serve,” The Paris Review

7 thoughts on “The Courage to Be Different

Add yours

  1. A beautiful post!
    I’m like you, I don’t quite know where to start, but I’m sure I will find a lot in her writing to enjoy, think about, reason over … for a long – long time.

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