Adrienne Rich died in March at the age of 82. I had only one opportunity to meet her at the Geraldine Dodge Poetry Festival in New Jersey in the late 1990s. After Rich's reading in the big tent, I stood in line to get my only book of hers, An Atlas of the Difficult World, Poems 1988-1991, signed. She greeted every reader with a friendly smile, until she reached me. I got that stern-lipped cold stare you see to the left. It's as if she didn't approve of me at all. It's as if she knew I hadn't even read the book yet. I came away a little unsettled and my friends laughed about how pissy she looked signing my book. That incident never endeared me to her.
Then was the fact that I was a Riot Grrrl sort of feminist (that is to say third wave) and Rich was a second wave feminist. The 3rd wave girls have always butted heads with the 2nd wave women. Even our insistence on self-referring as girls irked those 2nd wavers.
Then there were those poems of hers we read in poetry class, the ones I could never quite get under my skin, like "Diving Into the Wreck." In a recent class we read "Blue Rock", "Edges," "Poetry: I," "Poetry: II, Chicago," "Poetry: III," and "To a Poet." I have nary a check mark near the title of any of them. Even their dry titles cause my nethers to feel a bit dehydrated.
It might at first seem extraordinary how Rich's "look" morphed over the years in these photographs. But those thin stern lips always identify her, even when she's smiling.
I have to say the divide between the 2nd and 3rd wavers has somewhat died down now. We're beginning to see our mothers and daughters without so much rebellion, resentment and misunderstanding.
And I realize deep down that Adrienne Rich's sourpuss face that day probably had more to do with a lifetime of frustration against those who disapproved of not only her sexuality but her literary campaigns on behalf of her sexuality, the trauma left by the gunshot suicide of her economist husband back in 1970, or the constant rheumatoid arthritis she suffered all her adult life, complications of which finally ended it.
And this week I finally found an Adrienne Rich poem I liked...in the Emily Dickinson book, The Mind of the Poet, I just picked up at the Highlands library. The poem is simple titled "E." in Gelpi's book but later Rich must have changed the title to "I Am in Danger—Sir—"
The last stanza:
and in your halfcracked way you chose
silence for entertainment
chose to have it out at last
on your own premises.
Read the full Emily Dickinson tribute here: http://www.english.upenn.edu/~cavitch/pdf-library/Rich_IAmInDangerSir.pdf
Read the New York Times profile of Adrienne Rich ("a poet of towering reputation and towering rage") when she died: