Adrienne Rich’s poetry and essays reflect her experiences as a fairly traditional 1950’s wife and mother through her growing consciousness as a “woman-identified” feminist and lesbian. In her poems, Rich voices the conflicts, confusion, anger, and desire for wholeness felt by millions of women. In the title poem of Diving into the Wreck (1973), she describes American culture’s “book of myths/ in which/ our names do not appear.” The collection received a National Book Award; Rich declined the award personally but accepted in the name of all women. Her other books of poetry include The Will to Change (1971), The Dream of a Common Language (1978), and An Atlas of the Difficult World (1991).
In her essay “When We Dead Awaken: Writing as Re- Vision,” from On Lies, Secrets, and Silence (1979), Rich urges women to practice feminist “re-visioning” of literature, history, and myth to find the silenced experiences and voices of women. She sees the “act of looking back, of seeing with fresh eyes” as “an act of survival” for women. In Of Woman Born: Motherhood as Experience and Institution (1976), Rich ties this revisioning to women reclaiming ownership of their bodies. By thus learning to “think through the body, . . . [s]exuality, politics, intelligence, power, work, motherhood, community, intimacy will develop new meanings; thinking itself will be transformed.”
Another key essay, “Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence” (1980), suggests that women who have strong relationships with other women apply a wider definition of the term “lesbian” to themselves as a challenge to the patriarchal mandate of “compulsory heterosexuality.”
Altieri, Charles. “Self-Reflection as Action: The Recent Work of Adrienne Rich.” In Self and Sensibility in...
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