A Testimonial to Adrienne Rich

Prose and Prose Poetry by Bob Boldt.

The poet is dead; long live poetry!

Poet Adrienne Rich passed on Tuesday March 27. An internationally recognized, award-winning poet she wrote socially conscious verse that influenced a generation of feminist, gay rights and anti-war activists. She was 82.

The following is a memory of her reading on the University of Missouri campus I wrote almost eleven years ago:

I arrived early on campus. At least five hundred chairs were deployed, awaiting the army of the erudite come to hear the poet, Adrienne Rich read. A small woman assumed the podium. She was slightly stooped with a professorial air that perhaps belied her sharp eyes. Sizing up the room she began to read.

For at least an hour, maybe more, she read from her life’s blood—the stream of words of passion for the world, its politics and injustice and the specific articles of her indictment of it all. And above all were those eyes–the eyes of one whom the world has wounded too often for her to give up her loving of it now.

When finished she seemed somehow used up, husked—the kernel delivered to perhaps her last generation.

I spoke something to her at the reception that fortunately I can no longer recall and walked out into the soft September night, the words of her last poem just beginning to fade from memory:

“But the great dark birds of history screamed and plunged
into our personal weather.
They were headed somewhere else but their beaks and pinions drove
along the shore, through the rages of fog
where we stood, saying I.”

The reassuring campus and the smell of the late summer’s night in my nostrils filled me with joy and a fulfilling confidence. I was thinking that, in spite of it all, there was, after all, hope that we could surmount the present difficulties and find a peace in the world—a personal peace—even a planetary peace. My memory of that moment is still vivid as I write.

I went home and slept soundly through the last night of hope on earth before the end of the world that came the next morning—on September eleventh, 2001.

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