Adrienne Rich: Ballade of the Poverties

A major voice in poetry for over 50 years, Adrienne Rich has also been a major political poet -- and essayist -- since the 1960s. Art, she said in the course of refusing the award of the National Medal of Arts at the Clinton White House, "means nothing if it simply decorates the dinner table of the power which holds it hostage."

We reprint this poem from the Monthly Review website.

Ballade of the Poverties

by Adrienne Rich

 

There’s the poverty of the cockroach kingdom and the rusted toilet bowl The poverty of to steal food for the first time The poverty of to mouth a penis for a paycheck The poverty of sweet charity ladling Soup for the poor who must always be there for that There’s the poverty of theory poverty of the swollen belly shamed Poverty of the diploma mill the ballot that goes nowhere Princes of predation let me tell you There are poverties and there are poverties

There’s the poverty of cheap luggage bursted open at immigration The poverty of the turned head, the averted eyes The poverty of bored sex of tormented sex The poverty of the bounced check the poverty of the dumpster dive The poverty of the pawned horn the poverty of the smashed reading glasses The poverty pushing the sheeted gurney the poverty cleaning up the puke The poverty of the pavement artist the poverty passed-out on pavement Princes of finance you who have not lain there There are poverties and there are poverties

There is the poverty of hand-to-mouth and door-to-door And the poverty of stories patched-up to sell there There’s the poverty of the child thumbing the Interstate And the poverty of the bride enlisting for war There’s the poverty of prescriptions who can afford And the poverty of how would you ever end it There is the poverty of stones fisted in pocket And the poverty of the village bulldozed to rubble Princes of weaponry who have not ever tasted war There are poverties and there are poverties There’s the poverty of wages wired for the funeral you Can’t get to the poverty of the salary cut There’s the poverty of human labor offered silently on the curb The poverty of the no-contact prison visit There’s the poverty of yard sale scrapings spread And rejected the poverty of eviction, wedding bed out on street Prince let me tell you who will never learn through words There are poverties and there are poverties

You who travel by private jet like a housefly Buzzing with the other flies of plundered poverties Princes and courtiers who will never learn through words Here’s a mirror you can look into:  take it:  it’s yours.

 


For Jim and Arlene Scully with gratitude to François Villon and to Galway Kinnell

 

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  • Guest (Matt)

    Magnificent! In much the same spirit, here are the lyrics to "Underdogs" by The Coup:

    This is for my folkers who got bills overdue
    This is for my folkers, umm check, on, two
    This is for my folkers never lived like a hog
    Me and you toe-to-toe, I got love for the underdog

    I raise this glass for the ones who die meaningless
    And the newborns who get fed intravenously
    Somebody's mama caught a job and a welfare fraud case
    When she breathe, she swear it feel like plastic wrap around her face

    Lights turned off this is the third month the rent is late
    Thoughts of bein' homeless, cryin' till you hyperventilate
    Despair permeates the air and sets in your ear
    The kids play with that one toy they learned how to share

    Comin' home don't ever seem to be a celebration
    Bills they pile up the coffee table like they're decorations
    Big ol' spoons of peanut butter, big ass glass of water
    Makes the hunger subside, save the real food for your daughter

    You feel like swinging haymakers at a movin' truck
    You feel like laughing so it seems like you don't give a fuck
    yYu feel like getting so high, you'll smoke the whole damn crop
    You feel like crying, but you think you might never stop

    Homes with no heat stiffen your bones like arthritis
    If this was fiction it'd be easier to write this
    Some folks wanna front like they're so above you
    They'd tear this motherfucker up if they really loved you

    This is for my folkers who got bills overdue
    This is for my folkers, um check, one, two
    This is for my folkers never lived like a hog
    Me and you, toe-to-toe, I got love for the underdog

    There's certain tricks of the trade to try to halt your defeat
    Like takin' tupperwear to an all you can eat
    Returnin' used shit for new sayin' you lost your receipt
    And writing four-figure checks when your accounts deplete

    Then all your problems pile up about a mile up
    Thinkin' bout a partner you can dial up
    To help you out this vile stuff
    Whole family sleepin' on the futon while you clippin' coupons
    Eatin' salad tryin' to get full off the croutons

    Crosstown, the situation is identical
    Somebody gettin' strangled by the system and it's tentacles
    Misconceptions raised questions to be solved
    A lot of b-boys is broke, a lot of homeless got jobs

    You can make 8 bones an hour till you pass out and still be ass out
    Most pyramid schemes don't let you cash out
    They say this generation made the harmony break
    But crime rise consistent wit' the poverty rate

    You take the worker from jobs, you gon' have murders and mobs
    A gang of preachers screamin' sermons over murmurs and sobs
    Sayin' "pray for a change from the lord above you"
    They'd tear this motherfucker up if they really loved you

    This is for my folkers who got bills overdue
    Tis is for my folkers, um, check one, two
    This is for my folkers never lived like a hog
    Me and you, toe-to-toe, I got love for the underdog

    You like this song cuz it relates, it's you in a rhyme
    We go to stores that only let us in two at a time
    We live in places where it cost to get your check cashed
    Arguments about money usually drown out the tec blasts

    Work 6 days a week, can't sleep Saturday though
    Muscles tremblin' like a pager when the batteries low
    And you just don't know where the years went
    Although every long shift feel like a year spent

    And you could write your resume but it wouldn't even mention
    All the life lessons learned during six years of detention
    How you learned the police was just some handicappers
    On the ground next to broken glass and candy wrappers

    Now don't accept my collects on the phone
    Just hit me at the house so I know I ain't alone
    And we could chop it up about this messed up system
    Homies that's been killed, how we always gon' miss 'em

    It's almost impossible survivin' on this fraction
    Sip a 40 to your brain for the chemical reaction
    You gatta hustle cuz they tryn' a push and shove you
    I'll tear this motherfucker up, since I really love you

    This is for my folkers who got bills overdue
    This is for my folkers, um check, one, two
    This is for my folkers never lived like a hog
    Me and you, toe-to-toe, I got love for the underdog