Arts of the Possible: Essays and Conversations

I bumped up against Adrienne Rich again by way of Deborah Levy’s memoir and was only too happy to slurp up this book of essays/talks from that deliriously long-ago pre-9/11 year. She thunders down at me that things weren’t so glorious back then, we were still witnessing “accelerated social disintegration” and the effects of “an economic system out of control and antihuman at its core.” Yet 20 years later, we haven’t pushed past this, still falling into our late capitalist pit of despair.

I think Levy pointed me this way for Rich’s 1975 essay, Some Notes on Lying, which was one of my favorites of the bunch. “There is a danger run by all powerless people: that we forget we are lying, or that lying becomes a weapon we carry over into relationships with people who do not have power over us.” Her 1983 Blood, Bread, and Poetry essay was equally strong, calling out the confusing dominant culture in the U.S. that tells us “poetry is neither economically profitable nor politically effective,” that poets are “destined to be a luxury, a decorative garnish on the buffet table of the university curriculum, the ceremonial occasion, the national celebration.” She names what excites her most: poets who mix poetry of the actual world with the poetry of sound. Politics is always on the table with Rich, from her unified stance accepting the 1974 National Book Award with a joint statement from Audrey Lorde and Alice Walker to her 1997 declining of President Clinton’s National Medal of the Arts.

Her work is peppered with gems from others, like James Baldwin; “Any real change implies the breakup of the world as one has always known it, the loss of all that gave one an identity, the end of safety.”