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What Is Found There: Notebooks on Poetry and Politics.

An apologia from a major poet signals a change in the poetic canon. Revealing her personal journey in poetry, Adrienne Rich leads us toward a new mainstream. She brings with her not just the poems of long-ignored people, but the philosophical rationale for their centrality. Only a mature and faithful truth-speaker could bear the burden of such a task, and we are fortunate to have such a poet.

In twenty-eight chapters that can be read independently, Rich brings together poetry and politics in a variety of ways. Chapter 21, "The Distance Between Language and Violence," gives a moving analysis of her own growth in a racist society. Educated at home "in a bubble of class privilege" in Baltimore, she knows people of color as servants or pictures (Aunt Jemima, Bill "Bojangles" Robinson), until she learns in college the words segregation and prejudice and that they are retrograde. Her freshman sister assigned to her is the daughter of a distinguished Negro, a Nobel laureate, and she, a white, is to guide her. What did she know? Some years later, that serious young woman committed suicide.

Readings from poetic and political texts underlie the work of each chapter. Rich inspires a muralist friend with passages on art from Trotsky; his message is that "political" art is bad not because it is political but because it is not engaged enough. Art must follow its own internal rules, an organic integration of thought and passion. Many chapters introduce new and powerful voices: Minnie Bruce Pratt, David Mura, Irena Klepfisz, Suzanne Gardinier.

Talking to us about the struggles to survive materially and spiritually in a world both violent and affluent, Rich encourages us to know the art of the displaced, the homosexuals, the exiles, the nonwhites. She looks for an art not tied to standardized forms that become, in Paul Goodman's phrase, "format," the manipulation of form to avoid or subvert truth. Chapter 26, "Format and Form," shows how free and rebellious spirits employ form. Poets as diverse as Gerard Manley Hopkins, Derek Walcott, June Jordan, and Francisco S. Alarcon all reshape the sonnet to "claim a personal space and time and voice." A selected bibliography is included.

What Is Found There is a treasury of poets whose words can guide us into the new century with more wisdom, a wider culture. As usual, W. W. Norton has made this book as handsome as the subject deserves.

Doris Earnshaw
COPYRIGHT 1994 University of Oklahoma
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Copyright 1994 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Earnshaw, Doris
Publication:World Literature Today
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Sep 22, 1994
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