Slammin’ Poetry: Adrienne Rich

I have a love/hate relationship with poetry; I enjoy reading poetry on my own terms rather than reading and analyzing poetry in my English classes. After an entire semester of reading Shakespearean sonnets, I was obviously shocked to find out that my English professor would be hosting an in-class poetry slam to conclude our section. Pro-Tip: if you have never been to a poetry slam or any poetry reading at all, put it on your bucket list. It’s such a powerful experience hearing poetry read out loud rather than reading it on paper. Anyway, the best part about this poetry slam is that we can bring in our own piece or a favorite piece by an author of our choice. After weeks of reading poems that my professor deems “influential,” I am so eager (as eager as one can be regarding anything school-related) for our upcoming slam. So in the spirit of poetry slamming, I am going to introduce the poem I have chosen to our Sanskrit family.

I recently purchased a collection of Adrienne Rich’s poems from 1971-1972, Diving into the Wreck. I didn’t think much of it at first as the book was vaguely recommended by a thrift bookstore specialist; however, upon reading, I became slightly obsessed and hungry for more. Adrienne Rich passed away in 2012 at the age of 83. An award-winning poet, Rich was extremely influential through her feminist and political ideologies. Her exploration of female identity and sexuality largely defined her work, especially in her Diving into the Wreck collection which won the National Book Award in 1973.  Rich began to radicalize throughout the 70s after her experiences with motherhood and was widely criticized for many of her publications. I, however, adore Rich and cannot wait to dive into more of her work. In the extremely personal Diving into the Wreck, we are exposed to the themes of identity and humanity as seen by Rich. Included below is her poem, Diving into the Wreck, which I will be reading at my poetry slam! Hopefully my classmates will appreciate Rich as much as I do.

(via Poetry Foundation)

Diving into the Wreck

First having read the book of myths,
and loaded the camera,
and checked the edge of the knife-blade,
I put on
the body-armor of black rubber
the absurd flippers
the grave and awkward mask.
I am having to do this
not like Cousteau with his
assiduous team
aboard the sun-flooded schooner
but here alone.

There is a ladder.
The ladder is always there
hanging innocently
close to the side of the schooner.
We know what it is for,
we who have used it.
it is a piece of maritime floss
some sundry equipment.

I go down.
Rung after rung and still
the oxygen immerses me
the blue light
the clear atoms
of our human air.
I go down.
My flippers cripple me,
I crawl like an insect down the ladder
and there is no one
to tell me when the ocean
will begin.

First the air is blue and then
it is bluer and then green and then
black I am blacking out and yet
my mask is powerful
it pumps my blood with power
the sea is another story
the sea is not a question of power
I have to learn alone
to turn my body without force
in the deep element.

And now: it is easy to forget
what I came for
among so many who have always
lived here
swaying their crenellated fans
between the reefs
and besides
you breathe differently down here.

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.
I stroke the beam of my lamp
slowly along the flank
of something more permanent
than fish or weed

the thing I came for:
the wreck and not the story of the wreck
the thing itself and not the myth
the drowned face always staring
toward the sun
the evidence of damage
worn by salt and sway into this threadbare beauty
the ribs of the disaster
curving their assertion
among the tentative haunters.

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

whose drowned face sleeps with open eyes
whose breasts still bear the stress
whose silver, copper, vermeil cargo lies
obscurely inside barrels
half-wedged and left to rot
we are the half-destroyed instruments
that once held to a course
the water-eaten log
the fouled compass

We are, I am, you are
by cowardice or courage
the one who find our way
back to this scene
carrying a knife, a camera
a book of myths
in which
our names do not appear.


About the Author

Nancy Carroll is a senior at UNCC double majoring in English and Political Science. When she is off campus you can find her speculating Star Wars fan theories or hanging out with her cats. If she ever graduates, Nancy would like to join a publishing house and see the world.