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Arts of the Possible: Essays and Conversations


"Adrienne Rich's new prose collection could have been titled The Essential Rich."—Women's Review of Books
These essays trace a distinguished writer's engagement with her time, her arguments with herself and others. "I am a poet who knows the social power of poetry, a United States citizen who knows herself irrevocably tangled in her society's hopes, arrogance, and despair," Adrienne Rich writes. The essays in Arts of the Possible search for possibilities beyond a compromised, degraded system, seeking to imagine ...

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"Adrienne Rich's new prose collection could have been titled The Essential Rich."—Women's Review of Books
These essays trace a distinguished writer's engagement with her time, her arguments with herself and others. "I am a poet who knows the social power of poetry, a United States citizen who knows herself irrevocably tangled in her society's hopes, arrogance, and despair," Adrienne Rich writes. The essays in Arts of the Possible search for possibilities beyond a compromised, degraded system, seeking to imagine something else. They call on the fluidity of the imagination, from poetic vision to social justice, from the badlands of political demoralization to an art that might wound, that may open scars when engaged in its work, but will finally suture and not tear apart. This volume collects Rich's essays from the last decade of the twentieth century, including four earlier essays, as well as several conversations that go further than the usual interview. Also included is her essay explaining her reasons for declining the National Medal for the Arts. "The work is inspired and inspiring."—Alicia Ostriker "[S]o clear and clean and thorough. I learn from her again and again."—Grace Paley

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Editorial Reviews

Alicia Ostriker
The work is inspired and inspiring.
Grace Paley
[S]o clear and clean and thorough. I learn from her again and again.
Women's Review of Books
Adrienne Rich's new prose collection could have been titled The Essential Rich.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Rich's engaging new collection of essays reaffirms what Norton editors declared some 25 years ago: the "private poet" has gone public, "without sacrificing the complexity of subjective experience or the intensity of personal emotion." This certainly holds true for Rich the essayist as well, for she has firmly established herself as a major American poet and intellectual most concerned with the intersection of the public and private, the social and personal. The overarching goal of her intellectual project is to discover what's imaginatively possible in a cultural system debased by economic, social and political injustice, which, she suggests, are perhaps inherent in capitalism. While her powerful and frequently anthologized essay on "compulsory heterosexuality" is not included, the equally famous and influential "`When We Dead Awaken': Writing as Re-Vision" leads off the collection. This 1971 feminist tract brilliantly strategizes how women can re-examine literature and culture in order to resist patriarchal hegemony and give voice to their own experience. Other notable entries include "Blood, Bread, and Poetry: The Location of the Poet," which posits that "political struggle and spiritual continuity are meshed"; the title essay, a consideration of, among other issues, identity politics; and the spirited 1997 essay-letter that explains why she declined the National Medal for the Arts. As Rich herself acknowledges in the foreword, a few of the essays "may seem to belong to a bygone era." They provide, however, a prism through which to view Rich's thinking over the years, and they neatly demonstrate the transformations in her views over time. While the essays, "notes" and "conversations" may be read individually, what's perhaps most fascinating and rewarding about this collection is charting Rich's intellectual journey itself. (Apr.) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
The author of more than 16 volumes of poetry, plus four of prose, and winner of many awards, including a MacArthur and a Lannan, Rich needs no introduction. This prose collection begins with four "background" essays, first published in the 1970s and 1980s. The rest proceed more or less chronologically, tracing the poet's thinking about her art and her time and culminating in the fine title essay (which may have been the impetus behind the book). Rich here characterizes herself as a poet of the "oppositional imagination, meaning that I don't think my only argument is with myself." She has always been concerned with issues larger than the personal, though labels such as lesbian, feminist, and Marxist do as much to obscure as to illuminate the poet's points. She wants us to look at our lives and capitalist society and ask anew the kinds of questions Marx asked. As she inquires in the title essay, "What about the hunger no commodity can satisfy because it is not a hunger for something on a shelf?" Recommended for academic and public libraries. Mary Paumier Jones, Westminster P.L., CO Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
A series of essays by and conversations with contemporary American poet Adrienne Rich serve to illuminate her thinking. Selections from her earlier work include "Women and Honor" and "Notes Toward a Politics of Location." The balance of the text is drawn from the 1990s, including Rich's commentaries on poetry and the public sphere, poet Muriel Rukeyser, and art and the humanities. Also included is an essay explaining Rich's reasons for declining the National Medal for the Arts. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (
Kirkus Reviews
An uneven collection of occasional pieces by one of America's foremost poets. For better or worse, Rich (Midnight Salvage, 1997, etc.) has reached a level of literary acclaim that allows her to publish anything she chooses. This collection spans three decades and consists primarily of papers and interviews given in academic settings. Interestingly enough, the strongest piece ("When We Dead Awaken") is the oldest; originally presented to an MLA forum in 1971, it explores the consequences of being a female poet in a "white, patriarchal society." As she puts it, "Until we can understand the assumptions in which we are drenched we cannot know ourselves." In discussing Virginia Woolf's A Room of One's Own, Rich senses a deep frustration: "It is the tone of a woman determined not to appear angry, who is willing herself to be calm, detached, and even charming in a roomful of men where things have been said which are attacks on her very integrity." If there is one thing that Rich has abandoned, it's a desire to please "the patriarchal hierarchy," and (in her best pre-1989 idiom) she speaks throughout of the "damage" wrought by the advancement of "North American capitalism." As the collection progresses, the focus shifts from the plight of women generally to the exploitation of the "powerless" throughout history (predominantly represented here, with no apparent irony, by the Sandinistas). Rich calls for the return of a poetry that is politically engaged: "I have deplored the retreat into the personal as a current fetish of mass-market culture." If, at the dawn of the 21st century, it is easy to scoff at such sentiments, it must be admitted that there is a touching (and veryAmerican)optimism here all the same. A sermon preached to the choir, this is not a good starting-point for those unfamiliar with Rich and her views-but it may be of some interest to those already attuned to her work.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780393323122
  • Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 5/17/2002
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 204
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.30 (h) x 0.50 (d)

Meet the Author

Widely read, widely anthologized, widely interviewed and widely taught, Adrienne Rich (1929–2012) was for decades among the most influential writers of the feminist movement and one of the best-known American public intellectuals. She wrote two dozen volumes of poetry and more than a half-dozen of prose. Her constellation of honors includes a National Book Award for poetry for Tonight, No Poetry Will Serve, a MacArthur Foundation “genius” grant in 1994, and a National Book Award for poetry in 1974 for Diving Into the Wreck. That volume, published in 1973, is considered her masterwork. Ms. Rich’s other volumes of poetry include The Dream of a Common Language, A Wild Patience Has Taken Me This Far, An Atlas of the Difficult World, The School Among the Ruins, and Telephone Ringing in the Labyrinth. Her prose includes the essay collections On Lies, Secrets, and Silence; Blood, Bread, and Poetry; an influential essay, “Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence,” and the nonfiction book Of Woman Born, which examines the institution of motherhood as a socio-historic construct. In 2006, Rich was awarded the Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters by the National Book Foundation. In 2010, she was honored with The Griffin Trust for Excellence in Poetry's Lifetime Recognition Award.

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Table of Contents

Foreword 1
"When We Dead Awaken": Writing as Re-Vision 10
Women and Honor: Some Notes on Lying 30
Blood, Bread, and Poetry: The Location of the Poet 41
Notes towards a Politics of Location 62
Raya Dunayevskaya's Marx 83
Why I Refused the National Medal for the Arts 98
Defying the Space That Separates 106
Poetry and the Public Sphere 115
Muriel Rukeyser: Her Vision 120
Some Questions from the Profession 128
Interview with Rachel Spence 138
Arts of the Possible 146
Notes 169
Acknowledgments 177
Index 179
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