The late great Adrienne Rich reads her poem “What Kinds of Times Are These?” Text transcribed from this reading; breaks and punctuation mine. Listen anyway, the delivery is great.
WHAT KIND OF TIMES ARE THESE?
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, leaf-mold 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
To talk about trees.
Ω Ω Ω
Providentially, I discovered Adrienne Rich’s poetry in that video, posted in the comments on a blog, the day before she died. Though this is only my introduction to her, I hope she is an heir to Brecht’s impetus and voice. I found this video extremely invigorating, listened three times and felt a surge of hope for politically committed art—and then she died. If she has intellectual scions I’m not aware of them.
Some quick items in memoriam:
“Art means nothing if it simply decorates the dinner table of the power that holds it hostage.”
USA Today (Tomorrow, the World!) reminds us of her conscientious objectorship:
But when then-President Clinton awarded [her] the National Medal of Arts in 1997, Rich refused to accept it, citing the administration’s “cynical politics.”
“The radical disparities of wealth and power in America are widening at a devastating rate,” she wrote to the administration. “A president cannot meaningfully honor certain token artists while the people at large are so dishonored.”
“Rich is one of the few poets who can deal with political issues in her poems without letting them degenerate into social realism.” —Erica Jong