When this clangor in the brain Grows perfunctory, or worse, Put me down a sick old woman Propped for sleep, hire me a nurse; Till then, all things I lookWhen this clangor in the brain Grows perfunctory, or worse, Put me down a sick old woman Propped for sleep, hire me a nurse; Till then, all things I look upon Beat on my brain to hail and bless, And every last and wayward power I claim till then, and nothing less.
As far as I can tell, The Diamond Cutters went out of print soon after its 1955 publication and, unlike a lot of Rich's other books, stayed out of print until its inclusion in the recent Collected Poems 1950–2012. It's pretty easy to see why. Not that this collection is bad, exactly—it's just such a bizarrely mixed bag. Rich experiments with a lot of viewpoints here, narrators decades older than herself; a strange, lengthy Steinbeckian or Faulkernian verse (characters with names like Joel and Evans, something about a killing in a barn)—why? She was still a young, new poet at the time, and I can understand trying this stuff out, but I can't quite understand publishing it. Where did she think she was going to go from here? My are-you-serious meter probably buzzed loudest when I came upon a two-page poem about the Magi. Was the literary world clamoring for a poem about the Magi in 1955? Still, this poem, "Landscape of the Star," also contains my favorite lines in the collection: "Yet all are strange/ To their own ends, and their beginnings now/ Cannot contain them." In hindsight, it's impossible not to apply this sentiment to Rich herself.
I do realize that I look at Rich's very early poetry far too much through the lens of what her later work would be, and that isn't really fair to the poems themselves. Certainly, this is pretty precocious work for a 26-year-old. It may be only my imagination that Rich was trying on different personae because she hadn't yet figured out who she was, but The Diamond Cutters seems to be a pretty good illustration of what you get when you think you're telling the truth, versus when you know you are. ...more
Since reading Leslie Chang's Factory Girls and Katherine Boo's Behind the Beautiful Forevers, I've been haunted by the way capitalism seems to be estaSince reading Leslie Chang's Factory Girls and Katherine Boo's Behind the Beautiful Forevers, I've been haunted by the way capitalism seems to be establishing itself in developing nations. In a nutshell: China and India seem to have vaulted right over the part of capitalism that's supposed to be about giving everyone an equal shot at economic success and moved directly into the part that's about the vast gulf between the insanely wealthy and the rest of us. I picked up Capitalism: A Ghost Story in the hope that it would provide some insight into this issue, and it certainly did, but I was a little embarrassed at how simple (and in retrospect, obvious) the answer is: When the U.S. was establishing its economy, we didn't have corporations the way we do now. And now that we do, there's no way they're going to leave money on the table in developing nations. We're going to get in there, so we're responsible for the situation directly via the actions of our own corporations, as well as indirectly by setting the example other nations are following. The first and longest essay in this collection (also titled "Capitalism: A Ghost Story") makes this clear and outlines how disastrous it has been for the vast and largely poor country of India. It also examines the foundations formed by U.S. corporations and how they've been used to give big business a major role in governance. That was eye-opening, to say the least.
The rest of this brief book is comprised of shorter essays, the most compelling and unforgettable of which deal with the situation in Kashmir. In one essay Roy nearly gets arrested for daring to refer to Kashmir as a disputed area, which goes a long way toward illustrating the problems she's describing here.
I was a big fan of Roy's novel The God of Small Things but only recently became aware of the extent of her political writings. That she's used her success with her novel to become a voice for the marginalized is admirable and brave. I've clearly only scratched the surface here, but I'll be checking out her other books on these topics, as well as making time for her new novel that's (finally!) coming out later this year....more