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“The experience of motherhood,” Rich wrote in “Split at the Root: An Essay on Jewish Identity” (1982), “was eventually to radicalize me.” Part of that radicalizing process involved Rich’s relationship to both poetry and history.In 1956 she began dating her poems by year: I did this because I was finished with the idea of a poem as a single, encapsulated event, a work of art complete in itself; I knew my life was changing, my work was changing, and I needed to indicate to readers my sense of being engaged in a long, continuous process.
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.
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.
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.Language, too, remains on trial for its duplicitous nature.The book’s title poem, one of the 20th century’s most significant poems, uses an androgynous diver to examine a culture wrecked by its limited view of history and myth.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.The impulse behind the search, however, remains the same: finding a way to “reconstitute the world” (The Dream of a Common Language, 1978).Rich advocates a woman-centered vision of creative energies that she aligns with lesbianism in her essays “‘It Is the Lesbain in Us'” (On Lies, Secrets, and Silence, 1979) and “Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Experience” (Blood, Bread, and Poetry, 1986).She also critcizes the impact of patriarchical culture on motherhood in Of Woman Born: Motherhood as Experience and Institution (1976).Other essays as well as poems in The Dream of a Common Language and A Wild Patience Has Taken Me This Far (1981) offer important new readings of female literary and historical figures.For Adrienne Rich, however, transformation goes beyond the act of writing; it extends to the culture at large through the poem’s ability to challenge given assumptions and offer new visions.Rich delineated her poetics relatively early in her career in a 1971 essay, “When We Dead Awaken: Writing as Re-Vision”: For a poem to coalesce, for a character or an action to take shape, there has to be an imaginative transformation of reality which is in no way passive…