This Tuesday, Adrienne Rich passed away. I remember first reading her work as an undergraduate and realizing that poetry could be aesthetic and evocative while still being political and transgressive. This seems like such an obvious thing to me now but back then, it felt like a revolutionary concept. I was a fine arts major after all, and while I knew of plenty of visual artists creating this kind of work, my background in contemporary literature was sorely lacking. Rich was my introduction to poetry’s feminist voice.
Others soon followed: Plath, Angelou, Bishop, Stein, Moore—all the usual suspects. But Rich was the first. So when I heard of her death, it affected me with surprising intensity. I think that since I discovered her at such a key time in my development as an artist, she loomed large in my writer heart, right up there with Margaret Atwood, Toni Morrison, Lorrie Moore, and Marge Piercy—all women I look to as guides in how to produce smart, funny, brilliant, and powerful work.
One of my favorite Adrienne Rich poems is “Planetarium“. You can hear her reading it on YouTube (starts at around the 5:00 mark). I like this poem because it celebrates Caroline Herschel, one of the first women of astronomy. I love space! In my next life, I will be an astrophysicist.
Anyway, I think her death also struck me because lately, it seems as though U.S. politics has been hijacked with some kind of anti-woman agenda. The assaults against Planned Parenthood; the ridiculous personal attacks on Sandra Fluke; the sudden popularity of transvaginal ultrasound laws; Pennsylvania Gov. Corbett’s insultingly absurd comments; and so much more. It feels like another culture war is emerging to pull back on hard-won, basic rights that women have fought decades to achieve. Losing such a powerful crusader who spoke eloquently for the rights of women, gays, and all oppressed groups felt like just another blow.
Anyway, instead of simply ranting, I thought a more positive use of my blog would be to jump-start a project I’ve been thinking about for a while: the Wonder Women Project. What I’d like to do is showcase stories of inspiring and wonderful women and, naturally, draw some portraits! The group will include recognizable names, like Rich, but also some overlooked historical figures and everyday ladies with stories of overcoming adversity, creating great art, showing incredible leadership, and/or just being inspiring role models for everyone.
To start, I have two very excellent candidates to follow Adrienne Rich, but I’ll soon need some help with suggestions. . . I’ll be announcing another contest for ideas soon, and winning commenters will get free portrait. So stay tuned!