The Organization for the Abolition of Cruelty has an air deployment with bases on every continent and on obscurer tracts of land. Airstrips and hangars have been constructed to accommodate large and small aircraft for reconnoiter and rescue missions whether on polar ice or in desert or rainforest conditions. Many types of craft are of course deployed to urban clusters. The mission of the Organization is not to the First, Third, or any other World. It is directed toward the investigation and abrogation of cruelty in every direction, including present and future extraterrestrial locations.
It is obvious that the destruction of despair is still our most urgent task. In this regard, we employ paramilitary methods with great care and watchfulness.
The personnel dedicated to this new program are responsible to the mission, not to any national body. We are apprised of all new technologies as soon as available. Hence we have a unique fusion of policy and technology, unique in that its purpose is the abolition of cruelty.
Ours is the first project of its kind to be fully empowered through the new paranational charters. In principle, it is now recognized that both agents and objects of cruelty must be rescued and transformed, and that they sometimes merge into each other.
In response to your inquiry: this is a complex operation. We have a wide range of specializations and concerns. Some are especially calibrated toward language
because of its known and unknown powers
to bind and to dissociate
because of its capacity
to ostracize the speechless
because of its capacity
to nourish self-deception
because of its capacity
for rebirth and subversion
because of the history
against human speech
From Adrienne Rich, The School Among the Ruins, Poems 2000-2004, W.W. Norton & Company, New York, 2004.
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In a world of violence, inequality and moral chaos, Adrienne Rich’s voice will be neither silent nor content
Heidi Benson, Chronicle Staff Writer
Published 04:00 a.m., Tuesday, March 29, 2005
The terror attacks were still unimaginable when Adrienne Rich wrote a prescient poem called “The School Among the Ruins.”
During that now seemingly innocent summer of 2001, Rich had been reading accounts of “civilian agonies” in Sarajevo, Baghdad, Bethlehem, Kabul — including Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish on the Beirut bombing of 1982. With every page, her unease grew.
“We here could not expect to feel invulnerable forever,” she remembers thinking. That thought became a catalyst for the poem crowning her new collection, “The School Among the Ruins: Poems 2000-2004.”
The volume has won this year’s National Book Critics Circle Award for Poetry.
Rich cited another catalyst for “The School Among the Ruins” in an e-mail interview from her Santa Cruz home — the school, in Brooklyn, where her son teaches.
“I knew his love for the school, for those children,” she said.
Set during a nonspecific wartime in which children and their teachers are hostages to horror, the poem includes these lines:
A morning breaks without bread or fresh-poured milk/
parents or lesson plans/
diarrhea first question of the day/
children shivering it’s September/
Second question: where is my mother?/
One: I don’t know where your mother/
is Two: I don’t know/
why they are trying to hurt us/
Three: or the latitude and longitude/
of their hatred Four: I don’t know if we/
hate them as much I think there’s more toilet paper/
in the supply closet I’m going to break it open
In choosing this as the title poem of her newest collection, Rich meant it “in a larger metaphoric sense — art as a school of the imagination in a world of violence and moral chaos.”
In making the poem, much work went into avoiding sentimentality, above all, and selecting “just enough” concrete detail; it went through many revisions.
Rich, 76, is known for her politically engaged work — passionate on the subjects of justice, civil rights and feminism. Over 40 years, she has published more than 20 books of poetry and essays. Her many awards include a MacArthur award, the Lannan Foundation Lifetime Achievement Award and a Bollingen Prize in American Poetry.
Accepting the National Book Critics Circle award March 18 in New York, Rich thanked “the movements and activists which have educated and fired me throughout my life.”
The event celebrates Merwin’s new collection, “Migrations: New & Selected Poems.” It also honors Rich and Merwin’s “old and continuing friendship in poetry,” she said.
Rich and Merwin met in Boston in the late ’50s, “probably through Robert Lowell,” she said.
Merwin’s first book had been published in the Yale Younger Poets series in 1954. The previous year, W.H. Auden had selected Rich’s first book for the same honor.
“I was living in Cambridge, married, with three small children. I’d go over on an afternoon and we’d talk about poems,” she said. “Both of us were going through changes in our work.”
They corresponded, sharing poems even while Merwin lived abroad. “Though we’d both taken part in various poetry readings against the Vietnam War,” she recalled, “I was increasingly involved with the political movements of the ’60s.”
It’s fitting, then, that Rich called her favorites of Merwin’s poems those from that era. She admires “a certain voice in them perhaps.” His poem, “Ash,” is “one of the most devastating, haunting poems I know, a wonderful example of what a political poem can be.”
The Thursday reading will benefit Merwin’s publisher, Copper Canyon Press — “one of the treasures of our culture of resistance,” said Rich.
So much of America’s great literature, especially poetry, has been published by small, independent presses, Rich marveled. “And we have two distinguished ones on the West Coast — Copper Canyon and City Lights.”