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Craig Werner

Craig Werner is the author of Adrienne Rich: The Poet and Her Critics (American Library Association, 1988), as well as numerous books on popular music, including A Change is Gonna Come: Music, Race & the Soul of America, reissued by Michigan in 2006; and Higher Ground: Stevie Wonder, Aretha Franklin, Curtis Mayfield, and the Rise and Fall of American Soul (Crown, 2004).


Trying to Keep Faith: Adrienne Rich’s “Usonian Journals 2000”

Spring 2006 | Essays

In the “Artworks (II)” section of “Usonian Journals 2000,” Adrienne Rich describes the breakdown of a conversation between a group of friends: “Not a pause but: a suppression. No one is monitoring this conversation but us. We know the air is bad in here, maybe want not to push that knowledge, ask what is to be done? How to breathe? What will suffice? Draft new structures or simply be aware?” The questions are not theoretical, a point Rich makes clear in a vignette concerning a conversation with an academic acquaintance “Described as ‘our Marxist.’” When Rich’s persona asks about the “current British labor scene,” her colleague evades the question with a statement on “the influence of the industrial revolution on Victorian prose.” Rich’s conclusion is clear: “My aim: get clear of this, find another day job.” The poem dissolves into a scene midway between dream and documentary report. Shooting, screams. When the authorities arrive, “We ran in different directions, she toward, I away from, the police.” Aware of the checkered legacies of the twentieth century’s most visible radical movements, political and intellectual, Rich’s work of the last two decades imagines and embodies a jazz-inflected process that bears witness to language’s power to disrupt and dissent, replenish and renew.