“With Every Breath A Great Unfolding” watercolor and gouache, October 14, 2018
I’ve been painting abstracts again. I find myself going between the representational, little sketches, sometimes plein air, to these largely more-coloristic pieces. Is that the word I’m going for? I remember being in one of these jags in the Fall of 2016 with these astronomical pieces imagining sections of the outer universe — galaxies that knew nothing about Donald Trump. This time I think it’s more about an exploration of possible light. ¿Quien sabe really? The layers slowly build and I’m left with something along the lines of a meditation in color.
Of late there’s one book I’ve been reading slowly. “Contempling” may be the more correct word. Essential Essays: Culture, Politics, and the Art of Poetry is the recently-released volume of Adrienne Rich’s essays. This volume is an exercise in pretend, because the only real “best-of” collection of Rich’s essays would include all of them. Think of it as a “greatest hits” collection, certainly a great starting point for anyone interested in Rich’s prose writing. Reading through the collection haphazardly has served as a verbal imaginary of the possible in writing, living and dreaming. I’ve so appreciated revisiting essays of hers I’ve long treasured like “Woman and Bird” (from What is Found There), the foundational “Blood, Bread, and Poetry,” and the eye-opening “Compulsory Heterosexuality” (which in this volume includes these amazing post-publication addendums with the commissioning editors of the first anthology where it appeared. These few pages alone are worth the price of admission).
Reading through Rich’s work I’m reminded of the things that energized me when I first read them: their fearless truth-telling, their vulnerability, and the willingness to speak honestly about difficult things and the way her work points to the ever-possible. Rich’s work came into my life around the same time that Gloria Anzaldua and Audre Lorde’s did. I was in graduate school, recently out of the closet, and searching for language, for an intellectual and spiritual landscape I could exist in. The truth-telling work of these writers (along with writers like Essex Hemphill, Carter Heyward, and Bev Harrison to name a few that I still count as salvific) made the future, a future, imaginable. That many of these writers were poets had a resonance I would only understand much later. Reading Rich’s essays is a reminder of that period when their writing was sustenance while I was still navigating the possibility of living a life openly, something I could scarcely imagine growing up in a conservative, religious, and cultural landscape devoid of people like me.
Something about the times we are living makes their writing ring true again.