Adrienne Rich Rich, Adrienne (Vol. 6)

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Rich, Adrienne (Vol. 6)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Rich, Adrienne 1929–

Adrienne Rich, an American poet and critic, won the National Book Award in 1974 for Diving Into the Wreck. Another poet has written that her work displays "complete mastery, absolute assurance of movement and tone." (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 9-12, rev. ed.)

There is much craft [in Adrienne Rich's "Implosions"], and, just as unusual, much humility. Here the poet is telling us how she feels, not instructing us in how we ought to feel. She commands our assent all the more by refusing to court it. Our first impression when we read this is not likely to be, "Aha, protest poetry"; we will be thinking of things which resist categorization. Good poems, poems like this one, always fight free of labelling. Such individuality cannot be copied, but we can only hope that it can be emulated. The age is dominated by faceless collectivities, and in such a milieu the poet's most cogent protest lies not merely in what he has to say but in his finding an inimitable voice in which to say it. (p. 54)

Robert B. Shaw, "The Poetry of Protest" (copyright © 1974 by Robert B. Shaw), in American Poetry Since 1960: Some Critical Perspectives, edited by Robert B. Shaw, Dufour, 1974.

Snapshots of a Daughter-in-Law (1963) is the transitional book in Adrienne Rich's development…. What happens is the crucial event in the career of any artist: a penetration into experience which makes for a distinguishing style. Her themes—the burden of history, the separateness of individuals, the need for relationship where there is not other transcendence—begin to find their clarifying focus and center: what she is as woman and poet in late-twentieth-century America. The first poems in the book are still quite regular; even so striking a piece as "The Knight" is something of a tour de force in its proportioned elaboration of a conceit. But by the time the reader encounters the title poem, he knows he is dealing with a sensibility tough, restless, capable of unpredictable leaps and turns…. This thinking woman paraphrases Baudelaire, parodies Horace to register the pressures that make the mind moulder. The shock of the imagery is due not merely to its violence (each of the passages refers to a cutting edge) but to an accuracy so unsparing that the imagination reacts psychosomatically: muscles tighten and nerves twinge. The ten sections of "Snapshots" comprise an album of woman as "daughter-in-law," bound into the set of roles which men have established and which female acquiescence has re-enforced. Women-artists—Emily Dickinson, Mary Shelley, Fanny Burney—stand out as images of resistance and achievement, and they herald the image of fulfilment. (pp. 126-27)

Adrienne Rich's earlier poems were praised for their subtlety of rhythm and tone, and these unmetered lines lose none of their subtlety for being more strongly stressed and more freely paced. But in becoming more concrete, her poetry was becoming primarily visual rather than aural, and she has been increasingly successful at imprinting images so indelibly that they convey the meaning without comment or conclusion. The words "eye" and "see" recur insistently (some thirty times) throughout the Snapshots volume, and there can be no mistaking her purpose: to "outstare with truthfulness" each moment in the flux of time and thereby live as keenly as her powers of perception make possible. To be is to see; I am eye. Poetry functions as the vehicle for seeing and for fixing what one comes to see. It is the camera with lens and focus, and poems are snapshots. (p. 128)

The psychological and artistic point which the Snapshots volume dramatises is Adrienne Rich's rejection of the terms on which society says we must expend our existence and her departure on an inner journey of exploration and discovery. (p. 132)

Necessities of Life (1966), Leaflets (1969) and The Will to Change (1971) are better books than Snapshots ; they move steadily and with growing success towards making a poetry which is not just an...

(The entire section is 2,809 words.)