Thursday, March 29, 2012

Adrienne Rich Dies, Rage Is Good

The first sentence in the New York Times eulogy of Adrienne Rich starts out, “Adrienne Rich, a poet of towering reputation and towering rage." Right there I broke down. Someone dared acknowledge it: rage is good, rage has wings, rage is poetry-producing. And you know, I am full of rage and was so glad to be reminded that Adrienne Rich was, too. Look at what that beautiful, bold, brilliant woman did with her anger: she championed honesty and justice with a voice that stopped the dull tick of obedience and made both the sheep and the angels cry.

She was “triply marginalized” says Margalit Fox in the eulogy, “as a woman, a lesbian, and a Jew.” Today we have already forgotten that mere decades ago women were much oppressed and constrained and downtrodden even more than they are now, considerably more. I remember those times as a child, and remember how most people in that ultra-sexist world, women and men, had no voice that spoke to the severe inequality, let alone a voice with rage. They just kept playing their dysfunctional roles in predictable rhythms, dutiful in their daily swallow and conceal, la-de-dah la-de-day ...

But a few courageous women, in the midst of that gross denial, dared to point a middle finger at the ugly king, Domination. They punctured the hot air of the status quo, deflated the unctuous condescending smile. It was these women, full of rage, and also enough virtue and strength to channel that rage into irrefutable ignorance-breaking arguments, who saved us from own our worst side. They were the ones who needled, with defiance and eloquence, the dumb dark beast of inequality, until it shivered in shame--shivered so pathetically that its stupid outrage yielded a bit, and some layers of deceit crumbled off its thick stubborn hide.

If you think the injustice that Adrienne Rich wrote about, cried about, yelled about, raged about, is gone, you are living in harmony on the hirsute back of the beast. These are perilous times. Right-wing fanatics yearn to replace evolution with Creationism, want to damn gays to hell, and they don't believe in reason, science or art. They are the sort would would stone Galileo and burn Sappho and Hypatia at the cross.

We live in a deadly and awful time, one which we will either escape from, so much the wiser, or which will drag humanity down into a hate-fueled doom. Faith-based ignorance lurks everywhere, baring its fangs of Fear, threatening to engulf and extinguish the light of creativity, common sense, artistic vision and fairness. This great ignorance, backed by a wall of faith impervious to logic or pathos, would make women obedient to males and uplift white conservative Christianity as the only escape from hell.

All of us who understand the great victories brought about by the women’s movement and the civil rights movement, should be full of “towering rage” or some other tempestuous passion that uplifts us to be artists, poets, philosophers, protesters or whatever it takes. We must provide windows and prisms for the healing radiance of justice in our hearts, so it might shine out into the world and transform it. Make plants and flowers grow in the soil of minds.

Throughout my life, people have come up to me and chided, “Oh, you are so angry.” Then their ears lock tight, immune to anything I might reply. Well guess what? I am in good company. The best. Adrienne Rich, one of the greatest poets and one of the most noble and progressive geniuses of our time, embraced a “towering rage.”

She remains one of the few beacons who I turn to when I need a salve of profound inspiration. She always will be. One of my greatest fears is that as ethical giants like like Adrienne Rich, Audre Lorde and Alice Walker pass the torch of Equality to the next generation, no one will step up to take it.


For all her verbal prowess, for all her prolific output, Ms. Rich retained a dexterous command of the plain, pithy utterance. In a 1984 speech she summed up her reason for writing — and, by loud unspoken implication, her reason for being — in just seven words.

What she and her sisters-in-arms were fighting to achieve, she said, was simply this: “the creation of a society without domination.”

1 comment:

  1. I appreciate what you have written there. Dylan Thomas was another driven by rage. R S Thomas another. We Welsh, we know about rage.