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This review is taken from PN Review 201, Volume 38 Number 1, September - October 2011.

THE UNDEFEATED ADRIENNE RICH, Tonight No Poetry Will Serve. Poems, 2007-2010 (New York and London: W.W. Norton) $24.95

In a letter to PNR 200, Marilyn Hacker criticised the limitations of the little essay or label that I wrote to accompany the photographic portrait by Joan Biren ('JEB') of Adrienne Rich. Hacker thought my label reductionist, focusing as it did on Rich's monumental achievement during the 1950s of creating a new, feminist poetics rather than on the totality of her career, including her support of Palestinian rights. The point of these portrait essays, given space limitations, is to pick out a major chord with which to characterise a writer's life; an encyclopaedic over-view is, of course, impossible. Given my interest in language - both visual and verbal - and resistance, an emphasis on the way that Rich wrote her way out of poetry's patriarchal language at mid-century seemed the point to highlight. (This emphasis also 'fitted' the image and biographical moment presented by 'JEB' in her photograph.) That this was, in my estimation and I believe in Rich's own, the key moment in her development as a writer is not to deny the richness (sorry!) of her subsequent work. There is a remembrance of this moment in Tonight No Poetry Will Serve: 'Pain taught her the language / root of radical // she walked on knives to gain a voice / fished the lake of lost // messages gulping up / from far below and long ago'. From that pain and over a career of now almost sixty years, Rich has never stopped developing and evolving as a ...


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