Adrienne Rich (1929 – ) is no stranger to controversy. During the 1960s, her poetry became more confrontational, exploring women’s issues, racism and the Vietnam War. In 1973, she published Diving Into the Wreck, which won the National Book Award for poetry and which Rich shared with her fellow nominees Alica Walker and Audre Lord. She’s published numerous books of poetry and works in literary criticism and won numerous prizes, including the Wallace Stevens Award for outstanding and proven mastery in the art of poetry.
In 1997, she refused the National Medal of Arts, saying “I could not accept such an award from President Clinton or this White House because the very meaning of art, as I understand it, is incompatible with the cynical politics of this administration.”
For National Poetry Month, here are three poems by Adrienne Rich.
Miracle Ice Cream
Miracle’s truck comes down the little avenue,
Scott Joplin ragtime strewn behind it like pearls,
and, yes, you can feel happy
with one piece of your heart.
Take what’s still given: in a room’s rich shadow
a woman’s breasts swinging lightly as she bends.
Early now the pearl of dusk dissolves.
Late, you sit weighing the evening news,
fast-food miracles, ghostly revolutions,
the rest of your heart.
Aunt Jennifer’s Tigers
Aunt Jennifer’s tigers prance across a screen,
Bright topaz denizens of a world of green.
They do not fear the men beneath the tree;
They pace in sleek chivalric certainty.
Aunt Jennifer’s finger fluttering through her wool
Find even the ivory needle hard to pull.
The massive weight of Uncle’s wedding band
Sits heavily upon Aunt Jennifer’s hand.
When Aunt is dead, her terrified hands will lie
Still ringed with ordeals she was mastered by.
The tigers in the panel that she made
Will go on prancing, proud and unafraid.
This is the grass your feet are planted on.
You paint it orange or you sing it green,
But you have never found
A way to make the grass mean what you mean.
A cloud can be whatever you intend:
Ostrich or leaning tower or staring eye.
But you have never found
A cloud sufficient to express the sky.
Get out there with your splendid expertise;
Raymond who cuts the meadow does not less.
Inhuman nature says:
Inhuman patience is the true success.
Human impatience trips you as you run;
Stand still and you must lie.
It is the grass that cuts the mower down;
It is the cloud that swallows up the sky.
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- “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard” – An Old Poem, a New Artwork - January 17, 2023