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American Passages: A Literary SurveyUnit IndexAmerican Passages Home
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5. Masculine Heroes   

15. Poetry of Liberation

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Activities: Author Activities

Adrienne Rich - Author Questions

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  1. Comprehension: "Snapshots of a Daughter-in-Law" is filled with allusions, but one of the most telling is the quotation in section 7 from Mary Wollstonecraft, an early feminist who fought for equality and suffrage at the turn of the eighteenth century. What is the significance of this allusion? Why does Rich refer to this early feminist?

  2. Comprehension: Postmodern poets often pay particular attention to the way the poem looks on the page. Look at Rich's "Power." Why does she choose to space the words as she does? What is the effect on the reader? How do her formal choices shape our reading of the content?

  3. Comprehension: Rich appropriates lines from Emily Dickinson and John Donne in her poems "I Am in Danger--Sir--" and "A Valediction Forbidding Mourning." Why does she invoke these poets? Is she claiming to be similar to or different from these authors? How do the titles affect our expectations as readers? What significance do these literary allusions hold?

  4. Context: The transcendental poets were interested in connections between spirituality and nature. How does Rich's "Transcendental Etude" fit into this context? How does her poem differ from Snyder's "The Blue Sky"?

  5. Context: As an active feminist, Rich was interested in raising consciousness about all kinds of women's issues, from sexual freedom to emancipation from the domestic sphere. How might "Snapshots of a Daughter-in-Law" be viewed as a feminist, consciousness-raising poem? What symbols are characteristic of feminist poetry? How does Rich represent the female body in this work?

  6. Context: Compare the form of "Storm Warnings" with that of "Power." How has Rich's work changed from the early poem, written in 1951, to the later 1974 poem?

  7. Exploration: During the first and second waves of feminism, female poets mined the resources of Greek and non-Western mythologies for ways to rewrite cultural history. What mythological figures do poets like H.D. (Hilda Doolittle) use to tell their stories? Which mythological figures do Rich and her cohort (Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton, and Audre Lorde) choose? What power does using these figures add to Rich's work?

  8. Exploration: The women's movement brought myriad issues to the forefront and gave women the vocabulary and forum to discuss their experiences honestly. For instance, the difficult and frustrating sides of mothering and marriage became topics of conversation. Many of the female poets in this unit reflect this liberated atmosphere as they explore the experience of motherhood and childbearing with candor and objectivity. Compare some of the poems about motherhood written by Sexton ("Little Girl, My String Bean, My Lovely Woman"), Lorde ("The Woman Thing," "Black Mother Woman"), and Plath ("Morning Song"). How do they represent mothering? What is new about this poetry? What seems surprising?

  9. Exploration: Adrienne Rich has said that poetry must "consciously situate itself amid political conditions." How does her poetry reflect this idea? How might this statement be seen as descriptive of this period of poetry more generally? How does Rich's stance on poetry and politics compare to that of other writers in this unit, particularly Baraka and the Beats?

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