Reflecting on Adrienne Rich

Adrienne Rich, feminist writer and poet, drew her last breath this week; she was 82. This photograph was reproduced around the world as news of her passing rippled around the world; for me it captures the essence of a fierce intellectual with a wry sense of humour. Plus this image along with similar ones I possess of Georgia O Keefe demonstrate (in my opinion) that older women are beautiful. Since 1988 I have carried the Virago publication Blood, Bread and Poetry: Selected Prose 1979-1985 by Adrienne Rich from house to house; the yellowing pages now show signs of fatigue. When I read Rich’s obituary a few days ago I retrieved the dog-eared paperback and was a little taken aback at what I saw. I confess to being a book collector but seldom confess openly that a significant number of these editions remain unread. I tell myself I am saving them for my retirement; of course as a self employed person one tends not to conventionally retire. I am more likely to expire before I have cast my eye over the piles of words that adorn my shelves (and clutter my kindle).

 The chapter entitled Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence was heavily underlined and annotated; in green ink! Rich says, of the essay, ‘I wanted to suggest new kinds of criticism, to incite new questions in classrooms and academic journals, and to sketch, at least, some bridge over the gap between lesbian and feminist. I wanted, at the very least, for feminists to find it less possible to read, write, or teach from a perspective of unexamined heterocentricity’. The fact someone was writing openly about these issues struck a chord with an embryonic feminist with many more questions than answers!

 The context within which I must have been reading it was the late 1980s when my politics were rather more extreme than they are now; the fresh naiveté of youth! 1988 found me on a scholarship studying at Washington State University where the sorority/fraternity set up both bemused and offended me. The recent reports of protests outside the British Pregnancy Advisory Service brought back memories of a Roe vs Wade march across the Washington Campus campaigning for the right to abortion. A piece on Woman’s Hour on the protests became heated when one speaker referred to not wanting to go back to the days of the wire coat hanger; I kept the wire coat hanger emblazoned with Roe vs Wade for years. I find it deeply depressing that access to abortion remains a political football with the most vulnerable women in society continuing to be the losers.

 I’ll end with a quotation from Adrienne Rich herself

Responsibility to yourself means refusing to let others do your thinking, talking and naming for you; it means learning to respect and use your own brains and instincts; hence grappling with hard work.

 

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