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Arts of the Possible: Essays and Conversations Hardcover – April 17, 2001

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

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.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

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 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; 1st edition (April 17, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393050459
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393050455
  • Product Dimensions: 5.9 x 1 x 8.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.9 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,274,513 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Adrienne Rich (1929-2012) is an American poet, writer, feminist thinker, and activist in progressive causes. In a career spanning seven decades she wrote and published two dozen volumes of poetry and over a half-dozen of prose. Rich's poetry includes the collections Diving Into the Wreck, The Dream of a Common Language, A Wild Patience Has Taken Me This Far, An Atlas of the Difficult World, The School Among the Ruins, and Telephone Ringing in the Labyrinth. Her prose work includes the collections On Lies, Secrets, & Silence; Blood, Bread, & Poetry; an influential essay, "Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence," and Of Woman Born, a scholarly examination of motherhood as a socio-historic construct. She received the National Book Award for poetry in 1974 for Diving Into the Wreck, and was a finalist an additional three times, in 1956, 1967, and 1991. Other honors include a MacArthur Foundation "genius" grant in 1994, the Academy of American Poets' Wallace Stevens Award, the Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters by the National Book Foundation, the Griffin Trust for Excellence in Poetry's Lifetime Recognition Award, and the Poetry Foundation's Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize. In 1997 she turned down the National Medal for the Arts to protest the growing concentration of power in fewer and fewer hands, writing to the NEA that "anyone familiar with my work from the early Sixties on knows that I believe in art's social presence--as breaker of official silences, as voice for those whose voices are disregarded, and as a human birthright."

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Kilgore Trout on March 12, 2006
Format: Paperback
If you have ever thought about the relationship between art and politics, or art and social justice, Adrienne Rich's collection of essays and conversations is a must read.

In "When We Dead Awaken" (Chapt 1) - Interweaving prose and poetry, Rich demonstrates how she slowly came to terms with her identity as a female poet - a process she termed, "awakening of dead or sleeping consciousness." A process that would seem vital for any oppressed group, Rich explains how after years of sleepwalking, under the direction of men, women were slowly "awakening," re-visioning their past and drawing conclusions on the present.

The book alone is worth reading simply for the 3rd chapter, a philosophical and feminist perspective on lying. "Women and Honor: Some Notes on Lying" is a unique and compelling treatise on the causes and effects of lying.
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9 of 13 people found the following review helpful By David Allen on January 13, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Please ignore the review above. It's author seems to have missed thepoint entirely. This book is essential reading, as all of Rich's books are. One of our greatest writers.
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By Amazon Customer on November 23, 2015
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Beautiful and inspiring book! I recommend it to everyone interested in topics like feminism, art, communication and poetry. Even though there is a great time-span in when she wrote these, she connects it to the time it was made and shows why it is still relevant today and in this book. Living language, easy and flowing. I read heavy academic texts also, this is a relief, a speaking language. But not less intelectual, its honest and I find it musical in a way. More people should know this book. Love it!
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By Amazon Customer on April 29, 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Solid. Good book to raise some thoughts and discussion pertaining to gender and feminism. If you're looking for a good and easy intro book for a light "feminist" discussion I'd recommend it. If you're looking for something dense in theoretical - there are better options.
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