Adrienne Rich has died.
I must confess that I was never particularly fond of her poems. But if they didn’t speak to me (as a white man), well, wasn’t that the point? Also, I have always applauded her decision to refuse the medal of honor from the NEA (though of course, in doing so, she exemplified the position and privilege that her own work often rebuked; a poet of less renown could certainly not make the same gesture). It’s also both a testament to her work and a sad commentary on our current political discourse that the subjects and causes she advances in her poems are still a long way from being antiquated.
I suppose my ambivalence to her poetry can be summed up in her piece about Beethoven’s ninth. That symphony may well be the only irrefutable argument in favor of existence, or at least, the best vindication of civilization. To listen to the ninth is to hear an anguished soul crying out into the emptiness. And the universe answers. If you can’t take heart in such a work of art because your politics prevents it, well, I pity you your politics. But don’t try to ruin it for the rest of us.