On Sunday, April 11th, The Archive Project will feature poet and essayist Adrienne Rich, recorded at a Poetry Downtown event in March 2006. Judith Barrington, award-winning poet, memoirist, and teacher who lives in Oregon, gave the original introduction at the event. Below are Barrington’s reflections on Adrienne Rich and that special night.
This episode featuring Adrienne Rich, and including Judith Barrington’s original introduction, will be released Sunday, April 11th at 7:00 p.m. on our website and OPB radio.
From Judith Barrington:
When, in 2006, Literary Arts invited me to introduce Adrienne Rich’s reading in their Poetry Downtown series, I was both thrilled and nervous. By then, Adrienne was recognized as one of the greatest poets of the twentieth century, not only by the literary world but also by the huge crowds who showed up to hear her, whenever she appeared. This Portland crowd—the largest drawn to the Poetry Downtown series up to then—reflected the diversity of her fans: some of them hardcore poetry aficionados, some feminists, lesbians, or seekers after social justice who rarely cracked a poetry book, and beyond those, the people who had somewhere stumbled upon a line of Adrienne’s and put it on their refrigerators to remind them of something vitally important.
Adrienne had been a generous mentor to me when I was preparing my first collection of poetry for publication. Back then, although I had met her only briefly at a Women’s Studies conference, she had offered helpful comments. Several years later, when she came to Portland to appear at Reed College, she accepted an invitation from my partner, Ruth Gundle, and me, to stay with us for a few days. Although we didn’t know her personally, we immediately fell into long conversations about poetry and lesbian feminist activism. Her rheumatoid arthritis was particularly bad at that time, and I took her for a hot tub the afternoon before the reading. I have a vivid memory of helping her physically manage which, for me, added a dimension of vulnerability to that of great poet.
More than two decades later, she was dealing with even more pain; this Literary Arts reading would be the first she ever gave seated. By then, she had read to thousands of audiences, but even so, I knew that a highly appreciative introduction, together with the crowd’s joyful reception, would give her the best possible entrée to her reading. Long ago, she had warned me not to try to be “too entertaining” with my poems, and, since then, I had paid close attention to how she gave her readings without offering the lighthearted chat between poems that was common from many excellent poets. Adrienne’s serious delivery allowed the poems to retain, as her recent biographer Hilary Holladay put it, their “spine-tingling gravitas;” I knew that she would often plunge straight into the first poem. If this were today’s plan, I hoped my introduction would focus the listeners; I didn’t want anyone to miss the first line—though, as it turned out, she opened with a few words of thanks to Portland for the massive protest against the Iraq War that had taken place the previous day.
Adrienne died on March 27, 2012 at the age of 82. The following May, Soapstone, directed by Ruth Gundle, offered a Memorial Reading, creatively presented by Katharine Salzmann at the Unitarian Church, which she decorated with banners of Adrienne’s poems. Several hundred people attended to share memories and poems of the poet we loved and admired.
I’m excited that Adrienne’s work, the majority of which grew out of the twentieth century, can now, thanks to The Archive Project, reach new readers and listeners in the twenty-first.
The Archive Project, Literary Arts’ radio show and podcast, features the most sought-after recordings from our Portland Arts & Lectures series, the Portland Book Festival, and other community events. Each week, new episodes are available to stream for free. Episodes also air every Sunday at 7:00 p.m. (Pacific) on OPB radio.