adrienne rich & knowing

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.

portrait_of_marie_curie_1867_-_1934_polish_chemist_wellcome_m0004624These 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
her wounds came from the same source as her power


Happy listening!


p.s. Special thanks to Steven Sanchez for introducing me to this poem!

* special feature: Poet Lore magazine & a poem

123 years and running…

“I know you are reading this poem as you pace beside the stove warming milk, a crying child on your shoulder, a book in your hand because life is short and you too are thirsty.”
—Adrienne Rich

This week on the Influence: Poet Lore!

One piece of advice that has helped me grow in spirit as a writer is to pick up and read through every contributor’s copy that comes my way, and seeing that as part of engaging with the community of writers I am (to use the direct and physical metaphor of pages in a magazine) bound to.  Doing this, I have come across some great poems and been able to reach out to fellow poets.

This month, I was proud to receive my copies of the latest issue of Poet Lore.

My first encounter with the magazine included work by Jim Daniels as well as Lucille Clifton’s last interview.  What moved me to submit, however, was the magazine’s overall format: a selection of poetry from various poets, then a larger/chapbook sized selection from a featured poet, then some essays and reviews at the end.  This format says much about the consideration and focus given to the poets and the work included.

This latest issue is a celebration of the female spirit that has driven forward both this country (the cover photo above is from a 1912 Suffrage Parade) and this magazine (PL was founded by Charlotte Porter and Helen A. Clarke in 1889).

The quote above from Adrienne Rich opens up the selection of poetry that, when read through, flows smoothly through the many worlds the poets represent: from junkyards and classrooms in America to the Ganges in India.  The featured poet in this issue is Samiya Bashir, whose sonnet sequence enters and opens up the relationship between the legendary John Henry and his wife Polly Ann.

Overall, the editors have done an outstanding job of not only selecting poems for this issue but of ordering them into something that reads like a revelation.  The magazine feels like an awesome mix-tape.

To find out more about Poet Lore, click here.

And watch out for the birdies on your way to my own contribution to the magazine:

sweet n…not true to their name.

Jodido – Jose Angel Araguz

this word that for my mother lies

between cracked sun-hardened skin

and being all out of luck


this word a summary

of months tallied in gray hairs

where she wanted to be angry

but dusted old photos instead


this word her word

for me at twenty-two

going hungry and disappearing

before she can finish

describing what it is we share


she might as well be shouting my name

calling me out of my sleeping bag in the living room

to see her off

my six-year-old arms reaching high around

her black apron

the color worn

to the smoke it reeks of

her pen and pad snug in the pockets

curled against me

Sweet ‘N Low packets snapping

like the broken claps of leaves

when she would walk to the car

and thunder off

in the unanimous roar

of gravel


Happy gravelling!


* picture featured here.