Adrienne Rich – a poet, essayist, and activist – died today at age 82 from complications of rheumatoid arthritis. As Margalit Fox wrote in Rich’s New York Times obituary, “triply marginalized — as a woman, a lesbian and a Jew — Ms. Rich was concerned in her poetry, and in her many essays, with identity politics long before the term was coined … She accomplished in verse what Betty Friedan, author of The Feminine Mystique, did in prose.”
Unfortunately, like many other feminists from her era, Rich may have had her own blind spots when it came to gender identity. In The Transsexual Empire, an extremely hateful transphobic text from 1979 by Janice Raymond, she receives special thanks for reading the manuscript through all its stages and providing resources, creative criticism, and encouragement. However, years later, she’s thanked in FTM author Leslie Feinberg’s Transgender Warriors, and in Minnie Bruce Pratt’s S/He. It’s possible that her feelings towards transgender rights evolved, though there are no direct quotes to evidence this.
One of her best works is Diving into the Wreck – a truly weird story told by a lone explorer who goes deep underwater to discover something terrible. There are many interpretations: it’s a story about sex, self, mythos, and/or ego death. There’s a great reading of it by poet Anne Waldman.
Below is the third poem from her series Twenty-One Love Poems:
Since we’re not young, weeks have to do time
for years of missing each other. Yet only this odd warp
in time tells me we’re not young.
Did I ever walk the morning streets at twenty,
my limbs streaming with a purer joy?
did I lean from any window over the city
listening for the future
as I listen here with nerves tuned for your ring?
And you, you move toward me with the same tempo.
Your eyes are everlasting, the green spark
of the blue-eyed grass of early summer,
the green-blue wild cress washed by the spring.
At twenty, yes: we thought we’d live forever.
At forty-five, I want to know even our limits.
I touch you knowing we weren’t born tomorrow,
and somehow, each of us will help the other life,
and somewhere, each of us must help the other die.