Adrienne Rich first read at the 92Y in 1958, at the age of 29. Last night, she returned to open the Center's reading season, at the age of 80. The Kaufman Hall was full. When she walked on stage, the audience applauded warmly, and a group of women gave her a standing ovation. It was tremendously moving to see this slight woman, her head disproportionately big, sink into the armchair, shuffle her papers with trembling hands, and then read in a steady voice.
"All of her life she has been in love with the hope of telling the utter truth." What W. S. Merwin wrote of Rich reminds me of the choice between truth and beauty my classmates and I were asked to make and reflect upon in a workshop exercise. I wrote down "truth," but realized afterwards that it was what I felt I should choose, and not what I would choose. Truth seemed to be a nobler, larger, claim than beauty; it still seems so to me. It provides a real resistance, an unmovable rock against which one may pit one's strength, one's life. It is a pit which the flesh of a fruit may enclose.
Beauty, in contrast, feels soft and impressionable. Its viscosity seeks a permanent and perfect form but whatever form it fills, it fills because it is flesh. Beauty is softness hardened, whereas truth is hardness enclosed by what is soft. In both truth and beauty--to borrow a line out of context from Rich's reading--"there are poverties and there are poverties."