Thursday, April 5, 2012

Discussion (Rich) 4/4/2012

Adrienne Rich: Passionate political activist, feminist who appeared in the 50’s, said “Art means nothing if it simply decorates the table of the power which holds it hostage.” **** Discussed: 3 poems by Adrienne Rich and epilogue by Ellen Bryant Voigt. I initially said that I chose the poem Epilogue, by Ellen Bryant Voigt as tribute to her. Now, I am not sure I meant the word "tribute". Rather, a counter voice to Adrienne Rich. Epilogue ends Voigt's book "Kyrie" (published 1995) which tells of the 1918 influenza epidemic through a sequence of linked blank verse sonnets. There are sonnets of reflections; sonnets about different people, like Mattie, the Doctor; sonnets that are strictly metaphor. The epilogue, written in six tercets draws the curtain with a snow storm. Something about ending a book about a devastating subject with a work horse, let out in the storm, and the choice that a different horse might be indoors, munching his oats seemed a different way of looking at "the truth and dread" we experience, season after season. In a way it is like Adrienne's expression of what it feels like to be violated; her observation of how our response to violence is not sufficient, just as our words cannot serve just causes. A snowstorm comes, everything is temporarily whitened, blanked out, like a palimpsest, ready for the next script. Adrienne Rich: 1. What Kind of Times Are These 2. Delta 3.The Burning of Paper Instead of Children 1. What kind of times are these; don't be fooled is a theme -- and yet that a thread of hope, answering "why should I tell you anything", is that we will listen -- that we will come to terms with the fact that "truth" can be filled with dread, and is not "good news". We thought of other women, much more at risk -- and yet, whether Akhmatova, or Allende, or ourselves in our safe America, we have have been silent when our "truth" is not safe to share -- whether it be about Indians, Slaves, protesting war. a time when it’s safe to talk ; Isabelle Allende... 2. Delta: Adrienne Rich has an admirable style that is both direct and clear. The 5-fingers of the river at the Delta could indeed represent 5 different aspects of her voice carried in her river: feminist, lesbian, activist, jewish, american citizen... and how art for her, this task of using words well, becomes creative residue... Kathy shared "In the Classroom" (which appeared in an early book, "Time's Power".) In a Classroom Talking of poetry, hauling the books arm-full to the table where the heads bend or gaze upward, listening, reading aloud, talking of consonants, elision, caught in the how, oblivious of why: I look in your face, Jude, neither frowning nor nodding, opaque in the slant of dust-motes over the table: a presence like a stone, if a stone were thinking What I cannot say, is me. For that I came. ** the last lines reminded us of a famous line from someone else, Kathy recognized later as "Selves - goes itself, myself it speaks and spells, Crying What I do is me: for that I came. ( Gerald Manley Hopkins:"As Kingfishers Catch Fire") 3. The Burning of Paper Instead of Children Mary said the epigraph by Father Berrigan immediately triggered memories of the Vietnam war. We took a moment to remember how differently news was reported in the late 60's; the striking images of LIFE magazine. What happened to us that we do not respond to injustice that way anymore? It is frightening that our words would appear to have even less power now. Are we too asleep to look at Durer's Melancholia? Are we that much in the present, that few in America know the name Herodotus, let alone, know what he meant about open-jawed crocodiles with tasty bits in their teeth? How many times have there been book burnings? What happens between us has happened for centuries we know it from literature Still it happens. What IS Artaud saying with the words "Burn the Books": Dadaist nihilism -- destroy museums, culture... Burning as a way of guarding secrets and maintaining power through torture ... the Inquisition, the Nazis, or Fahrenheit 451. David reminded us of Heinrich Heine's quote posted at Dachau: (translated in English): When one burns books, one soon burns men as well. Does art have a moral obligation? What happens to Beauty and truth if there is not? As Sonnia remarked, the term "dialectic" is appropriate and throws some of us back to days when we talked in Marxist lingo. Martin spoke of the last poem as a collection of disparate, raw data, but wonders how the reader is to make sense of it... Similar questions: how to understand the "language of the oppressor" and language in general. Adrienne Rich spent her life writing about power, and understand the power of language. Her determination, her strong voice, unwavering authenticity command that we listen... and more, that we too find again what it is in us that calls a spade a spade, and that we use it to dig, diving into our metaphorical wrecks.

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