The frontispiece of Midnight Salvage has the following quote: ‘I don’t know how to measure happiness. The issue is happiness, there is no other issue, or no other issue one has a right to think about for other people, to think about politically, but I don’t know how to measure happiness.’ (George Oppen, letter to June Oppen Degnam, August 5,1970).
Beyond parochial dread and narrow horizons: Get with it! I’m tired of listening to a tone that sounds like a lament – or is it a celebration? The problem is it’s impossible to tell the difference.
Midnight Salvage: Poems 1995-1998 by Adrienne Rich. It is a slim book (P 3-69), and some of the pages are more than half empty (being poems… and some with short lines). Here are a few more details of where I stand:
1. The book I bought is second hand, a nice enough hardback copy with original covers, 1st edition, 1999. WW Norton and company, New York
2. It belonged to an academic library for a few years before being (in capitals) “WITHDRAWN”. The word is stamped on the ‘Academic Information Services’ paper slip which the librarian (Adelphi Campus, Peru Street, Salford). stuck inside the front cover
3. There is only one other stamp on the librarian paper slip inside (when it might have been taken out to be read), the date 28 Nov 2001. There is no other evidence inside the book of it having been borrowed or read.
4. During the period 1995-1998 when Adrienne Rich was writing these poems she was in her mid-60′s.
5. I made the leap to reading this particular collection through reading the essay of Jacqueline Rose: ‘Go Girl!’: Adrienne Rich and Natalie Anger (reprinted in On Not being Able to Sleep).
“The issue of happiness” – the quotation is the nearest thing I’ve read to a manifesto recently, an adequate Sex and Politics one that I’d sign up to, and which is capable of standing up to the tests and strains of contemporary life, including the “stalled feminist movement” (so-called) – for instance, it was only just now that I was reading Samuel Pepys making an observation on women (that Ur-figure of the English masculine establishment and who I am told has recently returned to London and taken up writing his Diary again): ‘Tis a puzzle whether whores have turned chaste or decent women sluttish, but lunacy seizes all these days’ (Basil Ransome David transcripsit).
Sex and Politics: here is a section from Adrienne Rich’s Midnight Salvage manifesto (NB I’ve made one transposition of a “his” to a “her” to suit the current times, and now, as I read the first line again, also bow my head as I think of the horrors of the recent Boston marathon too):
not O my Captain
fallen cold & dead by the assassin’s hand
but cold alive & cringing : : drinking with the assassins
in suit of noir Hong Kong silk
pushing her daughter in her famine-
waisted flamingo gown
out on the dance floor with the traffickers
in nerve gas saying to them Go for it
and to the girl Get with it