Rich is one of my favorite poets, and there are few words to describe how beautiful and thoughtful these poems are. This slim volume is divided into three sections, “Power,” “Twenty-One Love Poems,” and “Not Somewhere Else, But Here.” This is one of her later collections, written after receiving the National Book Award, and is remarkable for it’s openness in writing about sexuality, power and violence against women.
“Twenty-One Love Poems” is perfection, a distilled experience of a relationship arc, and XVII is permanently etched on my consciousness. It begins:
“No one’s fated or doomed to love anyone.
The accidents happen, we’re not heroines,
they happen in our lives like car crashes,
books that change us, neighborhoods
we move into and come to love.“
I’ve read it almost as many times as “Origins and History of Consciousness,” in the “Power” group, and find it is sheer excellence of how a writer strives to interpret self and other:
“No one lives in this room
without confronting the whiteness of the wall
behind the poems, planks of books,
photographs of dead heroines.
Without contemplating last and late
the true nature of poetry. The drive
to connect. The dream of a common language.
Thinking of lovers, their blind faith, their
my envy is not simple.“
“Cartographies of Silence” also stands out. To me, Rich is at her best writing about language, identity and love, and virtually every line floors me.
“Silence can be a plan
The remainder of the poems are somewhat uneven for me, especially the “Not Somewhere Else” section, which seem to be primarily odes and center around specific people. They provide interesting insight into both Rich and the time period she writes in, particularly the poem for Audre Lorde. I could probably leave this in my “currently reading” shelves indefinitely, as I periodically revisit it, each time finding more to appreciate. If I’m headed for a writing sabbatical, this is one that always gets stuffed in the backpack.
Adrienne, you will be dearly missed.