Adrienne Rich

It’s hard to chose a single extract or quotation written by feminist pioneer Adrienne Rich with which to begin this blog, so here are just a few that spring to mind.

‘Re-vision – the act of looking back, of seeing with fresh eyes, of entering an old text from a new critical direction – is for woman more than a chapter in cultural history: it is an act of survival. Until we understand the assumptions in which we are drenched we cannot know ourselves. And this drive to self-knowledge, for women, is more than a search for identity: it is part of our refusal of the self-destructiveness of male-dominated society.’

– When We Dead Awaken

‘Whatever is unnamed, undepicted in images, whatever is omitted from biography, censored in collections of letters, whatever is misnamed as something else, made difficult-to-come-by, whatever is buried in the memory by the collapse of meaning under an inadequate or lying language—this will become, not merely unspoken, but unspeakable.’

– On Lies, Secrets, and Silence

‘A thinking woman sleeps with monsters.
The beak that grips her, she becomes. And Nature,
that sprung-lidded, still commodious
steamer-trunk of tempora and mores
gets stuffed with it all: the mildewed orange-flowers,
the female pills, the terrible breasts
of Boadicea beneath flat foxes’ heads and orchids.
Two handsome women, gripped in argument,
each proud, acute, subtle, I hear scream
across the cut glass and majolica
like Furies cornered from their prey:
The argument ad feminam, all the old knives
that have rusted in my back, I drive in yours,
ma semblable, ma soeur!’

– Snapshots of a daughter-in-law

Feminist pages, sites, blogs, twitter accounts, facebook groups, and papers have exploded with the sad news about Adrienne Rich’s death. And quite rightly too. You can read more about her life and her achievements in some of the articles written by Stella Duffy, on the feminist law professors blog, in the New York Times, and on the feminist.us blog which list her successes and her poems. No doubt, she’ll be the subject in the flurry of obituaries which will appear over the forthcoming days.

I can’t begin to list her achievements, or the momentous and powerful essays and poems which have sculpted my feminist politics and critical appreciation and analysis of women’s writing. I can still remember the first time I read Rich; I think I will always remember this moment as one of a critical awakening. Four years ago, a fresh faced undergraduate student, a professor gave me a collection of her poetry and essays to read. It’s not hyperbolic to say that this was a turning point for me. At a painful period in my life, struggling with depression and mental health problems, Rich’s work did more than fuel my critical and academic life. It’s certainly true that reading ‘When We Dead Awaken’ brought me to feminist criticism, and reading women’s writing through feminism, which remains my specialist focus within my research. I remember reading this essay in conjunction with Carmen Conde’s Mujer sin Edén, and feeling my mind being blown away; this moment gave way to a new passion for exploring women’s writing and women’s poetry with reference to social issues concerning gender and sexuality. I was awestruck, to the point where I can declare that this moment was the impetus for my research today. It continues to be shaped by this moment, governed by my amazing then undergraduate lecturer Dr. Jato, and the works of Conde and Rich. This was the moment I came to academic feminism. But Rich’s power for me, extends beyond the critical. Her works have made me smile, laugh, sigh, and weep. They resound with issues I can relate to on a personal level. The words of Adrienne Rich have been there with me through the best of times and the worst of times, and have never lost their great significance, powerful meaning, and resounding guidance. It is a great loss, and we must always look back and remember her, whilst continuing to move forward in our feminist progression, guided by the shadows of our fore-sisters. 

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