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Arts of the Possible
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Adrienne Rich (1929-2012) was an award-winning poet, influential essayist, radical feminist, and major public intellectual of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. She wrote two dozen volumes of poetry, including the National Book Award-winning Diving into the Wreck, and more than a half-dozen of prose.

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The author of more than 16 volumes of poetry, plus four of prose, and winner of many awards, including a MacArthur and a Lannan, Rich needs no introduction. This prose collection begins with four "background" essays, first published in the 1970s and 1980s. The rest proceed more or less chronologically, tracing the poet's thinking about her art and her time and culminating in the fine title essay (which may have been the impetus behind the book). Rich here characterizes herself as a poet of the "oppositional imagination, meaning that I don't think my only argument is with myself." She has always been concerned with issues larger than the personal, though labels such as lesbian, feminist, and Marxist do as much to obscure as to illuminate the poet's points. She wants us to look at our lives and capitalist society and ask anew the kinds of questions Marx asked. As she inquires in the title essay, "What about the hunger no commodity can satisfy because it is not a hunger for something on a shelf?" Recommended for academic and public libraries. Mary Paumier Jones, Westminster P.L., CO Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.

Rich's engaging new collection of essays reaffirms what Norton editors declared some 25 years ago: the "private poet" has gone public, "without sacrificing the complexity of subjective experience or the intensity of personal emotion." This certainly holds true for Rich the essayist as well, for she has firmly established herself as a major American poet and intellectual most concerned with the intersection of the public and private, the social and personal. The overarching goal of her intellectual project is to discover what's imaginatively possible in a cultural system debased by economic, social and political injustice, which, she suggests, are perhaps inherent in capitalism. While her powerful and frequently anthologized essay on "compulsory heterosexuality" is not included, the equally famous and influential "`When We Dead Awaken': Writing as Re-Vision" leads off the collection. This 1971 feminist tract brilliantly strategizes how women can re-examine literature and culture in order to resist patriarchal hegemony and give voice to their own experience. Other notable entries include "Blood, Bread, and Poetry: The Location of the Poet," which posits that "political struggle and spiritual continuity are meshed"; the title essay, a consideration of, among other issues, identity politics; and the spirited 1997 essay-letter that explains why she declined the National Medal for the Arts. As Rich herself acknowledges in the foreword, a few of the essays "may seem to belong to a bygone era." They provide, however, a prism through which to view Rich's thinking over the years, and they neatly demonstrate the transformations in her views over time. While the essays, "notes" and "conversations" may be read individually, what's perhaps most fascinating and rewarding about this collection is charting Rich's intellectual journey itself. (Apr.) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.

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