vocalisms #6: Adrienne Rich

vocalisms is a twice monthly feature that presents selected tracks from voca, the Poetry Center's online audio video library of more than 800 recorded readings, spanning from 1963 to today.

Adrienne Rich (1974), “Planetarium”

Scientific study takes on epic proportions in Adrienne Rich’s “Planetarium,” in this track from her 1974 visit to the Poetry Center. Rich reads with a precision and intensity that perfectly matches the poem’s combination of the factual and the mythic. We learn that astronomer Caroline Herschel (1750-1848) discovered eight comets throughout her life, but Rich also depicts her “levitating into the night sky / riding the polished lenses.” In this poem as in others, Rich depicts the work of women—as astronomers, as mountaineers, as artists—with a seriousness that it all too frequently doesn’t receive. Rich’s figurative language doesn’t stretch the truth but rather helps us to see the real scale of importance, as well as the resistance, that trailblazing women face. Her closing lines underscore the purpose of this recognition: “for the relief of the body / and the reconstruction of the mind.”