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Adrienne Rich (b. 1929) has developed into one of the United States' best known poets. She won the National Book Award in 1974 and received a MacArthur Fellowship in 1994. Her book, "The Fact of a Doorframe" consists of a selection she has made from her first nine volumes of poetry written between 1950 and 1983. In 2002, shortly after I read this book and wrote this review, "The Fact of a Doorframe was revised to add both a new introduction and also additional poems Rich wrote through 2001. This review covers only the original edition of the work.
I found it interesting to read this book in sequence (from cover to cover) to see the development of Ms Rich's themes as a poet. The early collections, through the mid-1960s, focus on descriptions of nature and on Rich's unhappy marriage experience. For the most part, the poetry is in traditional verse forms There is a concreteness and an accessibility to them that will carry over into Ms. Rich's later work. I enjoyed the early poem "At a Bach Concert" (several of Rich's poems feature her reflections on music) and her 1960 poem "Prospsective Immigrants Please Note" This poem basically is a commentary on Emma Lazarus's poem, "The New Collussus" America itself, for Rich, makes no promises. She writes: "The door itself/makes no promises./It is only a door."
In the middle portions of the book, the poems become more overtly political and polemical in character. There are sharp criticisms of the War in Vietnam, of the Cold War, of the treatment of Native Americans in the United States, and of environmental desecration. This tendency in Ms Rich's poetry appears, as far as I can tell, somewhat before her focus on women's issues and on same-sex sexual relationships. The poetry remains predominantly traditional in format although it becomes more experimental and stylistically free. It is didactic and clear to read.
The poetry begins to speak distinctly of women's issues and of lesbian relationships in the collections of the late 1960s. The poems are sometimes sharp in tone, rejecting of men in many instances, and celebrate the comradeship and shared experiences of women and the tenderness that Rich finds in same-sex sexual experiences. The emphasis on mostly left political activism also continues. I found impressive Rich's long sonnet sequence "Twenty-One Love Poems" and the poem "A Woman Dead in her Forties" from the 1978 collection "A Dream of a Common Language. I also enjoyed her tribute to the Novelist Ellen Glasgow, in a late poem in the collection, "The Education of a Novelist." I enjoyed her poem on Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, much as I love that work (Ms Rich does not), and her two translations from the Yiddish poet Kadia Molodowsky. Ms Rich's poetic voice is not limited to feminist issues.
I think this is a good collection to get to understand the work of Ms. Rich. It works better than a poem or two in an anthology. In addition, as good poetry will do, the collection allows the reader to trace the development of the thoughts and feelings of some people in our country at a particular time in its poetry. Rich's poetry is a good bell-weather of its age. The poetry has an earthiness an immediateness and an accessibility that will make it worth reading even for those who shy away from modern poetry.
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