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Adrienne Rich Symposium

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

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.

 

As in Tendrils a Transparency

The work of Adrienne Rich belongs instead to a legacy that fuses surface effect with affect; whose cultural style, too, can join outrage and joy. Such affirmative promise is what Kenneth Burke referred to as one of shaping attitudes or stimulating action in other human agents; that which, in an expanded sense of the rhetorical, makes palpable the relations of power in such sight and sound activated by the spoken word.

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