Adrienne Rich



"What I know, I know through making poems"
Passion, Politics and the
Body in the Poetry of Adrienne Rich



Liz Yorke, Nottingham Trent University, England

This paper is largely extracted from my book Adrienne Rich, which is to be published by Sage in October this year...What I have tried to do for the paper is to track one thread explored by the book, which I feel runs through the whole span of Rich\'s thought, a thread which links desire, passion, and the body - to politics, to activism, and to the writing of poetry.
Writing poetry, above all, involves a willingness to let the unconscious speak - a willingness to listen within for the whispers that tell of what we know, even though what we know may be unacceptable to us and, sometimes, because we may not want to hear, the whispers may be virtually inaudible. But to write poetry is to listen and watch for significant images, to make audible the inner whisperings, to reach deeper inward for those subtle intuitions, sensings,
images, which can be released from the unconscious mind through the creativity of writing. In this way, a writer may come to know her deeper self, below the surface of the words. Poetry can be a means to access suppressed recognitions, a way to explore difficult understandings which might otherwise be buffeted out of consciousness through the fear-laden processes of repression - through avoidance, denial, forgetting.
She identifies here the impulse to politics and protest as emerging from our unconscious
desires, a kind of knowing arising within the body which impels us towards action to get our needs met. When the poem reminds us of our unmet needs it activates our drives, our libido - towards what we long for -whether that is individual, social, communal or global. Rich offers here a basic premise of her thought, that we need to listen within for this language of the body, this way of knowing,. Indeed, our lives depend on such ways of knowing: \'our skin is alive with signals; our lives and our deaths are inseparable from the release or blockage of our thinking bodies\'.(1)
In the sixties Richworked hard to create a poetry and a language which would reach out to others, which would allow hera means to release her own passion into language, and so to forge an activist will for radical change:
The will to change begins in the body not in the mind
My politics is in my body, accruing and expanding with every
act of resistance and each of my failures
Locked in the closet at 4 years old I beat the wall with my body
that act is in me still(2)
Rich engages directly with the struggle to release herself from a colonising language, the
\'so-called common language\', - a patriarchal language that utters the old script over and over\', an abstracting, dualistic language that splits mind from body and tames and disembodies both poetry and passion -a language that violates the integrity and meanings of its speakers, delegitimates its underprivileged users and disintegrates identity and coherence - whether of individuals, groups, races or whole cultures -
the scream
of an illegitimate voice
It has ceased to hear itself, therefore
it asks itself
How do I exist?
The transformation of such silences into language and action becomes an underlying theme which becomes more and more compelling, and her poetry gives voice to a deep hungry longing for \'moving\' words, rather than words which fail to recognise, understand or articulate the meanings of \'illegitimate users
Let me have this dust,
these pale clouds dourly lingering, these words
moving with ferocious accuracy
like the blind child\'s fingers
or the new-born infant\'s mouth
violent with hunger
(Meditations for a Savage Child)
Only the embodied word speaks from these depths of primal desire and what she actively
apprehends through her senses - a relative, context bound ever-changing truth - is freshly
called into being each moment. From the \'wildness\' of the unblocked, impassioned, embodied word a new perspective may be created, different emphases may be given value, new figures may spring into focus and so the ground shifts.
By the seventies, a commitment to articulating women\'s experience will provide feminists with the material ground for political organisation. The refusal to