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This item is taken from PN Review 199, Volume 37 Number 5, May - June 2011.Inside Cover Portrait: Adrienne Rich (David C. Ward)
by Joan Biren
Digital print, 2010, after a gelatin
Adrienne Rich 1929–
Adrienne Rich was part of the great generation of post-World War II American poets and she remains (along with John Ashbery) as one of that generation’s vital survivors. Her poetic beginnings were extraordinarily precocious (she graduated from Radcliffe in 1951, the same year that Auden chose her for the Yale Younger Poets series) but conventional enough in terms of style, positioning herself in the lineage of modernist Anglo-American poets. Lineage was soon experienced as restriction. A conventional poetic career, as well as a conventional career as a middle-class woman in 1950s America, increasingly troubled Rich. Her thoughts and feelings as woman and poet did not mesh with the expectations of the external world. As the gap between inner and outer grew larger, Rich turned into herself (she described herself at one point as having been ‘paralysed’), emerging as a defining poetic voice of American feminism. Stylistically, her engagement with her essential nature, and its implications for her relations with the world, meant a liberation of language from its patrimony. This process of reclaiming and reinvention has been discussed by other women poets (for instance, Eavan Boland); it was Rich who broke the ice with her self-conscious projection of her inner world onto an indifferent, unhearing world. Her gestures at a radical separatism of the woman’s world – her banning of men from her readings at one point – may occasionally have been over-drawn. But one cannot gainsay the power of ‘Diving into the Wreck’, in which she appropriates and transforms the supposedly male task of exploration for her own purposes:
the evidence of damage
worn by salt and sway into this threadbare beauty
the ribs of the disaster
curving their assertion
among the tentative haunters.
DAVID C. WARD
This item is taken from PN Review 199, Volume 37 Number 5, May - June 2011.