'Then or Now' - a poem score for Ballet Black
by Adrienne Rich

What Kind of Times Are These
By Adrienne Rich

There's a place between two stands of trees where the grass grows uphill
and the old revolutionary road breaks off into shadows
near a meeting-house abandoned by the persecuted
who disappeared into those shadows.

I've walked there picking mushrooms at the edge of dread, but don't be fooled
this isn't a Russian poem, this is not somewhere else but here,
our country moving closer to its own truth and dread,
its own ways of making people disappear.

I won't tell you where the place is, the dark mesh of the woods
meeting the unmarked strip of light—
ghost-ridden crossroads, leafmold paradise:
I already know who wants to buy it, sell it, make it disappear.

And I won't tell you where it is, so why do I tell you
anything? Because you still listen, because in times like these
to have you listen at all, it's necessary
to talk about trees.


We are delighted to share a special edition of The Poetry Exchange podcast featuring the score from Ballet Black’s new piece, Then or Now, choreographed by William Tuckett, which would have had its world premiere at The Barbican, London, on March 26th.

The score features poems by Adrienne Rich and the music of Heinrich Ignaz Franz von Biber (1644-1704), played by solo violinist Daniel Pioro. Poetry Direction is by The Poetry Exchange’s Founder and Director, Fiona Bennett and poems are voiced by Natasha Gordon, Michael Shaeffer and Hafsah Annela Bashir.

It is with great thanks to the Adrienne Rich Estate and all the artists involved that we are able to share this unique collaboration between Ballet Black and The Poetry Exchange with you as a prelude to the full experience, once the ballet can be performed.

Adrienne Rich is one of the greatest modern poets of our time. She was a tireless activist and ambassador for human rights and social justice. She was an active force in the Civil Rights Movement, a leading voice in the Feminist Movement and spoke out against all forms of oppression and injustice. Her exemplary approach to political activism, her scholarly and artistic integrity make her a highly relevant and vital source of inspiration for our time. She died in 2012 and her legacy is a defining force in the ongoing development of poetry.

You can find out more about the life and work of Adrienne Rich through the Adrienne Rich Literary Trust here:

We are grateful to The Adrienne Rich Literary Trust and W.W. Norton and Company, Inc. for granting us permission to feature poems from Dark Fields of the Republic. Dark Fields of the Republic is published by W.W. Norton and available here.

Many thanks to the wonderful Ballet Black and The Barbican. Find out more about their work below, and to stay updated with rescheduled ‘Then or Now’ performance dates:

The extraordinary work of violinist, Daniel Pioro can also be found here:

Photo credit: Camilla Greenwell and Ballet Black


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In exchange we create a gift for them, a bespoke reading of their chosen poem inspired by the conversation. Our award-winning podcast shares these unique and powerful stories of connection with people across the world. 


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Then or Now - the episode featuring the poetry of Adrienne Rich and our collaboration with Ballet Black is no longer available, since we hope to be able to announce details soon of the full dance production! More news soon!