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This review is taken from PN Review 143, Volume 28 Number 3, January - February 2002.

TOUGH AND FRAGILE ADRIENNE RICH, Arts of the Possible: Essays and Conversations (W.W. Norton) $23.95

Arts of the Possible collects together Adrienne Rich's essays from the 1990s, and a number of influential essays from the 1970s. A key essay explaining her reasons for declining the National Medal for the Arts appears - 'Art means nothing if it simply decorates the dinner table of power that holds it hostage' - alongside a number of interviews and conversations. In conversation toward the end of this book, Rich notes: 'One of the things that has fascinated me is, How do you make poetry out of political experiences - not about, but out of, the questions and passions that drive a collective movement; a political life?' These essays go a long way in answering such questions and reveal the deeply humanistic programme of a major twentieth century writer. As Rich writes in 'Notes Toward a Politics of Location': 'These notes are the marks of a struggle to keep moving, a struggle for accountability.'

Rich's poems and essays have been a quintessential part of the ecology of the women's movement: they have both reacted to political issues and defined the debating ground of those issues. More than anyone's perhaps, her output illustrates and exemplifies a woman writer's journey through the past thirty-plus years. These essays explore early feminist thinking, drawing inescapable connections between our sexual lives and our political institutions. Rich still believes what she wrote in 1971: 'A change in the concept of sexual identity is essential if we are not to see the old political ...

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