ESSENTIAL ESSAYS by Adrienne Rich
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ESSENTIAL ESSAYS

Culture, Politics, and the Art of Poetry
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KIRKUS REVIEW

An anthology of the acclaimed poet and essayist’s most searing prose.

This compendium demonstrates how Rich (Tonight No Poetry Will Serve: Poems 2007-2010, 2010, etc.), who won numerous prestigious awards during her life (1929-2012), also distinguished herself as a formidable public intellectual, literary critic, and cultural theorist. Arguing that the masculine world order has discounted the perspectives of women, Rich devoted her life to fostering “a collective description of the world which will be truly ours.” Her essays leveraged her poems and journal entries as illustrations because she sought to dissolve the barriers between the personal, the political, and the aesthetic. In the section taken from her landmark book Of Woman Born: Motherhood as Experience and Institution (1976), the author contrasts the supposed bliss of maternity with the “anxiety, physical weariness, anger, self-blame, boredom, and division within myself” that she felt as a mother of three young children. This collection features representative samples of Rich’s signature critical move, the “re-vision” of literary foremothers whose works had long been misappropriated and misunderstood. She claims, for instance, that Emily Dickinson’s reclusive lifestyle was not a sentimental tragedy but rather a practical and liberating choice for an ambitious writer conscious of her unorthodox brilliance and that the carefully controlled style in A Room of One’s Own enabled Virginia Woolf to write for women while being overheard by men. Rich’s outspoken alliance with lesbian feminists has tended to discourage those readers who could most benefit from her work, yet her thoughts about gender and identity from the 1970s and ’80s sound all too current: “A change in the concept of sexual identity is essential if we are not going to see the old political order reassert itself in every new revolution.” Feminist poet and literary critic Gilbert skillfully selects examples that convey the considerable breadth of Rich’s purview as an essayist and exhibit her characteristic strategy of rejecting surface explanations and turning experience around in the light of subjective truth.

Approachable, effective excerpts afford breathtaking encounters with genius.

Pub Date: Aug. 28th, 2018
ISBN: 978-0-393-65236-9
Page count: 352pp
Publisher: Norton
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1st, 2018




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