Class Blog

The Language of “Twenty One Love Poems: VII”

“am I simply using us, like a river or a war?

And how have I used rivers, how have I used wars

to escape writing of the worst thing of all-

not the crimes of others, not even our own death,

but the failure to want our freedom passionately enough.”

What I loved initially about this poem was the way Rich addresses a quintessential truth of being a writer: that we use our love and lovers as metaphor and simile and in doing so, we strip away part of the emotion, the connection. We use them as tools to advance ourselves. The use of the comparison to a river and the war as examples is worth noting. Not only does it further a theme that Rich uses throughout the poem of water and violence, but it brings the reader’s attention to the fact that both a river and war can yield similar results. They can both create and take away. By comparing her love as a metaphor similar to them, Rich almost seems to say look, we are both beautiful and destructive. Our love can create and it can take away.

As the poem progresses, Rich worries that she is using these images of love, rivers and war not as an inadequate or inappropriate turn of phrase, but as a way to avoid what she’s really worried about: “the failure to want out freedom passionately enough” (147). Throughout all her works, Rich focuses on the idea of the suffering and survival of women. In this poem, she’s saying that  our love  does not free us, as we are so often lead to believe, but instead distracts us and keeps us from addressing how passionately we want our freedom.





Adrienne Rich:

“She died   a famous woman   denying

her wounds


her wounds   came from the same source as her power”

Okay so these lines stuck out to me the most because it’s like they are opposite phrases to one another-one states this woman dies denying her wounds (not recognizing her pain and suffering), but she states that she got her power from this same denial. At first this made no sense to me because the way I have learned to process and live life constitutes me acknowledging my pain and suffering– that’s how I grow as a person, that’s how I recognize that the same things that give me pain, have given me power to be better, stronger, more beautiful, understanding, and accepting. So these two phrases were contradictory to me and I could just understand why she was saying this and how she struggled with this. In my group we tried to analyze this and we talked about what her power is. We talked about how she was an amazing scientists and how when women are in positions of power “they lose femininity” and they have to sacrifice so many things– for example a woman who is a doctor most likely spends less time with her child and so she suffers because she cannot be with the child as much and the woman has to hide this pain and deny her suffering in front of her colleagues or else they would scrutinize her. Then, we talked about how she did have cancer and if she wanted to continue to do research and be a scientist she had to deny she was in pain, or else she would have to stop her work because of her health. This made more sense to me. We also talked about the element itself she was purifying is so damn powerful and it did help her kill off some cancer, it was also causing her pain and suffering, so in order to keep treating her cancer, she had to ignore the pain that came with the toxin.

Language and Silence

In the poem Cartographies of Silence, the author uses this constant repetition of the word and ideas relating to the topics of language and silence. I felt that silence represented those oppressed and suffering that society doesn’t hear or chooses to ignore. However, “silence is not absence” (140). Even though society may choose to not hear them and there cries, does not mean that they do not exist. The 6th stanza stuck out to me because it was bold. The ideas that Rich develops seem to be used as a way of building up to this stanza throughout the poem. There seems to be this voice that is screaming to come out. This voice or the inner voice is speaking to those suffering and it can no longer be silenced anymore. “It has ceased to hear itself” (141). I noticed that the author didn’t use he, she, or them but instead ”it.” I believe that the author uses this “it” to really strengthen the idea that she is not talking about a person or physical object. Those suffering must break the silence for the continuation of silence leads to no social change. This strong and meaningful passage and message connects to previous readings that have discussed language: why do we write poetry? The author believes poetry is old and ancient. Taking a shot in the dark, my mind began to form this cascade of connections between writing, language, and silence. I believe that the writer is trying to say that writing another form of language in which voices can be heard. Poetry and writing were ways that ideas could be spoken but not heard by society, silence. Thinking about the text as a whole, perhaps language is the medium through which social ideas can be changed and in order for that change to occur silence must be broken. The suffering cannot continue using the “ancient” way of poetry to say what they need to say, but by speaking what’s inside.

Attachment to Failure

“If I cling to circumstances I could feel not responsible. Only she who says she did not choose, is the loser at the end” (Lorde, 151).

In the quote, Lorde addresses the comfort that some women or people in general have in not pursuing and pushing for a better outcome. In order to avoid discomfort, people in society accept the road given to them and blame the world around them for the standards which they live their lives to. There are many barriers in the way for various groups of people and it is always easy to say that the barriers that are systematically placed restricted someone of their full potential but allowing that to occur are more of an atrocity than the failures of society people are engulfed in. People are very cognizant of their worth should make a choice in being better and spreading the option of being better than what society has defined for people as being successful “for a woman” or “for a minority”. Ultimately, there is a choice to do something for the better even if one’s attempts go unnoticed. To allow society to progress a rule out the possible equity feeds into the cycle of people not living their own lives. The predetermined lives of society are mediocre so it is irrational to attempt to conform to them rather than lives beyond their lines. If a failure occurs, even through one’s most firm attempts, that is more fulfilling than to embody the inferior standards of society. One can not blame society for their failures if he or she continues to live an orthodox life of being an American, a woman, a lesbian or etc. No one can ever bash someone for trying and being defeated. There is always a choice to do something and the choice can be in the hands of the ignorant or the hands of a revolutionist.

Thoughts on Hunger

Adrienne Rich’s poem Hunger, dedicated to Audre Lorde, focuses on the oppression of women in society and the use of writing and personal expression to give women a voice. This specific passage of the poem sounds very sad and like she is longing for something. The repetition of “even our intimacies are rigged with terror” could mean the anxiousness and fear that she senses when trying to voice her opinions. “intimacies” and “terror” are technically opposites, where terror invokes fear but intimacy invokes peace and harmony. Through the poem, Rich tries to reconcile her own experiences with the stories of others. These lines as well as the whole poem conveys her struggle to create a voice for women, especially queer women, who are trapped by the ideals of feminine behavior and ideals in a male-dominated and heteronormative world. The fact that this particular poem is dedicated to Audre Lorde further exposes the fact that she wanted this poem to empower women to speak up about the types of oppression they face. Audre Lorde’s other work describing the erotic also comes into play in this poem. It contains a sense of the erotic that can help women overcome their suffering. The poem urges women to use the power of the erotic in their daily lives to overcome oppression and suffering and create a better world for themselves. The lines create a sense of hope about the future women face and the positive outcomes that can come from their struggle for equality in today’s world.

Thinking About Silence

Silence is far too common, used as a safety blanket to protect people from the vulnerability of voicing raw thoughts and ideas for others to hear. In this section of Adrienne Rich’s, “Twenty-One Love Poems”, she requests that people expose their thoughts. These thoughts have a purpose, and they should not be disregarded and left float into the abyss.  Rich refers to mind as the “pond where drowned things live”(147) where the “drowned things”(147) are our muted thoughts. People consistently have a filter turned on, preventing them from saying what they are thinking.  Intelligent beings capable of critical thinking and problem solving should not allow these ideas to fall into the dark.  When Rich says, “I want to see raised dripping and brought into the sun.”(147), she is suggesting forgetting the filter and spitting out genuine thoughts.  The word “dripping”(147) infers that the thoughts should not be revised. Rather than removing them from the water and drying them off with a towel, expose them to the world, saturated with authenticity.  These legitimate thoughts are what can trigger intriguing conversation, developing an opportunity for an unlimited flow of ideas.  Rich hopes people will allow their thoughts to come out though it will take time.  She writes, “It’s not my own face I see there, but other faces,/even your face at another age.”(147).  Children are less cautious with their words, less afraid to speak their minds likely because they are naive.  Possibly, “your face at another age”(147) is suggesting to return to the mental state of a child, asking four hundred questions a day without a second thought.  Also, “another age”(147) may be stating that the ability to vocalize ideas will come in time as some sort of futuristic evolution. Nevertheless, Adrienne Rich is encouraging people to eventually shine the light on their ideas, rather than hide them.

Discussion Questions

How does Lorde describe the erotic?

Lorde specifically addresses women in her essay.  Do you think there are significant differences in how groups of people experience the erotic in their lives?

Are we all (woman-identified or not) capable of experiencing the erotic in our lives?

Where do you see the concept of the erotic on our other reading? (Interview with Dennis, and essay by Jesse Monteagudo)


Welcome to LGBTQ Literature in the US, fall 2016

Please fill out the following information on your index cards:

  1. Name
  2. Preferred personal pronouns (she/her; he/him; they/theirs; or other)
  3. Class year
  4. Email and phone #
  5. Hometown
  6. One interesting fact to help me get to know you
  7. On the BACK side and to share with the class—If you were going assign a text to our class this semester, what would you assign?  In other words, given the title of our class what would you want to read/watch/listen to?