Adrienne Rich: Navigating Hope

The news of Adrienne Rich’s death yesterday at age 82 sent me immediately to my bookshelves and an extended swim through the currents of words she has left behind. All writers believe in the power of words—and maybe especially poets, whose words are fewer and so carefully chosen—but for me Rich’s writing particularly and persuasively argued for the ability of words, language, expression to create new realities, to change the world.

Rich often used the metaphor of the map. In “Diving into the Wreck” she writes “The words are purposes./The words are maps.” In part XVIII of “Twenty One Love Poems” she declares “the maps they gave us were out of date/by years.” In “Dreamwood,” she writes of the scratches on a wooden typing stand as a poet’s map: “It would be the map by which/she could see the end of touristic choices,/of distances blued and purpled by romance,/by which she would recognize that poetry/isn’t revolution but a way of knowing/why it must come…” An entire collection of her poems is titled “An Atlas of the Difficult World.” Words, to Rich, give direction for life, by bringing to life those things that have been silenced, unacknowledged, unknown, unseen. In Rich’s words, “The story of our lives becomes our lives”—how we narrate our own experiences shapes the life that we are able to lead.


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