Most of the pieces here are canonical ... The book reveals how private reckonings bloomed into public stances ... Although she writes powerfully of her Jewishness and her experience of motherhood, this aspect of her identity — of being the exceptional woman, of being establishment-approved — provokes her most fluent and furious prose ... This is the usual charge levied at Rich — that she was more polemicist than poet. These essays tell a different story. We see how frequently, and powerfully, she wrote from her divisions, the areas of her life where she felt vulnerable, conflicted and ashamed ... I once read that a blue whale’s arteries are so large that an adult human could swim through them. That’s what entering these essays feels like — to flow along with the pulses of Rich’s intelligence, to be enveloped by her capacious heart and mind.
... Rich, in her seminal poems and essays, took this reimagining [of female identity] as her central subject. She explodes the very idea of gender the way that James Baldwin, in Notes of a Native Son, did with race ... Rich offers me a powerful and necessary reminder of the continuous self-reflection required to fight ignorance — one’s own and others’. We need to reread [Rich's] books, especially now ... Rich made it her mission to expose herself — and her readers — to the facts of patriarchy and racism that had made her, and which are still woven deeply into American identity. Many of these essays could have been written tomorrow ... It is in the essays that Rich makes her most imperative and lasting statements ... Rich’s essays draw ever closer to her own and her readers’ conscience.
With essays ranging from motherhood and daughterhood to her interfaith background to her reasons for declining a National Medal for the Arts from the White House (famously saying: 'Art means nothing if it simply decorates the dinner table of the power that holds it hostage')—this volume shows us a woman in full command of her intellect and art. Rich, who died at 82 in Santa Cruz in 2012, is a voice that is more relevant than ever. In nearly every chapter, she’s saying something directly applicable to the #MeToo movement and the forthcoming Supreme Court fight over women’s bodies ... While layering the personal and political, Rich often pauses on the power of poetry to help us along the journey. She writes eloquently about the process of letting herself be surprised by her work later in life, and how poems are like dreams: 'in them you put what you don’t know you know.' Rich is deeply interested in poetic lineage, tracing, reimagining and defending female authors who have been watered down or misrepresented ... This book reminds us of the privilege and charge of being haunted by such women, especially by Adrienne Rich herself. Her work and life demonstrate the magnitude of human potential and will, and how a woman can understand the restrictions that hold her captive, while setting herself and others free.
Excerpts from Rich's journals reveal her evolution from housewife and mother to new identities as well as her encounters with other poets. Clashes with her parents' personalities and social expectations, and confrontations with her own acculturated racism and blooming awareness of Jewish traumas find elegant passages that offer insight into Rich's own historical place and time. Gilbert's engaging introduction sets the tone for readers to explore the selections chosen for this volume ... For both popular and academic literature collections and readers across generations.
Essential Essays: Culture, Politics, and the Art of Poetry...includes many of her most audacious and significant attempts to reimagine the world through women’s eyes ... one is struck by the breadth of Rich’s research, the force of her arguments, the elegance and honesty of her personal writing. Though she didn’t fetishize academic expertise—she once wrote that what women need 'is not experts on our lives, but the opportunity and the validation to name and describe the truths of our lives'—she took pains to synthesize work by historians, psychologists, and legal scholars. And though she was not interested in confession and abjured 'therapeutic' genres that failed to engage with the social world, she understood that personal experience shapes one’s politics and one’s prejudices ... Rich applied her convictions about re- imagining the past to her own writing. She revisited old topics, changed her mind, revised or re-visioned her earlier work ... she reflected critically on the women’s liberation movement and tried to understand how and why it had been co-opted by capitalism. She did this not to assign blame, but rather to better understand how present organizers could avoid the mistakes of the past. In this, Rich was obeying one of her own edicts, the title of an essay in her first prose collection: to expand, constantly, the meaning of her love for women.
Throughout the collection, which traces Rich’s evolution as artist and activist, Rich never wavers from her view that art is political, even when ostensibly apolitical, and that the personal is political. Some especially prescient selections articulate, in the 1980s and ’90s, problems of racism, violence, and wealth inequality that have only recently more fully penetrated the national consciousness ... Her essays, always provocative, clear, and packed with insights, are wise, refreshingly humane, and well worth reading.
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 ... 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.