Video: The Poetry & Legacy of Adrienne Rich
To read a woman poet using and subverting the modernists' collage/quotation/fragmentation techniques, so often employed in mockery of women, in a project of specifically womanly and ardently feminist inquiry, was a heady gift.
I am myself a woman of the left, a feminist, a lesbian, a secular non-Zionist Jew, an American, and a poet—aware how some identities can be chosen or ignored and others constitute facts of one's life immutable as bone structure. And how even this fact can be modified by history.
Because I am a poet, the possibilities, the ramifications of what a poet might accomplish—as a writer, and as what we now call a 'public intellectual,' an eloquent, representative citizen—have been important to me since I began to read and write myself out of childhood.
Adrienne Rich was a poet less than a generation my senior who was redefining these possibilites in a way that I could understand, in a way that was useful. It seems clear that one intention of Adrienne Rich as a poet was, at least, since the 1960s, to do something useful—and not only useful to younger poets.
As far back as Leaflets, indeed as far back as Snapshots of a Daughter-in-Law, Adrienne Rich's body of work establishes, among other things, an intellectual autobiography—not the narrative of one life which she goes out of her way to reiterate it is not; and still less: intimate divulgence, but as the evolution and revolutions of an exceptional mind with all its curiosity outreaching exasperation, even its errors.
Even when Rich became most insistent, and I, as a reader insistent with her, on her particularity as a woman—as an American woman—and on the historical overdetermination of women's experiences and supposed limitations, she was insisting, as well, that a woman's intellectual, political, aesthetic development could provide an emblematic narrative for a generation. That it could, like the richly referenced self-examinations of a philosopher like Montaigne, provide that emblematic narrative for generations to come.