Adrienne Rich, American poet, essayist and feminist who died on March 27 2012, found her voice resonating in Mumbai, on a recent wet and windswept morning at the Bandra-Kurla Complex (BKC). The American Center at BKC arranged a tribute to Rich, a reading of her work followed by a discussion. Rich has been described in essays as a poet of “towering reputation and towering rage”.
American Center’s Public Relations Officer (PRO) Anne Grimes introduced speakers on the dais who would be discussing Rich’s works, to an audience comprising mainly students and a smattering of professors of English Literature, besides some published poets.
There was Shobhana Kumar, who runs Queer Ink which is an online store and publishing house for Queer literature, co-ordinating the discussion.
Rajasvini Bhansali, poet and essayist, based in San Francisco was another speaker and there was also Mumbai University professor Dr Rambhau Badode, on the dais. Shobhana anchored the session which opened with a student reading out Rich’s poem, ‘Diving Into the Wreck’.
Dr Badode was asked about why he taught Rich and his thoughts on her work. He answered, “Rich is part of the University syllabus. It is important that we realise her area of marginalisation, she was writing as a woman, a lesbian and a Jew. It was this she wove into her work, for her, the personal became the poetical. She combined art with activism.”
Bhansali recalled her days as a student at Berkely, California where Adrienne Rich had come in as guest poet to the University. Bhansali said, “We adored her gentleness and humility, her commitment to the craft of writing poetry and how she interwove her work with deep, political beliefs. She was such an important essayist and activist, she taught us never to compromise on the craft.” Bhansali also added that Rich’s, “queerness was an act of courage” and added, “It is much easier for me to be an out writer in these times, than it was for Rich.”
Luminous insights lit up a grey day. Rich’s poem, ‘Aunt Jennifer’s Tigers’ was read out as a final flourish. One does not know about Aunt Jennifer, but a roaring good time was had by the academic set.
The people set the pace
Anne Grimes, American Center PR, said, “We see Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender issues as bigger, human rights issues. With reference to Adrienne Rich in particular, we wanted to celebrate her as a great American poet. That she was a lesbian is incidental."
Rights: Anne Grimes
When asked if, Grimes has perceived the yawning gap between the progress in gay issues in India and the US which is debating same sex marriage currently, Grimes answered reflectively, "I do see the gap between the two countries but not so far back the US was in the same place that India is right now… so it depends on the people of the country. Nobody outside can speed up the process of acceptance, changing attitudes, though there can be awareness. Change will happen at the “speed” a country's people allow it to happen.”
Who is Adrienne Rich?
Adrienne Cecile Rich (May 16, 1929 - March 27, 2012) was an American poet, essayist and feminist. She was called “one of the most widely read and influential poets of the second half of the 20th century”, and was credited with bringing the oppression of women and lesbians to the forefront of poetic discourse.