It’s April, which means it is National Poetry Month and I get to spend the next four weeks trying to force everyone around me to pay a little bit more attention to poetry than they usually do.
Granted, I’m usually trying to make people pay more attention to poetry, but over the remaining 26 days of April, I’m going to ramp it up, and I’m going to do so alphabetically, with 26 letters worth of poetry-related posts.
The first letter is “A,” and it’s for Adrienne. The poet and essayist Adrienne Rich died this past Wednesday at age 82. I had no idea she was so old. I thought of her solidly as of my mother’s generation, a good 15 to 20 years younger than she actually was. I think I could have deduced her age if I’d put my mind to it, but her writing has always felt so apt and modern to me that it would have taken an overt temporal marker to shake the youthful, imaginary version of Adrienne Rich out of precedence in my head.
Rich won my favorite poetry prize, the Yale Series of Younger Poets award, in 1951. Again, if I’d known she’d won that in 1951, I probably wouldn’t have imagined that she’d been born in the late 1940s. My knowledge (and my library) of Rich’s work is embarrassingly small, but Diving Into the Wreck and Blood, Bread and Poetry, as well as her well-known refusal to accept the National Medal of the Arts when President Clinton awarded it to her in 1997, have taught me invaluable lessons about the connections between the personal, the poetic and the political, about being a woman and good human being, and a great deal about anger, maybe even more about love. I feel really lucky that I have so much of her work yet to discover. Here’s a poem of hers I’ve always liked.
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.
~ Adrienne Rich, from The Fact of a Doorframe: Selected Poems 1950-2001