Monday, November 06, 2006

Reader's Diary #183- Adrienne Rich: Your Native Land, Your Life (up to "North American Time")

There's a collection of poems I read recently, I don't remember which, which opened several poems with Adrienne Rich quotations. So when I saw a book of hers at the local library I thought I'd give her a shot. In my ongoing goal to read all of the poetry in the local library, I would have gotten to her eventually anyway.

Wikipedia seems to paint her as a militant feminist lesbian poet, but the angry images that handle conjures up are not apparent in the first section, "Sources", of Your Native Land, Your Life. If anything, there's a degree of self-consciousness and introspection that seem askew from the confident warrior image Rich seems to be known for.

I'm quite enjoying her poems so far. Those in "Sources" reveal a personal journey in which Rich explores who and what has shaped the woman she has become. Everything from her country's history, to her father, her Jewish ancestry, and her interpretation of her own past are reviewed under a lens (albeit more of a poet's lens than a scientist). With such personal philosophical pursuits, there was a danger of her poems becoming too esoteric, but Rich masterfully avoids this. Amazing images like "decades of old wallpaper roses/ clinging to certain studs" keeps her poems grounded.

"Sources", as its title suggests, examines a myriad of character and soul building possibilities. While the long poem is subdivided into sections that could work individually, the effect of having them together, creates a chain that probably holds more truth than any on its own. There's a flow from anthropological (if that's a word), to sociological, to psychological that is quite intriguing.


Robert Hiscock said...

I studied quite a lot of Rich in a Feminist Literature course. There is a marked evolution in Rich's poetic form and topic choice through her career -- she was closer to being a militant feminist lesbian later in life.

She's generated an impressive body of work.

John Mutford said...

Actually, "Your Native Land" was published in 1986 and from the descriptions of her earlier books, I think it might have been the opposite, i.e., toning it down as she aged. At the very least, maybe "Your Native Land" (the "Sources" section anyhow- I haven't read the rest yet) marked a departure/

Robert Hiscock said...

Perhaps a rise and subsequent decline? Her earliest stuff -- pre-free verse, pre-marriage, pre-children, pre-husband's suicide -- doesn't have the edge of some of her later work. Granted, her writing from that period is less celebrated so it may be that her early days as a celebrity poet were in the thick of the militant phase.

John Mutford said...

Since I posted this, I've moved on to the next section, and yes, there are more "angry" elements. I'll delve into that later.