“Pick a piece of wood floating in the river and follow it down the current with your glance, keeping the eyes constantly on it, without getting ahead of the current. This is the way poetry should be read: at the pace of a line.”~ Vera Pavlova, from “Heaven Is Not Verbose: A Notebook” (trans. Steven Seymour)

A Young Adrienne Rich
This is how I see my favorite poets: young, smoking a cigarette, drinking bourbon

                   

“Tonight I think
no poetry
will serve” ~ Adrienne Rich from poem of the same name

One of my favorite poets died yesterday—ground-breaking feminist and anti-war poet and writer Adrienne Rich.

I remember trying to teach Rich’s poem “Living in Sin” in an American literature class several years ago, and while the poem was considered controversial at one time by taking on the social taboo of living together before marriage, the young men and women in my class didn’t understand the point of the poem as theirs was a generation weaned on living together without any stigma. It was kind of a wake-up call for me. You know, that generational thing.

I remember reading a quote from Rich once that embodied everything I have ever felt about writing: “You must write, and read, as if your life depended on it.”

Here is a brief from the SF Gate (SF Chronicle)

Adrienne Rich, one of America’s foremost poets and essayists, died in her Santa Cruz home Tuesday after complications from rheumatoid arthritis. She was 82.

Rich was among the first contemporary poets on the early feminist scene to imagine “the personal as political.” In 1997, Rich declined the National Medal of Arts to protest the House’s vote to end the National Endowment for the Arts. She published 30 books; 19 in poetry and seven in prose.

For a more comprehensive write-upon Rich, click here.

                  

This is my favorite Adrienne Rich poem:

Diving into the Wreck

First having read the book of myths,
and loaded the camera,
and checked the edge of the knife-blade,
I put on
the body-armor of black rubber
the absurd flippers
the grave and awkward mask.
I am having to do this
not like Cousteau with his
assiduous team
aboard the sun-flooded schooner
but here alone.

There is a ladder.
The ladder is always there
hanging innocently
close to the side of the schooner.
We know what it is for,
we who have used it.
Otherwise
it is a piece of maritime floss
some sundry equipment.

I go down.
Rung after rung and still
the oxygen immerses me
the blue light
the clear atoms
of our human air.
I go down.
My flippers cripple me,
I crawl like an insect down the ladder
and there is no one
to tell me when the ocean
will begin.

First the air is blue and then
it is bluer and then green and then
black I am blacking out and yet
my mask is powerful
it pumps my blood with power
the sea is another story
the sea is not a question of power
I have to learn alone
to turn my body without force
in the deep element.

And now: it is easy to forget
what I came for
among so many who have always
lived here
swaying their crenellated fans
between the reefs
and besides
you breathe differently down here.

I came to explore the wreck.
The words are purposes.
The words are maps.
I came to see the damage that was done
and the treasures that prevail.
I stroke the beam of my lamp
slowly along the flank
of something more permanent
than fish or weed

the thing I came for:
the wreck and not the story of the wreck
the thing itself and not the myth
the drowned face always staring
toward the sun
the evidence of damage
worn by salt and sway into this threadbare beauty
the ribs of the disaster
curving their assertion
among the tentative haunters.

This is the place.
And I am here, the mermaid whose dark hair
streams black, the merman in his armored body.
We circle silently
about the wreck
we dive into the hold.
I am she: I am he

whose drowned face sleeps with open eyes
whose breasts still bear the stress
whose silver, copper, vermeil cargo lies
obscurely inside barrels
half-wedged and left to rot
we are the half-destroyed instruments
that once held to a course
the water-eaten log
the fouled compass

We are, I am, you are
by cowardice or courage
the one who find our way
back to this scene
carrying a knife, a camera
a book of myths
in which
our names do not appear.