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Adrienne Rich's Touch Was Political

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This article cross-posted from The Nation


Adrienne Rich addresses dinner guests after receiving the Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters at the 2006 National Book Awards sponsored by The National Book Foundation in New York, Nov. 15, 2006. (AP Photo/Stuart Ramson, file)

Adrienne Rich was an exquisitely politically poet -- and a politically exquisite poet.

Radical in word and deed, Rich did not play games with politics or poetry. She treated each seriously, displaying a genius first recognized by W.H. Auden in the early days of the McCarthy Era that so horrified them both -- and that new generations of readers would recognize across the decades during which she became as definitional as the elder poet who had selected the 22-year-old Rich for the 1951 "Yale Series of Younger Poets Award."

Dead now, at age 82, Rich will speak on -- well and wisely -- through her poetry and through the myriad interviews she gave about writing and radicalism. Intensely committed to the causes of civil rights, socialism, feminism, lesbian and gay rights, anti-colonialism and anti-imperialism, she wrote poems about being an observer, but she was an eternal participant. And that participation was transformational.

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"We may feel bitterly how little our poems can do in the face of seemingly out-of-control technological power and seemingly limitless corporate greed," she would write, "yet it has always been true that poetry can break isolation, show us to ourselves when we are outlawed or made invisible, remind us of beauty where no beauty seems possible, remind us of kinship where all is represented as separation."

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John Nichols, a pioneering political blogger, has written the Online Beat since 1999. His posts have been circulated internationally, quoted in numerous books and mentioned in debates on the floor of Congress.

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