My favorite poet died yesterday. And it’s not just that she was my favorite poet. Adrienne Rich was an iconic feminist and…and well, the New York Times article probably says it about as concisely as I could. She was a “fiercely gifted, award-winning poet whose socially conscious verse influenced a generation of feminist, gay rights and anti-war activists.” I’m part of that influenced generation they reference.
I never connected with her poetry on an anti-war level, but I was introduced to her writing at a pivotal time in my life. I was struggling with my identity as a lesbian, and what that meant in terms of how I belong in the world. How I move through space with this “difference”. How do I exist with grace in a society where I am largely regarded as less of a person, or somehow despicable, simply by virtue of the fact that I love differently than the visible majority. These were major struggles for me.
And her poetry hit me like a brick wall as I was challenged with these very real questions of identity and presence. She explored all of the themes I was struggling with and I got great insight from her work. And then I studied her life and I came to respect so much about the way she lived and spoke and represented her beliefs. She became a role model for me. She had somehow captured the essence of existing with grace and strength, through adversity, and through prejudice. And she used her voice, in so many ways, to help pave the way for other women who were to follow her.
She was one of the first women who I really connected with on a historical level as well. I realized, as I was struggling with my own issues of identity and social awareness, that for me to even be in a position to be openly acknowledging that struggle, so many women had to come before me. So many. And you know this on an intellectual level, but for whatever reason, something about the way she used her voice, and the impact of her writing, gave me a real emotional connection to appreciation and honor of those who came before. All that they gave. All that they endured. All that they fought for – so that we could stand where we are now.
And that also ingrained in me an obligation, out of indebtedness to those that came before and their struggles, and indebtedness to those who will come after us – to fight the wrongs I see in society and to use my own voice in the ways that I can, to ensure equality for all people. To never sit quietly and watch women’s rights being rolled back, or to stop fighting for equality for gay people. I, and many people I know, may never have such a loud or influential voice as she did, but many quiet voices make a loud cry. And it’s voices like hers that inspire our quiet voices to come together into a rallying cry against intolerance and hatred.
As I was scouring my books looking for a perfect quote form her to post online to honor her passing, I came across this one: “There must be those among whom we can sit down and weep and still be counted as warriors.” ― Adrienne Rich
As I am trying so hard to pull myself back together from the most recent failed pregnancy attempt, this quote was so resonant. I struggle with allowing myself the space to feel what I feel and let my guard down for fear I will appear weak and not in control. And that quote just spoke to that struggle and made me re-think my approach to how I am dealing with the losses and treatments and such.
So, it is with much sadness that I honor her passing. Her life and her work have been, and continue to be, incredibly influential on me. Thank you for a life well lived.