Adrienne Rich, from an interview with Bill Moyers:

MOYERS: Then you go on to say, “I know you are reading this poem which is not in your language/guessing at some words while others keep you reading. ..” Something like this happens to me when I read a poem: One minute I’m puzzling over some word or image, but the next line carries me forward beyond my misunderstanding into another realm of discovery.
RICH : Yes, and I had in mind an even more literal case as well–someone reading a poem in American English the way I would read a poem in Spanish or French or some other language that I know slightly, or used to know better, but of which I have forgotten a lot of the vocabulary, guessing at some words, yet struggling, and carried on by something in that poem. But what is that? And why do I want to know what it is? I want to know because whatever it is in my poem that keeps you reading is some kind of bond or filament between us, something that I’ve been able to put there that speaks even to this other person, whose language this is not.

MOYERS : How important is your audience when you are actually writing the poem? Do you picture the audience?
RICH : I write for whoever might read. I recently saw a very interesting distinction made by the African Canadian writer Marlene Nourbese Philip. She speaks of the difference between community, audience, and market. I believe that I write for a community. Obviously, I write for a community of other poets, people whom I know, people with whom I have already connected in some way, but I also write for whoever will constitute a new and expanded community audience.

MOYERS: So you did have the audience in mind, even though you couldn’t picture the particular reader or listener?
RICH : I made up some readers and listeners, but I also remembered and recognized actual people, as a fiction writer might, in that section and throughout the poem. The poem is full of voices: they’re not all my voice, they’re not all women’s voices, some of them are men’s voices, but, yes, I certainly had an audience in mind. The distinction between community, audience, and market is a really important distinction for an artist of any kind. There is a community of those whose work and whose lives you respect and love and cherish, a community that gives you the strength to create, to push boundaries, to take risks, a community that perhaps challenges you to do all that.
There is an audience of those unknown to you but whom your words are going to reach. You can’t know them in advance, but you can hope for them, desire them. Market, on the other hand, is all about packaging and buying and selling, and the corresponding group would be the consumer. I don’t want my poetry to be consumed in that sense. I do want it to be used.

Leave a Reply