The Voice of the Poet – Adrienne Rich (Book Review)

adrienne richAdrienne Rich published poetry and essays from the 1951-2009.  Her life was traditional, at first … born in Baltimore, college at Radcliffe, husband a Harvard professor, three children.  Rich’s early works were as traditional as her life.  Carol Muske of the New York Times Book Review wrote that Rich began as a “polite copyist of Yeats and Auden, wife and mother. She has progressed in life (and in her poems …) from young widow and disenchanted formalist, to spiritual and rhetorical convalescent, to feminist leader…and doyenne of a newly-defined female literature.”  David Zuger described her transformation into “poet of prophetic intensity and ‘visionary anger’ bitterly unable to feel at home in a world ‘that gives no room / to be what we dreamt of being.'”

As a poetry neophyte, the works of Adrienne Rich were new for me.  Apparently her best known works are strongly feminist (gay and lesbian) and political.  Her selections in this collection follow those topical leanings, and thus I found most of these poems less engaging since the strong feminist view is difficult for me, and the politics seem rooted in past events.

Two poems impressed me because their subjects were not typical, but addressed scientific achievers from a personal viewpoint. The poem Planetarium is about the astronomer Caroline Herschel and considers both Herschel’s personal achievements and the stellar features named for women over history.  To appreciate this poem best it should be read in hard copy, because the words wander across the page in groups and clusters, reminding me of the stars above us.

Trying to Talk with a Man applies the metaphor of a dangerous arms race to establishing real dialogue between man and woman. The poem describes developing bombs in the desert, discussing what is given up to be there, and how the danger of the bomb is really a danger to ourselves and our humanity.


Poetry Foundation — Adrienne Rich

Rich’s Life and Career

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Mark Bobb

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