In memory of Adrienne Rich, Lesbian Poet (1929-2012) by Kittredge Cherry


I light a memorial candle for lesbian feminist poet and essayist Adrienne Rich, who died March 27, 2012 at age 82.

Rich was one of the most influential poets of the 20th century. Her writing was a guiding light to me and countless others, both people of faith and secular readers. The following lines from her poem “Natural Resources” (from The Dream of a Common Language: Poems 1974-1977) became like a creed for many of us:

My heart is moved by all I cannot save:
so much has been destroyed

I have to cast my lot with those
who age after age, perversely,

with no extraordinary power,
reconstitute the world.

Rich, who had a Jewish father and Episcopalian mother, wrote about her conflicting religious background in her essay “Split at the Root” (from Blood, Bread, and Poetry: Selected Prose 1979-1985). That volume also includes the insightful essay whose title alone was enough to dazzle me: “Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence.”

I had the honor of meeting Rich in person in the 1980s when she spoke to the mostly LGBT congregation at Metropolitan Community Church of San Francisco, where I served on the clergy staff.

Her essay “Women and Honor: Some Notes on Lying” (from On Lies, Secrets, and Silence: Selected Prose 1966-1978) played a major role in helping me (and many other lesbians) decide to come out of the closet. I read the essay so many times that I  memorized parts of it.  I still refer to these words when I need to make difficult decisions:

An honorable human relationship– that is, one in which two people have the right to use the word “love”– is a process, delicate, violent, often terrifying to both persons involved, a process of refining the truths they can tell each other.

It is important to do this because it breaks down human self-delusion and isolation.

It is important to do this because in doing so we do justice to our own complexity.

It is important to do this because we can count on so few people to go that hard way with us.

Thank you, Adrienne.  Now your soul is continuing on that hard way.  I count you among the LGBT saints for all the wisdom that you have bestowed upon the world.

Kittredge Cherry

Cross-posted from Jesus in Love.  Rev. Kittredge Cherry, lesbian Christian author and art historian blogs about LGBT spirituality and the arts at the Jesus in Love Blog.  Her books include “Equal Rites” and “Art That Dares: Gay Jesus, Woman Christ, and More“.

Categories: Feminism, Feminist Awakenings, Fiction, Foremothers, General, LGBTQ, Loss, Major Feminist Thinkers in Religion, Poetry

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6 replies

  1. thank you for this….”I have to cast my lot with those who, age after age, with no extraordinary power, reconstitute the world.”


  2. One thing that has really been bothering me lately are the numerous bloggers and news outlets that have been calling her a “seminal figure.” I’m guessing she would have some problems with that.


  3. Thank you for Rich’s words on honorable relationship. I often ask it to be easy and I realize now that in doing so I forfeit the tender complexities of being human.


  4. I too quoted the words you quote her in my first book Diving Deep and Surfacing in which I had a chapter on Rich. Her words shaped the woman I became. Here is another quote:

    two women, eye to eye, a whole new poetry beginning here.

    Let us bless the Source of Life, and the cycles of birth, death, and regeneration. And give thanks for the life of Adrienne Rich!


  5. Loved this post! Adrienne Rich was my inspiration, and for a certain generation of lesbians, SHE WAS ONE OF THE MAIN GREAT ONES! Mary Daly, Adrienne Rich, Audre Lorde to name but a few. Rich’s essay “Compulsory Heterosexuality” was one of the great power pieces of the 1980s, and I loved it. Finally a woman was saying that heterosexuality was forced on women, and that it sapped the energy, the creativity and the labor out of women to feed patriarchy.

    I’d always known this on some level, but as a kid all I saw was the horrifying hetero machine in all its woman hating woman colonizing glory. Rich named the beast, and I felt pride that lesbians were rising up, and we weren’t going to put up with any of it anymore!

    Her command of language was proof of exploding consciousness, and perhaps after she married a man, she might have known more than most never had sex with men lesbians, that something really horrific existed in hetero marriage. I loved reading how she was survived by her partner Michele Cliff— not her wife but her partner! Her activism, her genius exploded after she left the chains of hetero conformity, and cast her lot with those who age after age reconstitute the world.

    I’m really going to miss you Adrienne, thank you for not compromising, thank you for bashing down the door of male supremacy, thank you for your radical lesbian life, thank you for marching, thank you for telling Bill Clinton to go to hell, thank you for leading the way.


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