Adrienne Rich Essays

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Rich’s essays and poetry from the mid-1970s to the early 1980s have been considered her most radical, in part because in them she rejects her earlier use of androgyny and seems to make a case for feminist separatism.

“There are words I cannot choose again: / humanism androgyny,” she writes in “Natural Resources,” in which a female miner replaces the androgynous diver of “Diving into the Wreck.” Rich defines and addresses her villain more clearly: a patriarchical culture that inherently devalues anything female or feminine.

Moreover, if the imagination is to transcend and transform experience, it has to question, to challenge, to conceive of alternatives, perhaps to the very life you are living at that moment.

Transformation is thus private as well as public, and Rich’s poetry and essays have explored the space where these realms intersect, incorporating feminist, lesbian, historical, non-capitalist, humanitarian, multi-racial, and multi-cultural points of view.

Three poems in The Diamond Cutters – “Picture by Vuillard,” “Love in the Museum” and “Ideal Landscape” – question the version of reality offered by art, while “Living in Sin” depicts a woman’s growing dissatisfaction with her lover and living situation.

Snapshots of a Daughter-in-Law (1963), which reflects the tensions she experienced as a wife and mother in the 1950s, marks a substantial change in Rich’s style and subject matter.

Images of death pervade Necessities of Life as the poet struggled to create a life no longer shaped by the predetermined rituals and social roles.

Emily Dickinson became a recurring figure in her poems, foreshadowing her influential essay, “Vesuvius at Home: The Power of Emily Dickinson” (1975).

Rich’s poems also became increasingly experimental, employing longer, contrapuntal lines.

She adapted the ghazal, a Persian form traditionally used for expressions of love, to convey social and political comment.


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