Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Voices Forward: Adrienne Rich’s Statement to the 2008 Split This Rock Poetry Festival

Ten years ago, in 2008, poets convened for the first Split This Rock Poetry Festival: Poems of Provocation & Witness. Every poet invited to feature at the first gathering agreed and most participated at no cost to the festival—so strong was their commitment to this gathering dedicated to poetry that engages the real textures and troubles of our lives. Only
A black and white image of Adrienne Rich looking directly at the camera with a warm expression. She has short salt-and-pepper hair, dark eyes, and freckles. She wears a black top and small, silver, hoop earrings.
Adrienne Rich, 1929-2012
one poet declined, and that with deep regret due to intensifying illness.

In lieu of her nourishing presence, Adrienne Rich sent the following statement to the founders. They read it to those gathered at that first festival. It is our honor and pleasure to share it with our community now, ten years on, to inspire us all for the next ten years and the years beyond.
* * *
WASHINGTON D.C., MARCH 20-23, 2008

By Adrienne Rich

Over the weekend preceding “Split This Rock,” I have been watching video clips of the “Winter Soldier” panels conducted by Iraq Veterans Against the War. I have been listening to the hard-earned, factual, understated yet intensely charged words of testimony from these men and women.

War and injustice are not “themes” for some poets to pick up or put down by choice. Let’s be clear about this from the outset: Even when we taste the sweetness of life, love, greet a new child, pay decent homage to lost comrades and elders, our work, our access to time and space, our pulse and breath are subject to the structures of inequality, exclusion, cruelty and violence. We read and write poetry to sense through expressive language what the discourse of power has numbed or silenced; to search out truth in our own souls and with other souls.
We don’t write poetry to speak truth to power, as if it will change the minds of the powerful.

Illegitimate power does not want truth. It depends on manufactured ignorance, manipulation, secrecy and force. We in the United States who have written dissident poetry for much of our lives have done so because, like it or not, politics have saturated the air we breathe, the pores of our skin, the waters we drink, where and how and with whom—and whether—we sleep at night. Recognizing this we crave, and try to create, language equal to our time and needs, our location in a greater humanity. We begin to question easy, cynical formulations and accept the responsibility of our artistic task.

Dissident art realizes itself, finds its voice in collective activity. There is no contradiction here, only challenge. May “Split This Rock,” like “Winter Soldier,” become one conversation, one event among the many that, for the long future, must confront our national, our human, emergency.

* * *
This is the essential work to which the founders, board, staff, and community of Split This Rock are committed, to poetry on the side of life. We thank every poet and reader who joins us, shares this work forward, and supports us. As we affirmed one to another at the closing of the 2018 festival, WE ARE WITH YOU. To invest in the long future of dissident poetry, consider a gift to Split This Rock. Visit the website for details. #10YearsofPoWeR

No comments: