Adrienne Rich Essays

Informed more distinctly by a feminist analysis of history and culture, Diving into the Wreck (1973) marks another turning point in Rich’s career.In it she expresses her anger regarding women’s position in Western culture more directly and alludes to problematic dualities or images of Otherness.The book’s title piece, a ten-poem sequence written in free verse, creates an album of women’s lives under male domination.

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At the same time, Rich began to distrust her medium because of its close ties to patriarchical culture.

“This is the oppressor’s language // yet I need it to talk to you,” she writes in “The Burning of Paper Instead of Children,” a five-poem sequence with prose segments in The Will to Change.

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).

As with Leaflets and The Will to Change, this book’s tone ranges from critical to accusatory.

When Diving into the Wreck was awarded the National Book Award in 1974, Rich rejected the prize as an individual but accepted it, with a statement coauthored by Audre Lorde and Alice Walker, on behalf of all unknown women writers.

Rich’s next three books – Necessities of Life (1966), Leaflets (1969), and The Will to Change (1971) – reflect the social upheaval of the late 1960s and early 1970s.

Like other poets of her generation, such as Denise Levertov, Robert Bly and W. Merwin, she wrote poems protesting the Vietnam War, particularly in Leaflets.

To a significant extent, all poets are concerned with transformation.

The very making of a poem involves a transformation from perceived reality or experience into a verbal utterance shaped by the poet’s imagination and craft.


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