What Kind of Times Are These

Author

Rich, Adrienne

Genre

Poetry

Overview

Born in Baltimore, Maryland in 1929, Adrienne Rich received early recognition when her first book of poems was selected by W.H. Auden as the winner of the prestigious Yale Younger Poets Prize in 1951. Rich later became an influential figure in the women's movement, and her political commitments have remained central to her poetry. In "What Kind of Times Are These"(1995), she describes a shadowy place in the woods where "the persecuted" have vanished—a place she refuses to locate except by saying that it is "not somewhere else but here." This parable-like poem raises difficult questions about the nature and dangers of leadership and the complicity of ordinary citizens in their government's uses (and abuses) of power. How can people, a place or a past be made to "disappear"? Why does Rich say that it is important to "talk about trees" in response? In what way is this kind of talk "necessary"?

Full Text*

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Source

The Fact of a Doorframe: Selected Poems 1950-2001. Norton, 2002.

Type

Reading - Short Enough to Read Aloud.

Themes

Diversity and DifferenceJustice and EqualityLeadership and ResponsibilityMoney and WealthNature and the EnvironmentOrganizing and ActivismPower and Privilege

Big Questions

How do we learn to have dialogue across difference? What does it look like?What is justice? How do we recognize it?What makes a good leader?What is the “status quo”? Does it need to be changed?In what ways does having money give us power?

Sample Discussion Questions

  1. Why does the speaker feel the need to remind us, “this is not somewhere else but here”?
  2. Who, in our country, is making people disappear? Who is disappearing?
  3. What does the speaker mean when she says, our country is “moving closer to its own truth and dread”?
  4. Why won't the speaker tell us “where the place is”? Why does she withhold information from us?
  5. What does the speaker warn us of throughout the poem? What does she implore us to do at the end of the poem? Why?
  6. Why must you listen in “times like these”?
  7. What are the issues (social, political, local, etc.) that are most important to you? How do you make people listen?
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