Tory Dent's Poetry on Life with AIDS Tory Dent, who wrote poetry about the experience of living with AIDS, died Friday. Poet Adrienne Rich remembers her friend's life and work.

Tory Dent's Poetry on Life with AIDS

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

Back in the US, AIDS has claimed the life of a poet who chronicled her struggles with the disease. Tory Dent wrote about AIDS using experimental form and unflinching language. After discovering she was HIV-positive at age 30, Dent published three volumes of poetry, including the critically acclaimed collection "HIV Mon Amour." Tory Dent passed away last Friday in New York. She was 47.

Poet Adrienne Rich was a friend of Dent's. They met through phone calls and e-mails as writers who admired each other's work. Rich says Dent never held back in her poetry.

Ms. ADRIENNE RICH (Poet): What's very remarkable about the language in these poems is that it can veer from great elegance to brutal realism. The revelations of the sense of betrayals of her body, disfigurements, infections and yet the language transcends morbidity as great poetic language can.

NORRIS: Rich reads an excerpt from Tory Dent's poem "What Calendars Have Become."

Ms. RICH: (Reading) I refer to the world but I speak of the body. I want my body to reassure me, my castorized limbs to start signing madly in the air, swallows flapping to free themselves. Teach me, sensei, my body, teach me with sangfroid impartiality as you have all my life about the meaning of life. Teach me, as you did once, of athletic executions, the thrill of unskilled kicking on lake water. Teach me, as you did, of sexual collusion, the pure suspense of someone touching that way my skin, painful and exciting like running into a forest at midnight, my hair caught in branches, withered leaves abusing my face. I ran faster, willfully, into its dimensions, darkening as if blindfolded, of course.'

NORRIS: That's Adrienne Rich reading the poem "What Calendars Have Become." Rich says Tory Dent's poetry set a moral example.

Ms. RICH: She teaches us that poetry not only is not equal to but must speak out of extremity and that in all extremity--AIDS, disaster, human disasters such as we're seeing around us constantly--that silence, if it's not death, it is defeat.

NORRIS: Writing poetry made Tory Dent feel alive. Here she is in 2002, speaking on the radio program "The Poet and the Poem" from the Library of Congress.

(Soundbite of 2002 radio broadcast)

Ms. TORY DENT (Poet): Being sick is terribly redundant and I think why writing seems to cheer me up is that it always surprises me in terms of what I'm feeling, what I'm thinking, how I'm able to express the emotions and the physical discomfort I'm going through. And that makes life still within the elements of surprise that normal, healthy people seem to experience all the time.

NORRIS: Tory Dent. She passed away on Friday due to an infection associated with AIDS. She was 47 years old. Dent's latest collection, "Black Milk," was published just last month. You can read a poem from that collection at npr.org.

ROBERT SIEGEL (Host): You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

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