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.

EVER, AGAIN

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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DREAMING

I was awakened by the Snow Moon at 3:30 this morning – or it might have been heartburn from an unusually rich meal I consumed at Acadiana.  The fried green tomatoes, corn pudding and grits in combination with the full moomotivatorbb8a3309d970aac8b6df1660690478907dc392b7n kindled vivid dreams that vanished before I could record them. In a few hours I will return to the DC Convention Center for day 2 of AWP17 and expect to be overwhelmed again by the number of writers and the variety of writing programs I will encounter there.  I dream of being a writer but until recently those dreams were eclipsed by the necessity of earning a living. Retirement has opened up a world of possibilities ranging from yoga teacher training to ceramics classes.

My challenge now is to to protect my dream of being a writer from all these seductive opportunities.

What dream are you protecting today?

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Prickly Memories

gum ball

Memories cling like resin to my tidy life:

The mole on mama’s chin;

Bangs that landed two inches above her brow

A temper that flashed when I rubbed her the wrong way

She is attached to me by an umbilical of wounds.

Piercing memories

The white dress she stitched for my Phi Mu Pledge Dance

The goodbye she waved to the back of a Greyhound bus

“I wrote you everyday in my mind” she scrawled on that last birthday card.

A single ovary produced a daughter who never bore fruit.

Who left her never to return.

More than a container of seeds.

I trace the lines on my palm and the furrow between my brow.

I revisit scars that map a lifetime.

I touch the mole on my chin.

Once removed only to return.

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How to Love your Daddy After He’s Dead

(After “How to Love Your Mother After She’s Dead” by Lidia Yuknavitch)

I first met Daddy just before he took his first drink. His oldest sister Irma was feeding the rabbits in the side yard and her husband Mackey gave him a sip of his beer. Later Daddy would give his only son Mackey’s name and his first drink.

I first met Daddy when he was in the army stationed on Okinawa sitting in front of a tent while everyone else stood. “Never stand up when you can sit down. Never sit down when you can lay down.” I learned a lot from Daddy.

I first met Daddy when he stole a Ford from the Naval Base in Norfolk Virginia. He didn’t really steal it. But I thought he had because he’d brought home the silverware embossed with US Navy and he never returned it. My sister still has the knives and forks.

I first met Daddy when he stretched out on the grass that covered Mama’s grave and said “Bury Me Now” and I took a picture. 10 years later to the day he crawled in next to her. I wore a big black hat and a red dress.  I buried him in red pajamas. I wanted him to be comfortable.

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What’s In Your Wallet?

….I have found the suitcase open, collecting snow,

still holding your vade mecum of the infinite,

The Lost Suitcase by Carolyn Forché

It would be nice to have a handbook that contained everything I ever needed to know about anything. I once had a Brownie Scout Handbook. Then a Girl Scout Handbook. Then, much later, a Big Book. But the only thing I could carry with me all the time was “a great big Brownie smile” and I often forgot to put that on. It’s amazing how much stuff I carry around now.  I’m retired now but when I was working I carried:

iPad
iPhone
shampoo
soap
towel
lock
lotion
deodorant
face cream
make-up
hairbrush
comb
wallet
keys
clear nail polish
toothpaste and toothbrush
eyeglasses
sunglasses
bills to pay
checkbook
stamps
return address labels
Oxford Magazine
Advil
Scrunchies
Gym entry card
Diet Dr. Pepper
Knee brace
John left with his keys and a wallet. Why is my life so complicated?

 

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There Are No Trains on Hatteras Island


There are no trains

The only roar comes from the ocean

and it never stops

There are no triathlons

but fishermen stand in the surf for hours

and they never stop

There are no all night diners

but there are rainbows, sunshine

and the wind never stops

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Poem #4

It’s late in the day and
no words have lined up in a way that pleases me.
Nothing created
to speak of.
But I judge myself by my intentions.
and I’ve done no damage
to speak of.

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Poem #3

Notice. Your past comes back to you now
on a warm, moist breeze
cloaked in the smell of clematis
illuminated by the noon day sun.
Your past that you shared
with strangers who have forgotten your name.
Memory is like breath:
I can’t live without it.

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Poem #2

When memories are as transparent as dreams
and intentions as flimsy as those memories
and emotions dart here and there like spoiled children
and the right words never come,
I still begin to write without knowing
where the words will lead me
and when the words will stop
forever.

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Poem #1

20130401-114533April. Again.
Outside my window a gum ball tree
Seed of Aprils past
Reminder of brown army blankets
Flawed fathers.
Bare earth.

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