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This article is taken from PN Review 241, Volume 44 Number 5, May - June 2018.

on Rich and Pound

Snapshot and Image
A Meeting Of Rich And Pound
Barry Wood
Can history show us nothing
but pieces of ourselves, detached,
set to a kind of poetry,
a kind of music, even?
1

I

ADRIENNE RICH published her poem-sequence ‘Snapshots of a Daughter-in-Law’ in the volume of the same name in 1963. The book as a whole – despite some shift in perspective – was written very much in the lyrical, dramatic and narrative styles and modes of her first two books. W. H. Auden had notoriously described the poems in her first book (1951) as ‘neatly and modestly dressed’ and John Ashbery, even as late as 1966, pigeon-holed her as ‘a kind of Emily Dickinson of the suburbs’. Such delimiting judgements are not uncharacteristic of the times, but no less inaccurate; even in her first two books Rich covertly questions such patronising, patriarchal attitudes. The originality of ‘Snapshots’ is its more direct and uncompromising subversion of masculine conventions of control and oppression and its equally merciless exposure of female complicity in their perpetuation. The sequence was undoubtedly a breakthrough for Rich herself and a significant part of the 1960s revaluation of women’s poetry and its relationship to ‘the tradition’. Its radicalism was not immediately recognised, in my experience, but its significance was eventually acknowledged even by those with reservations about the work being too programmatic, more propaganda than poetry.

In her 1971 essay ‘When We Dead Awaken’, Rich speaks of the origins of the sequence, the conditions under which it was written and its importance to her own development ...


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