We lost two great artists this past week: Earl Scruggs and Adrienne Rich. Both took their art forms in ways they wouldn't otherwise have gone. The world is different because they lived amongst us. At least they had both lived long, full lives, which mitigates the loss just slightly.
People reading this blog are likely less familiar with the work of Earl Scruggs than with the writing of Adrienne Rich, although you may have heard more of his work than you immediately recognize. For example, he wrote the theme to The Beverly Hillbillies and his most famous work, "Foggy Mountain Breakdown," was used in the film Bonnie and Clyde. But even if you haven't heard those works, you're hearing his influence every time someone picks up a banjo. He changed bluegrass music, country music and folk music forever; you could make the case that he also influenced other musical genres too, like rock. Even people who don't know much about music can hear what he's doing with the banjo, how hard it is, how nimble his fingers must be to move the way they did.
I've written about Adrienne Rich before (most notably here). I first became familiar with her work when I asked my favorite Sociology professor, "Aren't there any female sociologists?" He gave me the work of sociologists studying motherhood, and I read Rich's Of Woman Born. What an amazing book. But I felt that way about all of her books.
Susan Rich wrote a great tribute to Adrienne Rich. I found this part of her blog post most inspiring: "When I think of poems that have been crucial in my life, poems that are sustenance -- that allow me to breathe in a world I need to believe in -- it's Adrienne Rich's work that I return to. Her passing has made me already recommit to my poems, to remember that living in a certain way is necessary."
Yes, let us recommit ourselves to our creative work. Let us vow to live in ways that will bring about a better world!
Here are some quotes from Adrienne Rich which have been particularly meaningful for me:
"I know that the rest of my life will be spent working for transformations I shall not live to see realized. I feel daily, hourly impatience and am pledged to the active and tenacious patience that a lifetime commitment requires: the can be no resignation in the face of backlash, setback, or temporary defeat; there can be no limits on what we allow ourselves to imagine" (On Lies, Secrets and Silence, page 270).
"You must write, and read, as if your life depended on it. That is not generally taught in school. At most, as if your livelihood depended on it: the next step, the next job, grant, scholarship, professional advancement, fame; no questions asked as to further meanings. And let's face it, the lesson of the schools for a vast number of children--hence of readers--is This is not for you (page 32, emphasis Rich's).
"All art is political in terms of who was allowed to make it, what brought it into being, why and how it entered the canon, and why we are still discussing it" (page 95, Blood, Bread, and Poetry, emphasis Rich's).