Adrienne Rich
"What I know, I know through making poems" Passion, Politics and the

Body in the Poetry of Adrienne Rich Liz Yorke, Nottingham Trent University,

England This paper is largely extracted from my book Adrienne Rich, which is to
be published by Sage in October this year...What I have tried to do for the
paper is to track one thread explored by the book, which I feel runs through the
whole span of Rich's thought, a thread which links desire, passion, and the body
- to politics, to activism, and to the writing of poetry. Writing poetry, above
all, involves a willingness to let the unconscious speak - a willingness to
listen within for the whispers that tell of what we know, even though what we
know may be unacceptable to us and, sometimes, because we may not want to hear,
the whispers may be virtually inaudible. But to write poetry is to listen and
watch for significant images, to make audible the inner whisperings, to reach
deeper inward for those subtle intuitions, sensings, images, which can be
released from the unconscious mind through the creativity of writing. In this
way, a writer may come to know her deeper self, below the surface of the words.

Poetry can be a means to access suppressed recognitions, a way to explore
difficult understandings which might otherwise be buffeted out of consciousness
through the fear-laden processes of repression - through avoidance, denial,
forgetting. She identifies here the impulse to politics and protest as emerging
from our unconscious desires, a kind of knowing arising within the body which
impels us towards action to get our needs met. When the poem reminds us of our
unmet needs it activates our drives, our libido - towards what we long for
-whether that is individual, social, communal or global. Rich offers here a
basic premise of her thought, that we need to listen within for this language of
the body, this way of knowing,. Indeed, our lives depend on such ways of
knowing: 'our skin is alive with signals; our lives and our deaths are
inseparable from the release or blockage of our thinking bodies'.(1) In the
sixties Richworked hard to create a poetry and a language which would reach out
to others, which would allow hera means to release her own passion into
language, and so to forge an activist will for radical change: The will to
change begins in the body not in the mind My politics is in my body, accruing
and expanding with every act of resistance and each of my failures Locked in the
closet at 4 years old I beat the wall with my body that act is in me still(2)

Rich engages directly with the struggle to release herself from a colonising
language, the 'so-called common language', - a patriarchal language that utters
the old script over and over', an abstracting, dualistic language that splits
mind from body and tames and disembodies both poetry and passion -a language
that violates the integrity and meanings of its speakers, delegitimates its
underprivileged users and disintegrates identity and coherence - whether of
individuals, groups, races or whole cultures - the scream of an illegitimate
voice It has ceased to hear itself, therefore it asks itself How do I exist? The
transformation of such silences into language and action becomes an underlying
theme which becomes more and more compelling, and her poetry gives voice to a
deep hungry longing for 'moving' words, rather than words which fail to
recognise, understand or articulate the meanings of 'illegitimate users Let me
have this dust, these pale clouds dourly lingering, these words moving with
ferocious accuracy like the blind child's fingers or the new-born infant's mouth
violent with hunger (Meditations for a Savage Child) Only the embodied word
speaks from these depths of primal desire and what she actively apprehends
through her senses - a relative, context bound ever-changing truth - is freshly
called into being each moment. From the 'wildness' of the unblocked,
impassioned, embodied word a new perspective may be created, different emphases
may be given value, new figures may spring into focus and so the ground shifts.

By the seventies, a commitment to articulating women's experience will provide
feminists with the material ground for political organisation. The refusal to
limit political perspectives to those produced within a male-defined culture
brings a new focus on women's bodily specificity: Women's' lives and experiences
are different to men's, and so women's' specific, body-based
experiential-perceptual fields will also be different. The task for feminism
became one of 'hearing' women into speech;