Thursday, 29 March 2012

Adrienne Rich

Adrienne Rich died yesterday.

She was a very important poet as well as being very influential
as a lesbian feminist critic.  'Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence'
is awkward reading for straight males because it seems to argue that ALL women are in fact gay.
Whatever your sexual orientation though you have to recognise the powerful intelligence at work
in the poems, and the insistence you get in American poetry that it's possible, in poems,
to discuss ideas explicitly. British poetry has always fought shy of this in its stress
always on 'showing' rather than 'telling'
The result in Rich's work is a poetic that's restlessly questioning, and not just about gender
but also, eg, about ecological damage.

Check out her poem about the Vietnam War, 'Shooting Script'
where 'shooting' refers to cameras, guns and penises.
By contrast with that sort of deadly closure, she invents an imagery
of feminine open-endedness:

You are spilt here like mercury on a marble counter, liquefying
into many globes, each silvered like a planet caught in a lens.

You are a mirror lost in a brook, an eye reflecting a torrent
of reflections.

You are a letter written, folded, burnt to ash, and mailed
in an envelope to another continent.