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Dark Fields of the Republic: Poems 1991-1995.

In an interview with David Montenegro that opens his book Point of Departure: International Writers on Writing and Politics, Adrienne Rich talks of recent ideas in her poetics. For years she has worked with the concepts of language as dead (the oppressor's language, silence coveting dangerous topics) or alive (the common language of the outcast). More recently she feels that the voice or vibrancy - the music - in the poem and images of daily life freshly seen brings the personal story to life. She emphasizes global feminism on two levels: its close contact with needy women (bringing out issues of literacy, poverty, health) and the swift networking of activists. She uses poetry to explore the understandings she has reached and to reach for understandings she needs.

That said, one can see in the latest poems a range of the freshly new and a fresh review of the past. Forty-two poems in eleven sections evoke old and new sensualities. "Sending Love" sketches the swirl of modern messaging: "Reza on his e-mail / finds it waiting from Patricia // Marie and Elsie / send it to Francisco // Karolina sends it monthly / home with a money order." The lightest poem in the collection, it nevertheless shows Rich's awareness of the revolutionary potential of love - love's necessary link to revolution. From there we step to the poet as lover of the world, her words recording and inducing change.

Twentieth-century experience pervades the poems. In the section "Then or Now" postwar European impoverishment of body and spirit is set alongside poems of a greedy, self-absorbed America, "when the name of compassion / was changed to the name of guilt." Images of that time, those people (Osip Mandelstam in Russia, Rosa Luxemburg in Germany) eerily stand beside images and words taken from the American cultural present (Studs Terkel, Abbey Lincoln, Ethel Rosenberg). The title image of "dark fields of the republic" comes from The Great Gatsby.

Darkness is not a "theme" in any tritely obvious way, but darkness has associations both happy and sad. The voice of the planet Venus says, "The beauty of darkness / is how it lets you see. "The poem "From Pierced Darkness" describes New York City in December, a holiday time of "bitter tinsel" with children waking in the false dawn, "handheld in cold dark before the parents' door."

Scientists have lately reported a physical "brain in the gut" - nerve tissue that responds with the mind's received joy or pain. A poetic discovery, and poets are proof enough of the theory. Rich's images of reality remain in the brain for years. Her vision of beauty ("once we were dissimilar / yet unseparate") is a truth we can catch from "the newborn's midnight gaze . . . the virus from the smashed lianas driven / searching now for us." We should listen to her, our mine canary.

Doris Earnshaw University of California, Davis
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Author:Earnshaw, Doris
Publication:World Literature Today
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jun 22, 1996
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