Friday, April 27, 2007

 

Adrienne Rich: Poetry & Commitment

Richard Schaaf of Azul Editions gave me a copy of the little book Norton has published of Adrienne Rich's essay, "Poetry and Commitment." I highly recommend it. As ever, Rich is a beacon to guide us all. A few short passages:

We can also define the "aesthetic" not as a priveleged and sequestered rendering of human suffering, but as news of an awareness, a resistance, that totalizing systems want to quell: art reaching into us for what's still passionate, still unintimidated, still unquenched.

and

The imagination's roads open before us, giving the lie to that slammed and bolted door, that razor-wired fence, that brute dictum "There is no alternative."

and

For now, poetry has the capacity -- in its own ways and by its own means -- to remind us of something we are forbidden to see. A forgotten future: a still-uncreated site whose moral architecture is founded not on ownership and dispossession, the subjection of women, torture and bribes, outcast and tribe, but on the continuous redefining of freedom -- that word now held under house arrest by the rhetoric of the free market. This ongoing future, written off over and over, is still within view.

Mark Doty, in his afterward, writes:

In Adrienne Rich's strong hands, the poem is an instrument for change, if we can see into the structures of power and take on the work of making a dream -- "the dream of a common language" -- an actuality. Like Whitman did, she calls us toward the country we could be, though she insists that we acknowledge the country we are.


These twin functions -- to stare the reality we live in directly in the face and not flinch AND to vigorously imagine an alternative -- seem to me the highest calling of poetry. May we strive to live there, at that contradictory and essential intersection.

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