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No scene could be worse

Stephanie Burt: Adrienne Rich, 9 February 2012

Tonight No Poetry Will Serve: Poems 2007-10 
by Adrienne Rich.
Norton, 89 pp., £19.99, February 2011, 978 0 393 07967 8
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A Human Eye: Essays on Art in Society 1997-2008 
by Adrienne Rich.
Norton, 180 pp., £11.99, July 2010, 978 0 393 33830 0
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... Adrienne Rich’s new poems show qualities that almost require the label ‘late style’. They are made up of fragments, careless of finish and of audience. In technique, as well as in explicit subjects, they account for debilities and advancing years, which they also fiercely defy, and they look back so insistently to her earlier work that they may not seem designed to stand up on their own ...

Go girl

Jacqueline Rose: The intimate geography of women, 30 September 1999

Woman: An Intimate Geography 
by Natalie Angier.
Virago, 398 pp., £17.99, March 1999, 1 86049 685 7
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Midnight Salvage: Poems 1995-98 
by Adrienne Rich.
Norton, 75 pp., £14.95, March 1999, 0 393 04682 6
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... a time ‘when, far in the future, the human race has exterminated itself.’) For a time, Adrienne Rich believed that what was destroying itself was patriarchy: ‘The creative energy of patriarchy is fast running out,’ she wrote in 1971, ‘what remains is its self-generating energy for destruction’ (‘When We Dead Awaken’). Women’s ...

Its Own Dark Styx

Marina Warner, 20 March 1997

The Nature of Blood 
by Caryl Phillips.
Faber, 224 pp., £15.99, February 1997, 0 571 19073 1
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... Memory says: Want to do right? Don’t count on me.’ So writes Adrienne Rich in a poem from An Atlas of a Difficult World, opening an unpunctuated sequence of horrors: lynchings, pogroms, Auschwitz, Berlin, Palestine, Israel: I am accused of child death   of drinking blood ... there is spit on my sleeve    there are phone-calls in the night ...

Feathered Wombs

Zoë Heller: Toni Morrison, 7 May 1998

Paradise 
by Toni Morrison.
Chatto, 300 pp., £16.99, April 1998, 0 7011 6041 1
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... idiomatic speech for a mythic Kingdom-Comeparlance, while the narrative itself dissolves into Adrienne Rich-ish poetry. Take this sentence: Consolata listened to the refusing silence, more wondering than annoyed by the sky, in plumage now, gold and blue-green, strutting like requited love on the horizon. Or this one: Speeding toward the ...

A Hammer in His Hands

Frank Kermode: Lowell’s Letters, 22 September 2005

The Letters of Robert Lowell 
edited by Saskia Hamilton.
Faber, 852 pp., £30, July 2005, 0 571 20204 7
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... importance are the poets of his own generation: Randall Jarrell, John Berryman, Theodore Roethke, Adrienne Rich, Elizabeth Bishop. There are more letters to Bishop than to anybody else. For thirty years Lowell and Bishop admired and influenced one another’s poetry and took unusual trouble over their letters. Lowell often spoke of his admiration for her ...

Learning to speak

Gay Clifford, 21 February 1980

Gya/Ecology: The Metaethics of Radical Feminism 
by Mary Daly.
Women’s Press, 485 pp., £8.95, November 1980, 0 7043 2829 1
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The Madwoman in the Attic: The Woman Writer and the 19th Century 
by Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar.
Yale, 719 pp., £15.75, October 1980, 0 300 02286 7
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Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes 
by Margaret Dickie Uroff.
Illinois, 235 pp., £6.95, November 1980, 0 252 00734 4
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Women Writing and Writing about Women 
edited by Mary Jacobus.
Croom Helm, 201 pp., £9.50, October 1980, 0 85664 745 4
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... of women. The book’s second ‘passage’ demands considerable courage of the reader, as Adrienne Rich found when she reviewed it for the New York Times. It is an appalling catalogue of infibulation, foot-binding, witch-burning, suttee, and ‘modern’ gynaecological procedures with their often gratuitous ovarectomies, episiotomies and radical ...

Fame at last

Elaine Showalter, 7 November 1991

Anne Sexton: A Biography 
by Diane Wood Middlebrook.
Virago, 488 pp., £20, November 1991, 1 85381 406 7
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... She was good at the business end of poetry too, an adept self-promoter, networker and marketer. Adrienne Rich remembered Sexton’s poise and elegant good looks at a Boston party. As Middlebrook notes, ‘success in the poetry business resembled success in the wool business.’ Salesmanship and marketing certainly helped. Moreover, despite her patchy ...

Separate Development

Patricia Craig, 10 December 1987

The Female Form 
by Rosalind Miles.
Routledge, 227 pp., £15.95, July 1987, 0 7102 1008 6
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Feminism and Poetry 
by Jan Montefiore.
Pandora, 210 pp., £12.95, May 1987, 0 86358 162 5
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Nostalgia and Sexual Difference 
by Janice Doane and Devon Hodges.
Methuen, 169 pp., £20, June 1987, 9780416015317
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Reading Woman 
by Mary Jacobus.
Methuen, 316 pp., £8.95, November 1987, 0 416 92460 3
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The New Feminist Criticism 
edited by Elaine Showalter.
Virago, 403 pp., £11.95, March 1986, 0 86068 722 8
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Reviewing the Reviews 
Journeyman, 104 pp., £4.50, June 1987, 1 85172 007 3Show More
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... shared with other women’: this is Jan Montefiore’s understanding of the position taken by Adrienne Rich.) It’s a tenet upheld by both radical feminists and anti-feminists, this matter of ‘indifference’. The Anti lot aren’t averse to turning the arguments of the others to their own invidious ends. Ivan Illich, in his book Gender, can ...

Just William

Doris Grumbach, 25 June 1987

Willa Cather: The Emerging Voice 
by Sharon O’Brien.
Oxford, 544 pp., £22.50, March 1987, 0 19 504132 1
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... explorations of the mother-daughter bond in the formation of women’s consciousness (the bond Adrienne Rich said was patriarchal society’s ‘great unwritten story’), O’Brien posits this strong current in Cather’s life, ‘possibly more intense for her as a lesbian than for heterosexual women, since her lovers directly reinvoked the dynamic ...
The Man with Night Sweats 
by Thom Gunn.
Faber, 88 pp., £5.99, February 1992, 0 571 16257 6
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... nationality. He ‘rises above’ such matters – and, by just so much, he pushes them down. Adrienne Rich was right to be angry when friends said they found her poems ‘universal’: she heard ‘a denial, a kind of resistance, a refusal to read and hear what I’ve actually written, to acknowledge what I am.’ In ‘The Redress of ...

On Laura Kasischke

Stephanie Burt: Laura Kasischke, 2 August 2018

... poems let some of us say about them what Helen Vendler once said about the early books of Adrienne Rich: ‘someone my age was writing down my life.’ Kasischke has chronicled her generation, the generation where wild kids learned to smoke, and then learned, as adults, never to smoke: the memory of youthful cigarettes, in her poem ...

Exotic Bird from Ilford

Robert Baird: Denise Levertov, 24 September 2014

Denise Levertov: A Poet’s Life 
by Dana Greene.
Illinois, 328 pp., £22.99, October 2012, 978 0 252 03710 8
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A Poet’s Revolution: The Life of Denise Levertov 
by Donna Krolik Hollenberg.
California, 515 pp., £30.95, April 2013, 978 0 520 27246 0
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Collected Poems 
by Denise Levertov.
New Directions, 1063 pp., £32.99, December 2013, 978 0 8112 2173 3
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... were rigorous and concise. It would be easy enough to claim her, along with Sylvia Plath and Adrienne Rich, as one of the most important women writing poetry in English in the decades after the Second World War, if ‘woman poet’ hadn’t been a category Levertov despised. ‘Among Jews a Goy, among Gentiles … a Jew or at least a half-Jew ...

Mothers

Jacqueline Rose, 18 June 2014

The Conflict: How Modern Motherhood Undermines the Status of Women 
by Elisabeth Badinter, translated by Adriana Hunter.
Picador, 224 pp., £10.99, June 2013, 978 1 250 03209 6
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Are You My Mother? 
by Alison Bechdel.
Jonathan Cape, 304 pp., £16.99, May 2012, 978 0 224 09352 1
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A Child of One’s Own: Parental Stories 
by Rachel Bowlby.
Oxford, 256 pp., £20, June 2013, 978 0 19 960794 5
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Mothering and Motherhood in Ancient Greece and Rome 
by Lauren Hackworth Petersen and Patricia Salzman-Mitchell.
Texas, 274 pp., £16.99, April 2013, 978 0 292 75434 8
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Sinners? Scroungers? Saints? Unmarried Motherhood in 20th-Century England 
by Pat Thane and Tanya Evans.
Oxford, 240 pp., £24.99, August 2013, 978 0 19 968198 3
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I Don’t Know Why She Bothers: Guilt-Free Motherhood for Thoroughly Modern Womanhood 
by Daisy Waugh.
Weidenfeld, 240 pp., £12.99, July 2013, 978 0 297 86876 7
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... it is, without immediately divesting the newborn of her or his humanity. ‘Every infant born,’ Adrienne Rich writes in Of Woman Born (1976), her meditation on being a mother, ‘is testimony to the intricacy and breadth of possibilities inherent in humanity.’ The rest of the book relentlessly charts the way motherhood as an institution crushes that ...

Charmed Quarantine

James Wood, 21 March 1996

Soul Says: On Recent Poetry 
by Helen Vendler.
Harvard, 266 pp., £15.95, June 1995, 0 674 82146 7
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The Breaking of Style: Hopkins, Heaney, Graham 
by Helen Vendler.
Harvard, 100 pp., £18.95, January 1996, 0 674 08121 8
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The Given and the Made: Strategies of Poetic Redefinition 
by Helen Vendler.
Faber, 137 pp., £7.99, April 1995, 0 571 17078 1
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... post hoc, by the size of the rent it has left in the ideal lyric. Thus Vendler has censured Adrienne Rich for political lecturing, and Anne Sexton for sentimentality. In Soul Says, she chastises Robinson Jeffers for affectation and bombast. Vendler’s detractors call this a narrow aesthetic. They are right, but for the wrong reasons. It is narrow ...

In the Ice-Box

Janette Turner Hospital, 12 January 1995

The Book of Intimate Grammar 
by David Grossman, translated by Betsy Rosenberg.
Cape, 343 pp., £14.99, September 1994, 0 224 03285 2
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... the only philosophy he really knew’ and he begins with the grammar closest in (to paraphrase Adrienne Rich on geography), that of the body – because beyond and above all other cages, Aron is trapped in his body, a pre-pubescent one which refuses to grow. Aron’s parents, especially his mother, would tell Aron’s story far more simply. Until the ...

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