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Public library honors feminist poet


By Ashley Jenkins



The Monroe County Public Library sponsored an event in honor of the late feminist poet, author and activist Adrienne Rich as part of Bloomington’s “Lifelong Learning Week” on Tuesday night.

The event was a commentary and discussion about Rich’s life and work.

Several film segments featuring her reciting poems were shown on a projector screen, and the audience read her poetry during an open-mic session. 

“For 30 or 40 years, Rich’s voice has been with me,” said Antonia Matthew, a Rich aficionado who suggested the idea for the event. “She’s been my lifeline. There are parts of my life I wouldn’t have survived without her. She’s cut paths for me.”

Attendees read aloud Rich’s poems, such as “Burning Oneself In” and “I Am in Danger-Sir.” Twenty men and women sat in a circle, listening.

A library employee even took time from his shift to step in and read “Dreamwood.”
Tom Tokarski, an audience member, read “Dreams Before Waking,” a poem wrought with dark imagery.

He explained that despite her efforts to bring society’s negative aspects to light, Rich optimistic.

“Although she’s realistic, she is not without hope,” Tokarski said.

In one of the videos shown, Rich explained that poetry asks people to examine the quality of their lives. She described it as “a tool, a probe of meditation.”

Heads around the room nodded in agreement.

“In her poems, she was always looking for the best possible poet, country, human being we could be,” Matthew said.

While Rich is most recognized as a poet, she also wrote nonfiction.

“She was a wonderfully clear thinker outside of poetry,” attendee Carol Gulyas said.

She said she considers the book “Of Woman Born: Motherhood as Experience and Institution” her favorite of Rich’s works.

Gulyas and her husband said they have been close friends of Rich’s son, David Conrad, since the mid-1980s.

They saw Rich give a speech at Northwestern University in 2006.

“We stood in line to get her autograph,” Gulyas said. “At that point, she had horrible arthritis and used a walker, but she still had a mighty presence. She was lovely.”
 
Matthew, on the other hand, said she just recently started reading some of Rich’s essays.

“I think, ‘Why didn’t I get back to her essays years ago?’” Matthew said. “I want to tell people about them.”

Matthew said she believes Rich’s writing is universal.

Rich, like most feminists, wasn’t interested in matriarchy. She valued equality of both sexes.

“Her words are so human, encompassing and open to everyone,” Matthew said. “They inspire me. There are some poems that I can’t read without getting choked up at the end.”

Doris Lynch, an adult services librarian at MCPL who arranged the event, said Rich’s works are in high demand at the library.

“We have 11 of her titles, and everything’s checked out right now,” Lynch said.

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