I was really saddened to learn of Adrienne Rich’s death last week. The work of this brilliant poet, activist and essayist, I believe, shaped me in my most formative years.
I first encountered her work my freshman year of college, while I was simultaneously taking an Introduction to Women’s and Gender Studies class and a Women’s Literature class. She showed up in my literature class first. We read her poems. I admired the simplicity of the language, but her words carried weight.
In my Women’s and Gender Studies class, we read Compulsory Heterosexuality and the Lesbian Existence,where she argues that women have the right to define their own identities outside the pressures of societal expectations. She encourages women to embrace the complexities of their identities and sexualities.
While her work was considered radical for its time, it was exactly what I needed to hear at that moment in my life.
At the Valley Cottage Library, we have the following volumes of her writing:
Adrienne Rich’s Poetry and Prose
The School Among the Ruins
Tonight No Poetry Will Serve
I love working on the Local History collection at the library. For me, learning the history of a place makes me feel much more connected to my surroundings. While it helps me get acquainted with our community’s current and past events, sometimes I find little unexpected gems in the collection.
Tuesday, while indexing our file on local poets, I came across one of those rare gems. Among the obituaries and photocopied chapbooks, were several postcards with the handwritten poems of Berenice Heaton, aka Beren Van Slyke! Berenice Heaton was the wife of well-known glass artist, Maurice Heaton. Berenice and Maurice lived in Valley Cottage for many years. Berenice died in 1977, at age 86. Her poems were published in several journals, including Poetry Magazine, The Saturday Evening Post, and The Saturday Review. She also published a few full-length books and chapbooks.
What a nice surprise to find a poet’s work in her own hand almost 35 years after her death! I believed that the Heatons sent these postcards as their Christmas cards each year. I wonder if she wrote a new poem for each card for each person, or if she wrote one poem a year for her cards. Was she that prolific?
- Katie Karkheck