The Poet as Activist

This week I have been surrounded by poets at AWP17.  One of the many gifts I received was a panel marking W.W. Norton’s publication of Adrienne Rich’s Collected Poems: 1950–2012.

The appearance of this volume makes possible a mapping, sounding, and gauging of the expansive reality—the terrain (surface), volume (depth), and climate (atmosphere)—of the poet’s incomparable career. This panel has been assembled to do just that: to describe the elements that comprise the multidimensional power of Adrienne Rich’s life and work as a resource for continued, engaged endeavor.

AWP Conference Program

Moderator Ed Pavlic’ had the challenging task of describing his friend Adrienne Rich which he did beautifully with these words: “Adrienne work focusses our attention on how we are with each other.” He meant not just how we are with our inner circle but with all of the beings who share this planet.

Jill Bialosky, Rich’s editor at W.W. Norton listed the many awards she received and one she did not accept – the 1997 National Medal for the Arts. Rich refused the award to protest the “growing concentration of power in fewer and fewer hands.”

Another panelists, Joy Harjo, described Rich as one of her ancestors. That lineage is evident in Harjo’s body of work including her most recents book of poetry  Conflict Resolution for Holy Beings and her memoir Crazy Brave.  One cannot read Harjo’s words without hearing the echo of all the disenfranchised and the silenced.

Ifullsizerendern a personal moment Rich’s middle son Pablo Conrad read one of his mother’s later poems. I am haunted by the last line.


Mockingbird shouts Escape! Escape! and would I could. I’d

fly, drive back to that house up the long hill between queen

anne’s lace and common daisyface shoulder open stuck door

run springwater from kitchen tap drench tongue

palate and throat throw window sashes up screens down

breathe in mown grass pine-needle heat

manure, lilac unpack brown sacks from the store:

ground meat, buns, tomatoes, one big onion, milk and orange juice

iceberg lettuce, ranch dressing potato chips, dill pickles

the Caledonian-Record Portuguese rose in round-hipped flask

open the box of newspapers by the stove reread: (Vietnam Vietnam)

Set again on the table the Olivetti, the stack

of rough yellow typing paper mark the crashed instant

of one summer’s mosquito on a bedroom door

voices of boys outside proclaiming twilight and hunger

Pour iced vodka into a shotglass get food on the table

sitting with those wild heads over hamburgers, fireflies, music

staying up late with the typewriter falling asleep with the dead




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