Adrienne Rich, teller of the truth

When I saw her ten years ago or twelve
(I cannot say I met her, though I often have.                         Is it meeting?                                           
                      a dazzled undergraduate holding a book out to be autographed                                                  by the poet of her awakening?                
 A shaky, “I love you,” the only words that passed      between them?)
She took that book with her warrior’s hands,
her poet’s hands,
already crippled with the disease that would claim her life,
and signed her name.
This ritual of grace performed for hundreds who came to hear her speak.

Last night—as I was driving home from a night spent with good friends in glorious surroundings, a perfect night—I heard on the radio that Adrienne Rich had died. My first thought, strangely enough, was how appropriate her death. How right. 

And then, of course, the words, the images began to swirl inside my head.
She lived for many years with the irony of her poem, “Power.” I wonder now if by some chance she wrote it after she knew she had a disease that would take her hands first.


Living     in the earth-deposits     of our history

Today a backhoe divulged     out of a crumbling flank of earth
one bottle amber     perfect     a hundred-year-old
cure for fever     or melancholy     a tonic
for living on this earth     in the winters of this climate.

Today I was reading about Marie Curie:
she must have known she suffered from radiation sickness
her body bombarded for years by the element
she had purified
It seems she denied to the end
the source of the cataracts on her eyes
the cracked and suppurating skin     of her finger-ends
till she could no longer hold     a test-tube or a pencil

She died     a famous woman     denying
her wounds
her wounds     came     from the same source as her power.

Adrienne Rich 1974

Adrienne Rich never denied her wounds. Her truth. Our truths. She died knowing that  she always spoke the truth, and her truth has set many of us on the path to freedom, to a life without others wielding power over us, without power over others.

It was Adrienne Rich who introduced me to an Emily Dickinson far more dangerous than the poet I had loved as a girl. It was Rich who gave me a political grounding for teaching remedial English. It was Rich who taught me that poetry and the personal are always political (and I hope she forgives my clumsy paraphrase).

I want to share with you a link to A Poem for Adrianne by Marge Piercy and say with her, “I want more, I still want more.”

(I must also say that I got this photo from the web. It is not mine.)


  1. Thank you, Jodi. Right back atcha.

  2. A beautiful tribute, Karen. I was mesmerized once by a woman I met at the picnic tables at UIW. I still am.

  3. I remember reading her work in high school and thinking how amazing it is to be able to create such beautiful, painful expressions. I wish I'd had a chance to hear or see her; she seemed an extraordinary human. I'm glad you made some contact :)