Robin Morgan Essay - Critical Essays

Morgan, Robin

Morgan, Robin 1941–

For the last few years, Ms Morgan has devoted most of her time to the Women's Liberation Movement and, in addition to writing poems, has edited Sisterhood Is Powerful, the anthology of feminist writings for which she is best known.

Robin Morgan, who edited the anthology, "Sisterhood Is Powerful," and wrote a good militant introduction to it, now gives us her "gut feelings" and exposes some kinds of "experience which we learn to be unashamed of in women's liberation." Since the collection ["Monster"] bears the subhead, "Poems," I must report that in the main it's a case of mislabeling. The assertion can't be news to the author who, in "Letter to a Sister Underground," says, "I don't write what I once called poems anymore—/ the well-wrought kind…." O.K., but what's confusing is that there are wrought poems here.

"The Improvisors" is strongly wrought, "Satellite" is wrought, but not so good, and she has a set of sonnets of which some are sharply arresting while others have clotted rhetoric or a too-soft lyricism….

Result: the main body of her book consists of sprawling manifestoes, diatribes, polemical essays and editorials, laments and excoriations—too much that is deliberately formless. Word explosions bursting from the wish that "female tears … were each a bullet" do yield release from agony and conflict, but setting them in print to look something like poetry doesn't work the transformation required.

May Swenson, in The New York Times Book Review (© 1972 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), November 19, 1972, pp. 7, 26.

The first four sections of Morgan's book [Monster] include poems that range from the nightmare images of "The Improvisers" and the insomniac rhythms of "Satellite," the cross-gender love/hate vision of "Annunciation," through revolving figures of sexual rage, tenderness and grief into a poetry of the world beyond the bed, a world a men struggling for political liberation, struggles in which women are swept up, idealized, used.

These early sections establish Morgan as a poet of considerable means. There is a savage elegance, a richness of vocabulary, a thrust and steely polish (for example, in "Eight Games of Strategy") which recall George Meredith's extraordinary Victorian marriage-sequence, "Modern Love." Sections three and four comprise increasingly hallucinatory or visionary poems, with a variety of moods and voices: from "Elegy"—taut, closely-wrought—or the deadpan ironic reportage of "The Invisible Woman," to the chromatic, baroque imagery of "War Games" (another powerful cross-gender vision) or "Revolucinations."

The final section of Monster is stripped-down, almost asceticized, in language: it is frankly militant, didactic and functional. Like much black poetry, it is meant to be read aloud, and to an audience which has to some extent lived through the recognitions of the earlier poems. It has been, will be, called rhetorical. I think, however, that it is a poetry of exorcism—something of which the traditions of western poetry have little to teach us….

It is a poetry where rage and mourning for unfulfilled possibilities no longer exist at a metaphoric level….

In her polemical poems Morgan strips her language of its baroque elegance, its richly sensuous vocabulary, and writes with the nakedness of a letter or a leaflet….

If there is a single quality driving through Morgan's poetry, it is her acute, devouring sense of her own potential, of the energy she and all women in patriarchal society expend in simply countering opposition—and of what that energy might achieve if it could be released from combat (and self-punishment) into creation….

She is writing poems in which all women, not just poets, can measure and touch the rage of the powerless, their sense of failed possibilities, their "reasons for moving." In this powerful, challenging book they may also recognize more familiar sensations such as tenderness, sensuality, pity and maternal love.

Adrienne Rich, "Voices in the Wilderness," in Book World—The Washington Post (© The Washington Post), December 31, 1972, p. 3.