h = o = t   +   i = n = k                     [   Rich Poem   ]

The Dream of an
Artist's Language

Poet & writer Adrienne Rich refused to accept the National Medal of the Arts in July. On Sunday, August 3, the Los Angeles Times Book Review  published the full text of Rich's explanation. Hot Ink here reprints Adrienne Rich's letter of refusal, in which she repudiates the Clinton Administration for allowing the destruction of federal arts funding.

t he debate over government funding of art continues. To further understand Adrienne Rich's position, our Hot Ink Reprint is complemented by EXCERPTS from Rich's explanation, and her 1983 poem For the Record -- both reprinted here today.

extra ink

For the Record
Excerpts: Rich's Refusal

Government by the People

Language of Art

L.A. Times Book Review: Complete Rich Text

         July 3, 1997
         Jane Alexander
         The National Endowment for the Arts
         1100 Pennsylvania Avenue
         Washington, DC 20506

     Dear Jane Alexander,
               I just spoke with a young man from your office, who informed me that I had been chosen to be one of twelve recipients of the National Medal for the Arts at a ceremony at the White House in the fall. I told him at once that I could not accept such an award from President Clinton or this White House because the very meaning of art, as I understand it, is incompatible with the cynical politics of this administration. I want to clarify to you what I meant by my refusal.
               Anyone familiar with my work from the early Sixties on knows that I believe in art's social presence--as breaker of official silences, as voice for those whose voices are disregarded, and as a human birthright.

In my lifetime I have seen the space for the arts opened by movements for social justice, the power of art to break despair. Over the past two decades I have witnessed the increasingly brutal impact of racial and economic injustice in our country.
               There is no simple formula for the relationship of art to justice. But I do know that art--in my own case the art of poetry--means nothing if it simply decorates the dinner table of power which holds it hostage. The radical disparities of wealth and power in America are widening at a devastating rate. A President cannot meaningfully honor certain token artists while the people at large are so dishonored.
               I know you have been engaged in a serious and disheartening struggle to save government funding for the arts, against those whose fear and suspicion of art is nakedly repressive. In the end, I don't think we can separate art from overall human dignity and hope. My concern for my country is inextricable from my concerns as an artist. I could not participate in a ritual which would feel so hypocritical to me.
               Adrienne Rich
               cc: President Clinton


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