There’s an Adrienne Rich quote I’ve been carrying in my pocket for about a month now, bugging friends with it and dropping it into conversation whenever possible. It goes:
The learning of poetic craft was much easier than knowing what to do with it — with the powers, temptations, privileges, potential deceptions, and two-edged weapons of language.
These words come from the foreword to her selected poems, The Fact of a Doorframe. Here, she is discussing her earlier work, how the crucible of youth and experience were changing the stakes of her writing. I feel these words at the core of me as I begin to near the end of my PhD studies. What are the reasons for this degree? What can it do? More than anything, I find myself answering these questions with action. That the knowledge and experience gained in the process of education can be shared with others. That I can turn around help make things clearer for others by engaging and imparting the tools.
These are things that are embodied in the beginnings of this blog, which I created to share poetry and thoughts on poetry. I see these ambitions also reflected in my book reviews: That listening can also be action, and in reviews, one listens and relates what they hear so that others can listen as well. Words, in this way, become a source of power, one capable of mutability as much as connection.
This week’s poem engages with the idea of power via the figure of Marie Curie. In the poem, Rich’s speaker engages with the cost of power, and what must be dealt with as we fulfill the needs and ambitions of it. What comes across by the end is the speaker’s capacity for empathy, their ability to listen and evoke Curie’s relationship with power, and show it for the dual struggle and triumph it was.
Power – Adrienne Rich
Living in the earth-deposits of our history
Today a backhoe divulged out of a crumbling flank of earth
one bottle amber perfect a hundred-year-old
cure for fever or melancholy a tonic
for living on this earth in the winters of this climate
Today I was reading about Marie Curie:
she must have known she suffered from radiation sickness
her body bombarded for years by the element
she had purified
It seems she denied to the end
the source of the cataracts on her eyes
the cracked and suppurating skin of her finger-ends
till she could no longer hold a test-tube or a pencil
She died a famous woman denying
her wounds came from the same source as her power
p.s. Special thanks to Steven Sanchez for introducing me to this poem!