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.