“I am she: I am he”

The charming G has a great new post Hurry, look–I posted poetry, which  immediately made me think of one of my favorite poems by Adrienne Rich,”Diving into the Wreck,” which is also about change. 

Maybe one reason I like Rich’s poem is because I have had no shortage of wreckage to explore in my life–dysfunctional family dynamics, loss, feelings of betrayal, abandonment, identity, self-doubt, sexuality.  (Thank god for therapy. )   Although “Diving into the Wreck” takes up  big questions of sexuality, gender, history, and myth, it has always felt very personal to me.  

Like the diver in the poem, I often think of myself as the feminist explorer who is outside the “wreck” of culture only to discover time and time again that I am actually inside it.  Try as I might to distance myself, I often feel as immersed in cultural myths about sexuality and gender as my students.  And yet, the wound of being marginalized–of being a queer woman excluded from  what Rich calls “the book of myths” –is enormously painful, and so even the “drowned faces” and ruined, “threadbare beauty” of the wreck can draw me in when I least expect it.   

For me, diving into the wreck is a productive metaphor because it means exploring territory that is both new and old.  It means valuing the multiplicity of gender like the androgynous diver; “I am she: I am he,” Rich’s mermaid-merman declares. It means finding ways to confront our myths and desires and fears in order to transform them. 

PS I actually was lucky enough to have lunch with Rich when she came to my university for a reading, which was a thrill.  This was just a few years after she refused the National Medal of Arts from the Clinton admininstration because, as she said,  “[Art] means nothing if it simply decorates the dinner table of the power which holds it hostage.”  Yes, she’s just that cool and brave and leftist and feminist!

You can read “Diving into the Wreck” here  or, for a more multimedia experience of the poem, watch this video:

4 Responses

  1. Very cool. I love Rich, I havent read all of her books but this was lovely.

    Hi grrlchef, Glad you enjoyed it. What’s cooking? xo SF

  2. My favorite Rich poem is II out of her Twenty-One Love Poems. Absolutely lovely.

    I am jealous that you got to have lunch with her. That would make for an interesting post. I love her little voice. So sweet.

    Hi AYL, I love that collection too. For what it’s worth, I’m jealous that you’re so damn young. Are we even? xo SF

  3. Oh SF, you’re a dear.

    I really like this piece. I read it and watched the video, and I think my favorite part is this:

    I stroke the beam of my lamp
    slowly along the flank
    of something more permanent
    than fish or weed

    That speaks directly to how I feel about life, relationships, gender, you name it. Thank you so much for sharing this.

  4. Hi, love the Adrienne Rich story! I’m new to your blog and the blogosphere, I’m enjoying reading your posts so much. I have a lot to learn, coming out in my forties. It’s an amazing experience, and your blog is giving me even more food for thought as I go. LOL Thanks!

    Welcome! I’ve been enjoying your blog too and look forward to reading more! -SF

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