Friday, March 30, 2012

The passing of Adrienne Rich

I've been thinking about Adrienne Rich since I heard of her death on Tuesday.  When I look at her list of works, I find myself surprised at just how much of her work had a profound impact on me.  Of Woman Born completely changed how I thought about motherhood. During years of high drama in my personal relationships and those of my friends, I kept Women and Honor: Some Notes on Lying close by.  And I'm pretty sure the phrase "compulsory heterosexuality," or at least the force of the critique inherent in that phrase, comes from Rich's Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence, an article in the journal Signs in 1980.  That article described both lesbian existence and lesbian continuum in ways that continue to challenge today. (The law school casebook from which I teach Women and the Law contains an excerpt of that work).

When I think of her poetry, I think first of an adaption of one of her love poems that appears on the headstone at the grave of my friend Victoria Lane, who died from injuries sustained in a car crash in 1993, leaving a partner, Laura Solomon, and two young children. Laura chose the quote to be a lasting record of their love for each other.

But I'm reprinting here what I think is my favorite Adrienne Rich poem.  Thank you, Adrienne, for what you gave us all.  You made a difference, and you created work that will live and have meaning far beyond all of us.


Either you will
go through this door
or you will not go through.
If you go through
there is always the risk
of remembering your name.
Things look at you doubly
and you must look back
and let them happen.
If you do not go through
it is possible
to live worthily
to maintain your attitudes
to hold your position
to die bravely
but much will blind you,
much will evade you,
at what cost who knows?
The door itself
makes no promises.
It is only a door.

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