What Kind of Times Are These - the Wreckage of Adrienne Rich

I have been preparing for Adrienne Rich's death for awhile, in a way, just by searching out her poems wherever I can find them.

Mar 29 2012, 11:59pm

I have been preparing for Adrienne Rich’s death for awhile, in a way, just by searching out her poems wherever I can find them.

So much of her work is an excavation of herself, of a bruised psyche trying to always pick up the pieces and move on somehow. It’s as if she’s been eulogizing versions of Adrienne Rich all along. The effect isn’t tedious or self-absorbed or precious; it’s completely engaging because she focuses on the wreckage, and it’s hard not to find it recognizable, not least because she examines it like an investigator or a scientist – in “Diving Into the Wreck,”, read by her below, she’s a scuba diver – discovering and generously sharing the strewn-about evidence and the theories that follow in a way that helps us see those hard things more clearly too. It’s not about nostalgia; it’s about tagging the recent past while the present and the future grind faster and faster together.

A YouTube user’s rendition of “Diving Into the Wreck,” with Maya Deren footage and Mum music.

She’ll be remembered as a defender of the marginalized, giving voice to the female experience and the lesbian one, an activist who famously turned down the National Medal of Arts, angry that the government had chosen to honor "a few token artists while the people at large are so dishonored." Her legacy as a poet will be more universal. Literally – Discover reminds us of her cosmic view with an excerpt of a poem she wrote about the astronomer Caroline_Herschel. But universal also because of the details she picks up and turns over to make a devastated world more visible and sensical for any feeling reader.

What Kind of Times Are These

By Adrienne Rich

There’s a place between two stands of trees where the grass grows uphill
and the old revolutionary road breaks off into shadows
near a meeting-house abandoned by the persecuted
who disappeared into those shadows.

I’ve walked there picking mushrooms at the edge of dread, but don’t be fooled
this isn’t a Russian poem, this is not somewhere else but here,
our country moving closer to its own truth and dread,
its own ways of making people disappear.

I won’t tell you where the place is, the dark mesh of the woods
meeting the unmarked strip of light—
ghost-ridden crossroads, leafmold paradise:
I know already who wants to buy it, sell it, make it disappear.

And I won’t tell you where it is, so why do I tell you
anything? Because you still listen, because in times like these
to have you listen at all, it’s necessary
to talk about trees.