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This review is taken from PN Review 193, Volume 36 Number 5, May - June 2010.

CAUGHT IN THE WRECKAGE ADRIENNE RICH, Telephone Ringing in the Labyrinth (W.W. Norton) $13.95

It proved possible to write poetry after Auschwitz. Indeed, reimagining and reconfiguring the landscape of the post- Holocaust, post-Second World War world became an essential task for modernist writers, none more so than Adrienne Rich. Rich’s great political poem, ‘Diving into the Wreck’, affirmed the necessity of scrutinising and literarily reconstructing what

had happened: ‘the thing I came for:/the wreck and not the story of the wreck/the thing itself and not the myth’. From this exploration, the poem goes on, a new chart could be projected, one in which the names which did not appear in history could be inscribed. In her major phase as an overtly political writer, Rich grappled, like many writers of her generation, with history, rewriting it to make it new:

I came to explore the wreck.
The words are purposes.
The words are maps.
I came to see the damage that was done
and the treasures that prevail.

But in her poetic prevailing - in proving that Auschwitz had not stopped time - Rich, as were all post-war writers, was forced to confront the contingencies of history. As post-modernism succeeded modernism, it becomes necessary to ask: is poetry possible after Iraq 2, Abu Ghraib, and Gitmo? This is the question that uneasily inflects Rich’s latest collection, Telephone Ringing in the Labyrinth.

There is a sense of dogged persistence - and occasional exhaustion - running through Telephone, as with a boxer ...


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