Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Rigoberto Gonzalez on Reading Adrienne Rich for the Poetry Foundation

Rigoberto Gonzalez, a Four Way Books author, wrote a beautiful piece for the Poetry Foundation on his experiences reading Adrienne Rich as a touching tribute to her.

"When I came upon the phrase “not like Cousteau,” my world collapsed. Was this the Jacques Cousteau? I remembered his deep-sea exploits on television, watching with my grandparents as the three of us marveled at the universe he was showing us. But the explorer was not like Cousteau–he was going at it alone, without a support team. (I didn’t catch on to the possibility that this explorer might be a woman, not like Cousteau, dummy.) In any case, I thought I was on board this journey when suddenly I came across the first stanza that did me in:

I came to explore the wreck.
The words are purposes.
The words are maps.
I came to see the damage that was done
and the treasures that prevail.

The words? Of all the extraordinary things to discover in the deep–sunken ships, coral reefs, hammerhead sharks, pale white fish like stowaways from another planet–there were no words. What words was he talking about? From the book of myths previously alluded to? What myths? The Brothers Grimm? When I was asked to explain what was meant by “words” I had none to fill in that blank. And then came the second stanza that sent me into another layer of darkness:

This is the place.
And I am here, the mermaid whose dark hair
streams black, the merman in his armored body.
We circle silently
about the wreck
we dive into the hold.
I am she: I am he

What in the name of gender-shifting was this? An entity that is both male and female. I pictured creatures from the sea, their androgyny, or rather their genderless forms. Was this speaker a soul, a spirit, a ghost? I pictured Patrick Duffy in Man from Atlantis, who could breathe underwater, swim like a fish with his webbed feet and hands–the only survivor from his fallen city. But clearly he was a man. The title of the television series I watched in Mexico dubbed in Spanish said so. My pre-pubescent homosexual fantasies told me so. In any case, I could not fit this poem into my frames of reference. I had no answers, right or wrong. To this day I am convinced this is why I began my college education in English 1A–the only English major who didn’t skip over the basic humanities requirement. And for decades I avoided this poem, even as I learned to appreciate Adrienne Rich."

For more of the article, click here. To learn about Rigoberto Gonzalez as a poet, get a copy of his latest book, Black Blossoms from Four Way.