Form and Content

(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

Blood, Bread, and Poetry collects fifteen essays by noted American poet, lesbian, and feminist Adrienne Rich, some of which were first presented as lectures or speeches. The essays are arranged in chronological order of composition, from 1979 to 1985. The anthology revolves around the central thematic issues of contemporary feminism, articulating a range of subtopics, particularly women’s history, women and literature, and academic women’s studies. In a clear and accessible voice, Rich addresses subjects pertinent to understanding not only the development of feminist studies but also a feminist point-of-view on the position of women during the Reagan Administration. The essays often adopt a lively hortatory tone, alternating with thoughtful, thought-provoking inquiry.

Several essays discuss important but underappreciated figures in women’s literature. “The Problem of Lorraine Hansberry” (1979) identifies the late African American playwright as an astute feminist who wrote of women’s issues and ideas well before the women’s liberation movement of the late 1960’s. In 1957, Hansberry began an essay on Simone de Beauvoir’s Le Deuxième Sexe (1949; The Second Sex, 1953) and corresponded to The Ladder, an early lesbian periodical, about the “hetero-social” pressures that lesbians face. Rich tells poignantly of how Hansberry’s papers and dramatic corpus have been manipulated by her former husband, Robert Nemiroff. Rich suggests that Hansberry’s female voice has been at least partially diluted through male mediation of her texts.

Similarly, in “The Eye of the Outsider: Elizabeth Bishop’s Complete Poems, 1927-1979” (1983), Rich describes Bishop’s work as incompletely appreciated by the literary establishment that canonized it, and she considers exemplary poems in terms of Bishop’s “outsiderhood.” She...

(The entire section is 778 words.)