Poetry: Adrienne Dies


Cover Photo information: Adrienne Rich, May 8, 1987 at the offices of W.W. Norton Publishers. Photo by OrionPozo (Flikr)

There are few poets more important to me than Adrienne Rich. Her words found me in a community college “Women’s Literature” course. I didn’t know exactly what was going to be covered in that course; I just loved literature and women’s writing and thought I would enjoy it. It turned out to be the course that would guide my studies and shape the course of my life. Adrienne Rich spoke to me in ways I didn’t know existed, about ideas I didn’t know belonged to anyone else. It was largely the life and poetry of Rich and women like her that motivated me to apply to the creative writing program at Bowling Green State University with a minor in Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies, which I later flipped. I’d have gone on to complete my Master’s in WGSS at the University of Cincinnati on a presidential fellowship if not for my failing health.

Naturally, when Adrienne Rich died, I felt devastated, as if I’d lost my long time friend and mentor. I’ve had serious reservations about sharing this poem. My biggest regret is that it couldn’t even come close to standing up to the author it’s meant to celebrate, though if you know Rich well, you will recognize (and hopefully enjoy) all the references to her work that are tied in. I’ll never be the poet she was. But then, being her was never really the point. Being strong, independent and learning to speak my own mind no matter how unpopular, those are the things Rich really gave me.

If you would like to hear me read the poem while you read, begin the video below it first.

Adrienne Dies

 by Michelle Beltano Curtis

 Today was the first day I thought 
 82 was too young to die.
 That a hundred or a thousand 
 poems can’t possibly be enough 
 to say everything she ever had to say 
 about the moon and the hips of her lovers,
 the rose wet of their caves,
 the taste of death, 
 the shame of prizes in gold when humanity wheezes on--
 or the old raping, civil, phony, holy, world wars.
  
 That there is—must be—a finite number seems criminal;
 like the laws of relativity vanished. 
 I could count the blades of grass on her lawn 
 and know its number and quality for all eternity
 but never could I examine each without discovering
 something new. One different. One sharp 
 enough to prick my finger where before it seemed dull;
 Beauty hiding behind a metaphor--
 a creature napping so quietly among the blades 
 it had been overlooked a dozen times before. 
  
 Thanks be to the nature of poetry; 
 of Rich’s brilliant mind,
 we can go back. 
 Back to those words 
 enjoy them once and again, feel them anew.          
 She worked so diligently for her art
 that we may find the treasures she left behind
 forever more.   
 Mining for her wisdom, her knowledge, her power 
 among the wreckage.   

To learn more about Adrienne Rich and view a few of her poems, visit The Poetry Foundation

What’s your favorite poem or book by Rich? What poets have inspired you? I have so many, I’m not sure I could even come up with or list them all. Certainly Linda Hogan, Audre Lorde, Sylvia Plath, Alice Walker, Marge Piercy, Diane Di Prima, Gloria Anzaldua and Allen Ginsberg have been among my favorites and most read, but there are a number of contemporary authors whose work I read and admire a great deal. Then there are the poets that inspired my love of poetry and prompted me to begin writing as a child, such as Shel Silverstein, Edgar Allen Poe (Anabel Lee was the first poem I ever memorized), Nikki Giovani, AA Milne, Gwendolyn Brooks and Robert Frost. So many poets. So fond the memories.

All Rights Reserved. “Adrienne Dies” may not be reprinted without permission.

This ode celebrates the life and work of Adrienne Rich, an American master of poetry whose work had a profound effect on me and my path in life.

8 thoughts on “Poetry: Adrienne Dies

  1. Thank you. I often wonder if anyone can really be fully satisfied with what they accomplish in this brief life. We spend so long thinking we have forever to make our imprint on the world. It’s so easy for it to get away from us.

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