Poetry News

New Volumes of Collected Adrienne Rich Provide Glimpses of a 'Game-Changing Feminist, Poet and Essayist'

By Harriet Staff

At the New York Times, Craig Morgan Teicher explores two recently-published volumes compiling work by Adrienne Rich. Teicher explains, "Rich came to consciousness as a poet — and person — of the 1950s, 20th-century America’s most repressed and repressive decade, a retreat, after the madness of World War II, to traditional values: Women were meant to stay at home, to raise children and to enable their husbands’ worldly careers." Picking up from there: 

Rich’s early books of poetry narrate an apprenticeship in the status quo, a slow, steady casting off of immeasurably old, unspeakably limiting ideas about what women could do, think and be in relation to men, followed by the rigorous creation of an empowered female identity for the second half of the 20th century. For Rich, this meant a new life sprung from the old, as a lesbian and groundbreaking feminist writer, as a distiller and popularizer of academic feminist theory, and as a poet who would exert a reshaping influence over other writers forever after.

The latest sign of Rich’s ongoing impact is the publication this fall by W. W. Norton, six years after her death, of a volume of her “Essential Essays,” along with a retrospective collection of verse, “Selected Poems: 1950-2012.” Paradox is at the heart of the story these two books tell. Along with their mothers’ physical traits, women take on their mothers’ history; in order to transcend it, women must work “not to pass on a tradition but to break its hold over us.” Yet the tradition remains and has its uses, not least of which in Rich’s case was to introduce her to poetry — a conversation across time. Rich’s poems are full of warnings against forgetting the past, against pretending one has escaped it, as in a reflection on the life of Marie Curie, who, Rich writes, died “denying / her wounds came from the same source as her power.” She urges a profound kind of ambivalence: Proceed with caution, looking over your shoulder, and somehow simultaneously with fierce abandon.

Read more at the New York Times.

Originally Published: December 12th, 2018