Rich, Adrienne (Vol. 7)

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Rich, Adrienne 1929–

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Praised since her earliest collection, Ms Rich continues to elicit critical response as one of America's important poets. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 9-12, rev. ed.)

Adrienne Rich has taken her title [The Will to Change] from Charles Olson—not, for me, an encouraging sign. She has forgotten or forsworn her proved craftsmanship and gone into a kind of secret reverie. All that's worth expressing is the inexpressible, these poems seem to say, and of course that is part of the glory and despair of poetry. But does not the miracle, a slightly perhaps phony miracle (see Nabokov) happen sometimes when fortunate ones come out with a unified expression even if it is not what they were striving for? There is a skilled hand making these poems, but there is also, at least much of the time, a kind of contempt for coherence…. Any one of the ghazals will give the striking phrases and the total incoherence. Perhaps I don't understand the ghazal? (I don't.) (pp. 500-01)

Richmond Lattimore, in The Hudson Review (copyright © 1971 by The Hudson Review, Inc.; reprinted by permission), Vol. XXIV, No. 3, Autumn, 1971.

So important is the will to change in Adrienne Rich's mature work that it may well serve as primary focus in any consideration of her poetry, for it is her understanding and treatment of the ideological dynamics involved that will have much to say about the kind of intelligence we respond to as we read the successive volumes. At the same time, we must try to do justice to the wide range of insights, indeed to the variety of wills, represented in this very singular poetry.

The poet has had an abiding sense of her life and work as split in a decidedly simple and predictable way. As a young woman she had thought of herself as neat and decorous, cultivating a solid look, "Neither with rancor at the past / Nor to upbraid the coming time," as she described it wistfully in "At Majority" (1954). In those years, things had a certain weight and poems could express them in all their apparent accustomedness and density. It was not as though the young poet were entirely unaware of the abyss of uncertainty, but she had a confident way of holding it off, of handling it elegantly so that it seemed at most a mildly threatening idea. Her poetic skills, lavishly praised in the early '50's by Auden and Jarrell among others, seemed altogether a match for any difficult notions or untoward sensations that might have disturbed that wonderful poise and control, whether of self or of the aesthetic medium. All at once, though, in the poems of the late '50's, a more embattled and urgent air began to creep in, and the poet discovered that she had been covering up, not controlling merely, but wilfully evading. There is a certain tidiness in the discovery as she seeks to evoke it in the volume Snapshots of a Daughter-in-Law (1963), but we know in the perspective of subsequent volumes that the experience was in fact deeply important to the poet…. The single, controlling image demanding control of all particulars in a given poem is perhaps the most consistent element in the volume Snapshots, and accounts for the still formal quality we sense in the various poems. They deliver up their treasures rather too explicitly, we feel, and the note of discovery becomes so pointed and anticipated that we are grateful even for outbursts of spite or anger that break the pattern. But best of all are the rare introductions of specific tensions the poet wishes to work through rather than to resolve…. There is no clamoring [in Snapshots of a Daughter-in-Law ] for definite answers, no triumphant declarations of the courage to change as though change were all one could conceivably ask of anyone truly human. The poet's self-concern here is seemly and reasonable. She wants to know about herself, her secrets, her gifts. She does not speak yet as though...

(The entire section contains 10135 words.)

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Rich, Adrienne (Vol. 6)