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Essential Essays: Culture, Politics, and the Art of Poetry

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Demonstrating the lasting brilliance of her voice and her prophetic vision, Essential Essays showcases Adrienne Rich’s singular ability to unite the political, personal, and poetical. The essays selected here by feminist scholar Sandra M. Gilbert range from the 1960s to 2006, emphasizing Rich’s lifelong intellectual engagement and fearless prose exploration of feminism, so Demonstrating the lasting brilliance of her voice and her prophetic vision, Essential Essays showcases Adrienne Rich’s singular ability to unite the political, personal, and poetical. The essays selected here by feminist scholar Sandra M. Gilbert range from the 1960s to 2006, emphasizing Rich’s lifelong intellectual engagement and fearless prose exploration of feminism, social justice, poetry, race, homosexuality, and identity.


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Demonstrating the lasting brilliance of her voice and her prophetic vision, Essential Essays showcases Adrienne Rich’s singular ability to unite the political, personal, and poetical. The essays selected here by feminist scholar Sandra M. Gilbert range from the 1960s to 2006, emphasizing Rich’s lifelong intellectual engagement and fearless prose exploration of feminism, so Demonstrating the lasting brilliance of her voice and her prophetic vision, Essential Essays showcases Adrienne Rich’s singular ability to unite the political, personal, and poetical. The essays selected here by feminist scholar Sandra M. Gilbert range from the 1960s to 2006, emphasizing Rich’s lifelong intellectual engagement and fearless prose exploration of feminism, social justice, poetry, race, homosexuality, and identity.

30 review for Essential Essays: Culture, Politics, and the Art of Poetry

  1. 4 out of 5

    Laura Gaelx

    Más de 30 ensayos escritos a lo largo de casi 30 años podrían contener muchas contradicciones, muchos vaivenes ideológicos y personales. En el caso de Adrienne Rich, lo que muestran es un deseo constante de repensarse, de no dejar nunca de aprender ni dar nada por sentado. Una actitud vital fuertemente enraizada en la experiencia personal (poeta, mujer, blanca, judía, lesbiana, madre, hija, estadounidense, de clase media, activista, socialista) y con un coherente posicionamiento a favor de la ju Más de 30 ensayos escritos a lo largo de casi 30 años podrían contener muchas contradicciones, muchos vaivenes ideológicos y personales. En el caso de Adrienne Rich, lo que muestran es un deseo constante de repensarse, de no dejar nunca de aprender ni dar nada por sentado. Una actitud vital fuertemente enraizada en la experiencia personal (poeta, mujer, blanca, judía, lesbiana, madre, hija, estadounidense, de clase media, activista, socialista) y con un coherente posicionamiento a favor de la justicia y la transformación social. Del feminismo interseccional. A lo largo de casi 700 páginas, comparte artículos publicados originalmente en revistas del movimiento lesbofeminista, conferencias pronunciadas en diversas universidades, reflexiones leídas en encuentros poéticos y marchas políticas. Son especialmente reveladores de esa actitud de cuestionamiento constante -sin caer en en el ensimismamiento- las notas que incluye para la edición de esta complicación de 2019, publicada por Capitán Swing con prólogo de Bàrbara Ramajo y traducción de Mireia Bofill Abello. Su aportación más famosa es “Heterosexualidad obligatoria y existencia lesbiana” (1980), donde desarrolla ese concepto de continuum lésbico para hablar de la identificación de las mujeres entre nosotras, de esos lazos de apoyo mutuo y vinculación que, en sí mismos, suponen un desafío al patriarcado. También son muy conocidas sus reflexiones sobre el hecho de la maternidad, desde un punto de vista antropológico, que publicó en 1976 bajo el título Nacemos de mujer: la maternidad como experiencia e institución. Los ensayos bajo ese epígrafe han sido los que más he subrayado, los que más me han hecho reflexionar (y también llorar). Porque como feministas, dedicamso mucho espacio político a la maternidad de arriba a abajo (el mandato impuesto de ser madres, los costes de rechazarlo, cómo lidiar con ese deseo cuando no se obtiene fácilmente, cómo gestionar la crianza…) pero no tanto sobre qué supone ser hijas, qué demandamos y recriminamos a nuestras madres -mujeres, como nosotras- cuando ya somos adultas. Cómo las ubicamos en nuestra lucha personal y colectiva contra el patriarcado. En ocasiones, parece que esa visión del lesbianismo como algo que trasciende la atracción sexual, la relación erótica y romántica, puede deslizarse hacia el misticismo del que adolece el feminismo de la diferencia. Pero Rich, siempre a tiempo, lo enmarca en una materialidad histórica y geográfica concreta. Es también destacable su concepción del arte, de la poesía, como una necesidad pero no como un lujo; como un necesidad individual con responsabilidades colectivas. Especialmente relevante es su diálogo constante, transversal, con el feminismo negro, con las mujeres (activistas, artistas, esclavas, amas de casa) negras. Una escucha que no cae en la culpabilización paralizante (de hecho, dedica espacio a analizar y combatir ese sentimiento) ni en la atomización individualista de la identidad sino que es un camino hacia la solidaridad en su sentido más revolucionario. La historia compartida de las mujeres negras y blancas está atravesada por la opresión. Que sea un trayecto incómodo no es excusa para no recorrerlo. Los Ensayos esenciales. Cultura, política y el arte de la poesía de Adrienne Rich son una lectura muy estimulante donde, más que respuestas fáciles, vamos a encontrar preguntas y retos sobre y para la lucha feminista, el reconocimiento de las aportaciones de las mujeres (de todas las mujeres, no solo del minúsculo grupo de blancas privilegiadas) a la cultura, arte y política de la historia de la humanidad. Resulta un tanto desalentador que, 30 años después, prácticamente todas esas cuestiones sigan abiertas.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Lucinda

    For anyone who didn't "grow up" reading Adrienne Rich, this is where to start. Not only her "greatest hits" essays, but an inspiring portrait of the development of her thinking about her work as a poet/artist and the role of art and artists in the world. I had read many of these pieces either many years ago (when I was learning to be a feminist) or soon after her death in 2012 when I immersed myself in both her poetry and essays as remembrance. Still, reading this collection, as arranged in roug For anyone who didn't "grow up" reading Adrienne Rich, this is where to start. Not only her "greatest hits" essays, but an inspiring portrait of the development of her thinking about her work as a poet/artist and the role of art and artists in the world. I had read many of these pieces either many years ago (when I was learning to be a feminist) or soon after her death in 2012 when I immersed myself in both her poetry and essays as remembrance. Still, reading this collection, as arranged in roughly chonological order, provided new insights. My one sadness is that so much of what she wrote 40, 30, 20 years ago about patriarchy, capitalism, racism . . . is still so true today . . . though I'm certain both she (and my younger self) hoped it would not be. Just one example: In 1971 she wrote: "The creative energy of patriarchy is fast running out; what remains is its self-generating energy for destruction. As women, we have our work cut out for us." from "When We Dead Awaken". I hope younger readers can appreciate the long history and find the ways to continue to move forward . . . for what other choice do we have?

  3. 5 out of 5

    Jan Priddy

    It's about the power of people to speak up, to be honest and active and kind. I don't know that Rich uses the word kind in these pages, but kindness was there for me. Choosing something to quote is tough when you want to quote an entire book. I can flip to any page and find a line I love: . . . if we care about the imagination, we will care about economic justice." This book gave me a hard time because I did not want it to end. It's very smart and deeply thoughtful. I have been recommending it al It's about the power of people to speak up, to be honest and active and kind. I don't know that Rich uses the word kind in these pages, but kindness was there for me. Choosing something to quote is tough when you want to quote an entire book. I can flip to any page and find a line I love: . . . if we care about the imagination, we will care about economic justice." This book gave me a hard time because I did not want it to end. It's very smart and deeply thoughtful. I have been recommending it all over the place for Rich's humanity and prescience. She writes of poetry, of her own early success and recognition of her immaturity in that early work. She writes about political repression and activism, about personal growth and public service, about the risks of speaking out and the risks of remaining silent. She was writing about the current political situation more than twenty years ago! The selection of her speeches and essays is presented in chronological order, with the earlier selections somewhat more personal than the later. This isn't memoir, however, but a brilliant mind looking at how our role in life can best be served. She always is speaking to all of us, to the world whether her original audience was a room of poets or readers of a widely published journal. So graceful and humble and bold and strong and smart! I have not read everything because I have only read her poetry in the past and now these selected essays. I mourn not to have found her prose long ago and read each as it was delivered into the world. She was writing things that would have been of help to me in my twenties and thirties and forties and fifties as much as they speak to me today. I needed her words. I need them still.

  4. 5 out of 5

    A Librería

    Esta obra —-que para mi sofá y para mí ya se ha vuelto indispensable— rompe ese silencio en el que queda sumida toda la historia de lucha de las mujeres por su autodeterminación y critica esa tendencia a recibir cada libro feminista como si surgiera de la nada. Reivindica nuestro pasado histórico feminista desmontando continuamente los discursos androcéntricos, heterocéntricos y blancocéntricos. Rich nos tiende la mano y nos anima a ejercer la autocrítica desde el propio feminismo y lo hace desd Esta obra —-que para mi sofá y para mí ya se ha vuelto indispensable— rompe ese silencio en el que queda sumida toda la historia de lucha de las mujeres por su autodeterminación y critica esa tendencia a recibir cada libro feminista como si surgiera de la nada. Reivindica nuestro pasado histórico feminista desmontando continuamente los discursos androcéntricos, heterocéntricos y blancocéntricos. Rich nos tiende la mano y nos anima a ejercer la autocrítica desde el propio feminismo y lo hace desde el sofá, el metro, la librería, la biblioteca o cualquier espacio en el que podamos acceder a sus palabras. Después, que cada cual construya su momento con ella. https://alibreria.com/2019/07/10/ensa...

  5. 5 out of 5

    L

    I picked this up because I wanted to read her essay "Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence" (you can take a wild guess at why I wanted to do that) and ended up really enjoying the majority of the book! And now I definitely want to read her poetry! Some language is outdated tho, like when she implies that only women give birth or when she calls indigenous people Indian etc. (those essays were written 50+ years ago, so a lot has changed since then)

  6. 4 out of 5

    Becca Younk

    If I were into poetry, I would have liked this a whole lot more. Rich has great essays on motherhood, Emily Dickinson, exploring her identity as a Jewish woman, and a speech to graduates from Smith College. There are also essays about poetry and art, and that's where the book loses me a little. Not because it's not well-written; it most definitely is. It's just that the subject of poetry does not interest me, so it was difficult for me to pay attention. I did enjoy her meditation on Muriel Rukey If I were into poetry, I would have liked this a whole lot more. Rich has great essays on motherhood, Emily Dickinson, exploring her identity as a Jewish woman, and a speech to graduates from Smith College. There are also essays about poetry and art, and that's where the book loses me a little. Not because it's not well-written; it most definitely is. It's just that the subject of poetry does not interest me, so it was difficult for me to pay attention. I did enjoy her meditation on Muriel Rukeyser, because a professor of mine once told me that Rukeyser would be a good poet to read if I don't like poetry. Someday I will attempt both Rich and Rukeyser, and maybe they will be my gateway into liking poetry.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Patrick Mulcahey

    Brilliant, searching, revelatory, and yes, essential, these essays have helped reconnect me to the necessity of poetry and storytelling. Rich's loving unpacking of "Jane Eyre" and her stripping away of the spinsterish sentimentality popularly attributed Emily Dickinson were just what I needed. She tosses off trenchant bons mots on every page. Poets are "not interior decorators"! Poetry is not some soothing form of "linguistic aromatherapy"! Her intellect and erudition are fierce, her beliefs fir Brilliant, searching, revelatory, and yes, essential, these essays have helped reconnect me to the necessity of poetry and storytelling. Rich's loving unpacking of "Jane Eyre" and her stripping away of the spinsterish sentimentality popularly attributed Emily Dickinson were just what I needed. She tosses off trenchant bons mots on every page. Poets are "not interior decorators"! Poetry is not some soothing form of "linguistic aromatherapy"! Her intellect and erudition are fierce, her beliefs firmly held and solidly grounded, while her understanding is broad, compassionate, embracing. This was the book I needed when I needed it, to make me fall back into love, into hope and faith too, with the work that properly belongs to writers and artists. And as for "culture" and "politics" (which rub elbows with "poetry" in the title), it's more than a little eerie to see Rich describing our current political/cultural situation twenty, thirty years ago. I see that another reviewer felt excluded, as a male reader, by Rich. I didn't experience that al all — if anything, I felt specially included. Privileged to be made privy to insights no male writer could have shown me. Privileged to be invited into the powerful mind of a writer whom words never failed and whose experience, rendered with such clarity, was so unlike mine. Every writer needs this book.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Jamie Burgess

    This is, hands-down, the best book I have read all year. I am so grateful it exists.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Chris Roberts

    History's transgressions are angled, the physical is a mining of the mind, we are all slippery for blood, a prayer for the possessed, the wayward, the lost. #poem Chris Roberts, Sudden God

  10. 5 out of 5

    Vel Veeter

    This is a selection of essays on various topics, mostly literary or related to 1970s and 1980s feminism from the now-deceased poet Adrienne Rich. The only real issue I could imagine having with the collection — from an already predisposed to agree in broad terms position — is that like any collection of selected essays, stories, or poems, there’s going to be choice made to satisfy broad expectations and if you want a more targeted to concentrated collection, you’ll have to find it in the origina This is a selection of essays on various topics, mostly literary or related to 1970s and 1980s feminism from the now-deceased poet Adrienne Rich. The only real issue I could imagine having with the collection — from an already predisposed to agree in broad terms position — is that like any collection of selected essays, stories, or poems, there’s going to be choice made to satisfy broad expectations and if you want a more targeted to concentrated collection, you’ll have to find it in the original texts. For the most part you end up having a relatively interesting and safe collection here by way of Adrienne Rich’s various interests. Rich’s story is both well-known and familiar. Like a lot of women, she made her way into young adulthood with same kind of heteronormative momentum that so many people did (and absolutely still do) and especially in her time there weren’t the readily available tools and resources to better understood her sexuality and sexual orientation. And so she had to figure a lot of that out for herself. Her essays regarding her role as a mother and wife suggest that she basically became aware in a more meaningful way the issues of these paths, and so she found a way out of them onto a more authentic path. Because this book is interesting and intelligent, but not expressly academic, it’s quite readable. The whole thing begins with a few essays about reading, including a long one on Jane Eyre that is satisfying in a lot of ways. I am not much of a reader of poetry, so a collection of essays that gives me indirect and direct insight into the mind of a poet is fascinating and more useful to me than trying to work my way through their poems.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Chris

    I am sure that I cannot easily articulate the experience of reading these essays. First, there is a sense of not being the intended audience. This is a discussion about, amongst and for women. The sources she draws on and the writers she writes about are predominantly women. Male society and culture are seen as a threat, as oppressive, as something which must be pushed back and away in order for this discussion to go on. At times I felt I would protest that she was unfair or simplistic in assign I am sure that I cannot easily articulate the experience of reading these essays. First, there is a sense of not being the intended audience. This is a discussion about, amongst and for women. The sources she draws on and the writers she writes about are predominantly women. Male society and culture are seen as a threat, as oppressive, as something which must be pushed back and away in order for this discussion to go on. At times I felt I would protest that she was unfair or simplistic in assigning all blame for the way the world is to men. She seemed to say in some essays that relationships with men are hurtful to women and that it is the women in women's lives that provide nurturing and support. I wanted to protest that this is too simplistic, and the easy counter-argument would be to ask her whether lesbian couples were not as prone to the same disagreements, misunderstandings, jealousies, changes of heart, etc., as heterosexual relationships. Isn't it part of the human condition? In the end, though, my reaction was mostly to find the discussion very interesting. Rich's poetry is wonderful and I found, in the end, that her essays did speak to me, although they bade me be silent to let the women get on with THEIR discussion of what it means to be a woman. Sometimes just listening is best.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Laurie Lisle

    It's wonderful to read--and sometimes re-read--poet Adrienne Rich's prose. Hers the kind of thoughtful writing that is most important to other women poets as well as to feminists doing creative work while navigating the intricacies of family relationships. This book has some of Rich's most insightful essays, including "Motherhood and Daughterhood," from her masterful Of Woman Born. "Split At the Root" is a fascinating essay about her relationship with her nurturing but controlling father. And th It's wonderful to read--and sometimes re-read--poet Adrienne Rich's prose. Hers the kind of thoughtful writing that is most important to other women poets as well as to feminists doing creative work while navigating the intricacies of family relationships. This book has some of Rich's most insightful essays, including "Motherhood and Daughterhood," from her masterful Of Woman Born. "Split At the Root" is a fascinating essay about her relationship with her nurturing but controlling father. And then there are her thoughts on Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre as well as poets Elisabeth Bishop, Emily Dickinson as well as her own poetry.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Reader

    These wonderful essays are still very relevant today. Maddening, inspiring, and visionary. A quote I felt helps convey Rich's conception of how poetry and politics, the personal and political, are so intertwined: “Art is our human birthright, our most powerful means of access to our own and another’s experience and imaginative life. In continually rediscovering and recovering the humanity of human beings, art is crucial to the democratic vision.” ~Adrienne Rich, “Why I Refused the National Medal These wonderful essays are still very relevant today. Maddening, inspiring, and visionary. A quote I felt helps convey Rich's conception of how poetry and politics, the personal and political, are so intertwined: “Art is our human birthright, our most powerful means of access to our own and another’s experience and imaginative life. In continually rediscovering and recovering the humanity of human beings, art is crucial to the democratic vision.” ~Adrienne Rich, “Why I Refused the National Medal for the Arts”

  14. 5 out of 5

    Kaylee

    I am astounded at how modern her essays still feel and how relevant they are today. Rich was deeply aware of intersectionality, before that was even a word I think. Her thoughts on feminism, race, sexuality, immigration, inclusion, the importance of amplifying voices that aren't usually heard...all of these are echoed in conversations I see now. The number of poetry books on my "To Read" list has exploded after reading this book... And the essay on Jane Eyre was *amazing*.

  15. 5 out of 5

    raysilverwoman

    Only got to read about 90 pages of this due to poorly managed time (checked out from library, time passed quick); some really good (although admittedly sort of dated?) reflections here—hope to get a wider look in the future.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Shine-Willis

    I never took a women’s studies course. I should have. Reading this book makes up for some of that. Adrienne Rich was brilliant. This book changed me. Never more relevant. Her critical essay on Jane Eyre alone is worth the price of the book

  17. 5 out of 5

    Ton van ‘t Hof

    https://1hundred1.blog/tag/adrienne-r... https://1hundred1.blog/tag/adrienne-r...

  18. 4 out of 5

    Cynthia

    I loved loved loved this book and will read it again and again. One of our foremothers. Such wisdom.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Rob

    I’d read some of her key works, but this will be something I roll around in my head for a long time yet.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Ilse

    Adrienne Rich is one of my heroes. In this book of essays, she shows us, again and again, the responsibility that writers have towards the world. We are not here to turn a phrase only; rather, we have the responsibility to spread awareness, to join voices, to support movements. She inspires me to marry my writing to justice.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Sueb

  22. 4 out of 5

    Wendy

  23. 4 out of 5

    Débora G. Sánchez-Marín

  24. 4 out of 5

    Sarah Piccini

  25. 4 out of 5

    Alex Wexelman

  26. 5 out of 5

    Marissa Friedman

  27. 5 out of 5

    Maggie Balistreri

  28. 5 out of 5

    Marissa Mira

  29. 5 out of 5

    Rachael Magill

  30. 5 out of 5

    Brandi H

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