I Have Never Been Alone Here: Identification, Resistance, and Coalition in the Poetry of Adrienne Rich

Honors Thesis in English Literatures and Cultures Anne Jonas Brown University

April 16, 2008

Introduction - The Self Unlocked to Many Selves This place is alive with the dead and with the living I have never been alone here I wear my triple eye as I walk along the road past, present, and future all are at my side -Adrienne Rich, “Calle Vision,” 1992-1993 In 1951, W. H. Auden chose Adrienne Rich’s first book of poems, A Change of World, for the Yale Younger Poets series. He introduced the book by writing in his preface, “they are neatly and modestly dressed, speak directly but do not mumble, respect their elders but are not cowed by them, and do not tell fibs.” From her entrance on the literary stage, Rich was placed both in a tradition of great writers and in a particularly feminized position. Auden’s description of Rich’s poetry might be of the young poet herself, facing a patriarchal world where women’s success was determined by their ability to come off as respectful and modest while retaining some spark of creativity. The next fifty-six years of poetry from Rich can be seen, in a sense, as grappling with this introduction and its implications. What does it mean to dress your poetry – which garments are considered appropriate, which are marked as showing too much, or too little? How does one “speak directly” in poetry, and is this necessarily a desirable goal? And perhaps most importantly, what does it mean to respect one’s elders, and how is that related to the honesty of one’s work? Rich’s half-century of work speaks to all these questions, and at the heart of her examination lie issues of identification, resistance, and coalition. As Rich moves from what she has called “facile and ungrounded imitation of other poets…exercises in style” (Collected, xix) to defining for some what feminist poetry could be, she perpetually engages with the permeable boundaries between the self and the other, searching to

understand the construction of each within a social and historical context. In attempting to untangle the complex relations that make up our daily lives, Rich has called into question distinct categories of being that structure Western thought, most particularly that of the linear notion of time. Emerging from her poetry is a world in which past, present, and future are in constant contact and are often inseparable from one another. With this in mind, I have nonetheless formed the chapters that follow around these categories. Doing so will demonstrate the different tactics Rich uses in engaging past, present, and future, and highlight their absolute confusion. As suggested by Auden’s admiration for and Rich’s dismissal of her early poetry, there have been other voices present in Rich’s work from the start. Allusions to other poets and writers, as well as the sometimes exact re-inscription of their words in her poems, are everywhere in her work. It is hard to pick any poem in her more than 50-year oeuvre that does not contain some kind of allusion, if not to someone else’s work, than to her own past writing. Literature is built around imitation, identification, and dialogue; these are the strategies that writers use to talk to one another, learn their craft, find their place in the canon. But Rich’s work enacts this common literary practice with such a vengeance that it seems impossible to ignore. This is well-documented within the criticism of Rich, but perhaps has still not received the critical attention it deserves. Claire Keys, for example, writes of Rich’s earliest work, “Wanting to become a poet, naturally she wrote like the poets she studied and admired” (2). This stylistic imitation, which Rich herself later disavowed and claimed marred her early work, particularly The Diamond Cutters, is in Rich criticism almost always taken as “natural.” It is also seen as divorced from the wealth of citations and allusions that fill Rich’s later work. Yet to me, it


seems in this respect that Rich has developed a style that works to be both in dialogue with older works and to incorporate them in order to position her own work and to produce a new corpus that uses that material in its construction. In Rich’s work, we find a fundamental interest in speaking back to the past without being mired in it and in continuing ongoing conversations to keep open possibilities for the future. There are various paradigms for thinking about the way Rich enacts these connections; some that I draw on in this paper are the concept of psychological and literary identification, the contested terrain of disidentification or identity in difference, and the complex identifications that Rich believes must be in place for coalitional groups seeking justice. In the first chapter of her book Sexuality and the Reading Encounter, Emma Wilson points to the tension between psychoanalytic definitions of identification and their literary counterparts, where the former describes the “very process by which a continuing sense of selfhood becomes possible” (4-5) and the latter is used more colloquially for a reader’s feeling of commonality with “a specific character, emotion, or spectatorial position” (5). These two uses of the term are never completely distinct, however. In the first line of “Identification,” Freud writes that “identification is known to psycho-analysis as the earliest expression of an emotional tie with another person” (105). The Freudian definition could be substituted for the literary one with only a substitution of “character” for person. Furthermore, feminist theorist Shoshana Felman argues that “people tell their stories (which they do not know or cannot speak) through others’ stories” (18), meaning that writing itself always involves identification with another person. Correspondingly, Wilson argues that “we may see the act of reading as not only a means to self-scrutiny, but also a means of self-creation” (30); reading, too, is a process of identification in a


psychoanalytic sense. In her poetry, Rich is reading other writers in her use of them, and it is through that reading that her own poetry becomes possible. My own reading is enabled by a variety of theorists. I draw prominently on the scholarship of Diana Fuss, Judith Halberstam, José Esteban Muñoz, and utilize a variety of other perspectives along the way. These writers emerge from many different disciplines and perspectives, but I have brought together elements from each to enable a thorough examination of the – sometimes conflicting – variety of positions Rich’s poetry takes on. Each theorist’s perspective also offers a new lens through which to develop latent possibilities beyond the boundaries on the poems. After all, identification, resistance, and coalition all primarily involve the complex relation between the self and the other, so it is only fitting that a study of these concepts will situate the primary texts at hand within multiple frameworks of knowledge. One of the foremost scholars exploring the theme of identification is Diana Fuss. In her book Identification Papers, Fuss primarily focuses on Freud’s theories of identification, tracing these concepts throughout his work and simultaneously examining possible feminist applications and new directions that may spring from these beginnings. Initially, Fuss notes that “identification is an embarrassingly ordinary process, a routine, habitual compensation for the everyday loss of our love objects” (1); yet throughout her work Fuss looks both at the ways in which Freudian identification is more complex than this mundane personal quandary, and at the other contexts in which the idea has been utilized. One of Fuss’s central arguments is that “one of the fundamental laws of psychoanalysis…which holds that desire and identification are structurally independent of one another” is unstable (“Freud’s,” 10). By arguing that there is a collapse between


wanting to be and wanting to have, Fuss sets the stage for identification to be read always as a site of multiple meanings. She also complicates the power relationships at work in identification, as the person identifying is generally in the position of a child, someone being formed, while the desiring subject may be fully formed and apparently in control. One theorist who may at first seem out of place in this thesis in Judith Halberstam, whose essay on “imagined violence” as a tool for resistance treats film and musical representations of oppressed people physically fighting back against their aggressors: the movie “Thelma and Louise,” where two women murder a would be rapist, Ice-T’s song “Cop Killer” about a response to police brutality, and others. Halberstam paraphrases Ice-T as saying that he hopes that the cops’ “fear will prevent further brutality” (188). She argues that making people who have committed violence afraid is a legitimate strategy to combat future violence. On the surface, Halbertstam’s argument that violence in spaces of representation can be productive seems at odds with the way Rich marks violence as so often brutal and destructive, and with my project of tracing the processes of identification in Rich’s poetry. Certainly, Rich has no explicit images of women, queer people, and people of color literally fighting back against the white straight men who seek to dominate them. Yet in reading moments of identification in Rich, I suggest that her poetry may still embody the “place of rage”1 that Halberstam advocates. Halberstam argues that “imagined violence disintegrates the power of what Audre Lorde calls ‘the mythic norm’…it challenges, in other words, hegemonic definition and even the definition of hegemony itself” (193), and this is what Rich’s poetry does, as well, through a violence embedded in identification with the “the mythic

Halberstam states that she takes this term from June Jordan’s use of it in Prathba Parma’s film of the same name (187).


norm.” Rich is not suggesting that feminists walk away from a literary tradition that has suppressed women’s voices and the narratives of many who were not among the powerful; she is through her poetry arguing that those traditions need to be broken down, challenged, undermined in their pretense of being a holistic “tradition” at all; indeed, her poems model this complex and sometimes painful process again and again. While Halberstam discusses imagined violence that seeks to create a different future, Rich uses violence to restructure and, to an extent, appropriate the power of the past. And it is through identification that she enacts this violence. In contrast to Halberstam, José Esteban Muñoz argues for the creative and productive ways that minority subjects have made use of oppressive cultural objects in forming their own subjectivities and resistances. Muñoz employs the term “disidentification” to signify “the hermeneutical practice of decoding mass, high, or any other cultural field from the perspective of a minority subject who is disempowered in such a representational hierarchy” (25). This practice is one way of understanding how subjects oppressed by dominant culture are nonetheless formed by that culture, and not always or even primarily in negative ways. Muñoz’s examination of how queer performers of color make use of sometimes noxious cultural material in structuring their selves is useful for decoding the way Rich incorporates materials from other sources, particularly from the past, in determining contemporary subjects and their interactions. Using the figure of identification, Rich’s poetry makes the startling claim that one can neither abandon the past nor allow it to dictate present relations or future imaginings. In chapter one of this thesis, I make the argument that Rich marks identification as a violent process instead of a primarily unifying one and makes use of this violence to


reject traditional power relations and break down patriarchal control over women’s representations. I will contend that although Rich uses the violence of identification as a productive tactic for disrupting dominant narratives of power, she also recognizes its potential as an oppressive and counterproductive force in the hands of those who attempt to build cross cultural connections and ward off racism and other forms of oppression. Chapter two examines the prevalence of ghosts and haunting in Rich’s poetry. I assert that the past can provide a sort of ruined foundation in which to examine present conditions by identifying missing voices and tracing implicated subjects. I take up the question of coalition in chapter three, arguing that poetry shapes the future by refiguring readers and subjects and making space for the unknown so that those with multiple desires can act together, making coalition possible. Poetry recreates its readers, and Rich’s nontransparent poetry engulfs readers in the work not of decipherment but of recognition of what the present lacks. Modeling conversation and translation makes poetry an open space where people work together without predetermined ends in mind, making the process of reading and participating in poetry itself central to developing a future that is not mired in the past. These forms of connection take up identification without solely relying on it. This poetry is future oriented because it initiates desire in readers, revealing missing pieces of the present and lost visions of the past in order to propel readers into action by shifting their self definitions. Ultimately, this thesis addresses the question of how can poetry be a genuine site of resistance, not merely a representation of it. I argue that Rich’s poetry redefines the power of the past by turning structural violence on patriarchal texts through identification, elucidates our present responsibilities through figures of ghosts and haunting, and paves the way for justice in


the future with models of conversation that invoke reader response and integration. Deborah Pope has called Rich’s poetry one of “boundaries, resistance, escape” (“Rich’s Life and Career”), but in her work these categories also summon their opposites: the poetry is simultaneously one of openings, collaboration, and return. Ultimately, Rich’s poetry can perhaps best be summed up by one of its own self-reflexive descriptions. Her lucid verse is “hewn out of the commonest living substance/ into archway, portal, frame…,” giving readers something to hold onto, and also something to pass beyond (Fact 1984, iv).

Chapter 1 - Trained Violence: Dangerous Identification and Compromised Voices my body is a list of wounds


-“Nightbreak” (1968) Scenes of violence fill Adrienne Rich’s poetry, beginning with “Storm Warnings,” the first poem in her 1951 book A Change of World2. In this poem, violence is located in the natural world as an impending storm, yet the distinction between “natural” and “human” is blurry and unstable. A human presence and subject enters the poem only at the fifth line, delayed structurally by the inanimate objects reacting to the force of the storm: The glass has been falling all the afternoon, And knowing better than the instrument What winds are walking overhead, what zone Of gray unrest is moving across the land, I leave the book upon a pillowed chair And walk from window to closed window, watching Boughs strain against the sky (Collected, 3). The tardy “I” of the poem is here helpless against the violence inflicted by nature – while the boughs may “strain,” her “sole defense against the season” is to shut herself away from the storm that ignores her actions and hope that the closed windows protect her. Repeatedly, the winds receive more personification than the narrator, who is ultimately passive and unable to exert any control over her fate; both narrator and the winds “are walking,” but she juxtaposes their differing positions of power, noting, “the wind will rise,/We can only close the shutters.” Despite clearly marking the disturbance as “natural,” the poem also calls into question whether the seasonal storm is the true source of the narrator’s anxiety. At the closing of the second stanza, the narrator meditates that

A partial list of poems including violence in some way which are not treated in this chapter: “Snapshots of a Daughter-in-Law” (1958-1960), “Jerusalem” (1966), “Nightbreak” (1968), “Ghazals: Homage to Ghalib” (1968), “The Blue Ghazals” (1968), “Shooting Script” (1970), “The Phenomenology of Anger” (1972), “Rape” (1972), “Meditations for a Savage Child” (1972), “Dien Bien Phu” (1973), “Hunger” (1974-75), “For Ethel Rosenberg” (1980), “When/Then” (1983), “Eastern War Time” (1989-1990), “For a Friend in Travail” (1990), “Take” (1994), “Char” (1996), “Shattered Head” (1996-97), “Equinox” (2001), “The School Among the Ruins” (2001), “Five O’Clock, January 2003” (2003).


“Weather abroad/ And weather in the heart alike come on/ Regardless of prediction.” By opening the door for a comparison between the wind and emotional uproar and marking the natural forces as if they had human characteristics of will, the poem invites a reading of the “insistent whine/ Of weather” as something more than just natural. There is, perhaps, no other hint in the poem as to what this omnipresent danger could be standing for. Yet read in the context of Rich’s immense body of work over the next five decades, the “troubled regions” can come to be read as an age riddled by the dominating violence of a patriarchy that attempts to be unstoppable in its oppression. Given this reading, much of the rest of Rich’s poetry can be seen as arguing against the closing of the shutters, that there are many defenses, and nothing in patriarchy is so natural as to be inevitable. Yet despite all the passivity of the narrator, and her “drawing of the curtains” on the darkness of the sky, she acts as she does because “knowing better than the instrument/ What winds are walking,” she senses their power. Unlike the inanimate scientific objects, she can identify what is coming, and her thoughts move in concert with the weather: “And think again, as often when the air/ Moves inward toward a silent core of waiting.” Here the winds, full of movement, wait – until, as she prophesizes, “the wind will rise.” And this movement “inward toward a silent core of waiting” describes, more than anything else stated in the poem, the narrator’s actions, as she shuts herself in to wait out the storm. The violence of the storm allows the narrator a moment for thought and reflection, and also for a moment of identification with the powerful forces that dominate her life and dictate her actions. In this moment of danger that threatens her, the narrator is not perfectly aligned in opposition to her supposedly natural adversary. In a way, it is her knowledge of the storm, not her shuttering of the windows, that is her true “sole defense


against the season.” By knowing the “zone of gray unrest,” she displaces its power. And it is here that we can find a suggestion of Rich’s response to patriarchal violence: not only to batter down and wait out the storm, but to inhabit it, to know it better than it knows itself, to take it in and thus to master it by incorporating into yourself. While there may be many reasons for the prevalence of violence in Rich’s work, one possible explanation is the relation of violence to the process of identification. According to Fuss, “every identification involves a degree of symbolic violence, a measure of temporary mastery and possession” (Identification Papers, 9). Identification inflicts damage. While common sense may figure identification as a process of unification, Rich’s poetry understands its corresponding work of destruction and undoing. This destructive quality is not usually associated with Rich, who is often seen as desiring an organic and holistic union. In “The Cyborg Manifesto,” Donna Haraway distances herself from Rich and other “American radical feminists,” arguing that they have “perhaps restricted too much what we allow as a friendly body and political language” (714) and parodying Rich’s Dream of a Common Language with her section heading “An Ironic Dream of a Common Language for Women in the Integrated Circuit” (696). “Storm Warnings,” however, questions whether there is any such thing as a “friendly body” when the violence of the storm corresponds to the internal violence of the heart, and language itself is similarly on trial throughout Rich’s work. And when Haraway writes that she herself is “perhaps more faithful as blasphemy is faithful, than as reverent worship and identification” (Haraway, 696), she names a tactic that Rich precedes her in deploying3. Rich’s poetry suggests that perhaps it is exactly this sort of blasphemous

I am indebted here to Linda Garber’s discussion of Haraway’s misreading of Rich. Garber notes that “by the time of ‘Cyborg’ Haraway is faulting Rich for a politics she has publicly moved beyond – and one that, nevertheless, played a part in creating the stance Haraway is advocating. At least in one sense, Haraway's


identification that is necessary in order to respond to the violence inherent in identification itself. Perhaps Rich, too, is looking for a poetic and political position which is “not afraid of permanently partial identities and contradictory standpoints” (Haraway, 700), rather than a “common language” of unity or homogeneity. These “partial identities” are all that can exist since the process of identification is so violent, breaking up any suggestion of unity. Rich uses this damage, opening up spaces in old texts and destabilizing their hegemony. While Rich painstakingly works to map ways to make identification a productive process, she obsessively focuses on scenes of violence that mirror her anxiety about the dangers of identification as a tool, both for those enacting oppression and those seeking to overthrow it. Violence is an expansive term, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, covering everything from “the exercise of physical force so as to inflict injury on, or cause damage to, persons or property” to “improper treatment or use of a word; wresting or perversion of meaning or application; unauthorized alteration of wording” and “great force, severity, or vehemence.” Violence is a shape shifter, then, appearing in different forms for varying purposes, but always carrying a connotation of the transgressive and the harmful. Jane Hoogestraat argues that Rich uses her poetry to “stress a human responsibility to imagine and work toward a less violent world in the future” (25), yet such a world seems to be made possible only through at least some use of structural violence – the tensions of which Rich is highly aware. Her use of identification is thus under constant scrutiny in her poetry, which struggles to negotiate how identification can function in building a more just world. Ultimately, Rich’s poetry
postmodern cyborg depends upon Rich's (and others’) earlier identity politics” (129-130). I would go one step further than this and say that even in her early work, Rich’s poetry not only serves as a basis for Haraway but holds many of the same paradoxes that Haraway argues for.


argues that identification, like truth, is rarely pure and never simple. Identification is simultaneously a necessary action for growth and change, and a weapon to be wielded with care, for it will always displace something or someone by bringing forth the new from the old. In Rich’s seminal essay “When We Dead Awaken: Writing as Re-Vision,” published in 1972, she proclaims that “entering an old text from a new critical direction” is “part of [the] refusal of the self-destructiveness of male-dominated society” (18). The word “entering” has a powerful thrust, suggesting the necessity of displacement to the project. To enter a space means to move and change that which is already there, and if we assume that patriarchy would resist such movement, the entrance takes on connotations of violence. To enter old texts that represent patriarchy from a new direction is to break them open, to make them come apart, to do violence to them. To refuse patriarchal destruction is, Rich asserts, a critical step if we are to “know ourselves” (18). Thus, the process of understanding the self, and specifically, in this case, representing the self in literature, requires the refusal of patriarchal violence that comes in the form of “the assumptions in which we are drenched.” The violence Rich advocates is different than the patriarchal violence it seeks to upset in that the latter enforces a homogenous understanding while the former is a decentralized move at supporting heterogeneity, cutting up sameness rather than repressing difference. This strategy may at first seem to involve closing the windows on this society, but it also means having a complete awareness of it in order to subvert it. The female self and voice is completely submerged within “male-dominated society,” so to know oneself involves knowing that society. Yet it also involves more than that. The “new direction” Rich speaks of points to more than


repetition or embodiment. There is an aspect of infringement here, in which women’s reading and writing invades men’s literary history not with the intent to perpetuate it, but to develop something else, like a virus that incorporates pieces of its host instead of just using it as incubator or distribution system. This process is one of identification – the “detour through the other that defines a self” (Fuss, “Look,” 387). Although this process might seem to require some stable, pre-existing “self,” in this case one of a “woman,” Fuss makes clear that this very identity is created through the process. Thus, “women’s literature” emerges through identifying with “male-dominated society” by claiming the context as one aspect to be incorporated, not as a natural antecedent. A crucial part of this identification is to throw off patriarchal violence by exposing its constructedness, to break it up by mingling this past with women’s voices and aligning it with women’s selfdetermination. Old texts fill Rich’s poetry, and her uneasy relationship with them is a common theme of her poems. Most of the works that appear, especially early on and midway through her career, are by white male or female writers from an earlier era, those that are now seen as “classic” in some way. Literary critic Barabara Estrin argues that Rich’s Atlas of a Difficult World (1991) “returns to the old forms of representation with a postmodern impulse” (347) and “reveals both her desire to use the form that so often represses the other and her need to reform the form and so allow the repressed other to come to life” (348).Yet Rich also uses traditional form not only to bring “the repressed other” to life, but also in order to respond to and attack the very history of repression inherent in the form itself. Shoshana Felman writes that “as educated women we are all unwittingly possessed by ‘the male mind that has been implanted in us,’ because though


women we can quite easily and surreptitiously read literature as men” (13). Like Rich’s notation of the way women are drenched in men’s assumptions, Felman’s remark sees a feminine identification with men as an aspect of patriarchy’s violence. Yet the form of identification Rich employs in her poetry reverses this violence, moving from the man “implanted” in the woman reader to the woman reader who enters into the old text, in a sense possessing the patriarchal text instead of being possessed by it. Even as Rich distances herself from the patriarchal violence of older texts and attempts new projects, her entering of those texts requires symbolic acts of violence towards them, and this violence is enacted through the identifications she makes. In “For Julia in Nebraska” (1978, 1981), the violence of Western expansion, sexism, and homophobia is attached to literature, yet only by identifying with that history can one begin to undo it. For the first seven lines, the poem quotes a “historical marker” discussing Willa Cather and the land she lived on: Here on the divide between the Republican and the Little Blue lived some of the most courageous people of the frontier. Their fortunes and their loves live again in the writings of Willa Cather, daughter of the plains and interpreter of man’s growth in these fields and the valleys beyond. On this beautiful, ever-changing land, man fought to establish a home. In her vision of the plow against the sun, symbol of beauty and importance of work, Willa Cather caught the eternal blending of earth and sky.... (Fact, 280). From the beginning, then, the poem incorporates another text, entering the language of the marker with its later questioning, even as the voice of the marker enters into the poem. The marker itself sets up a naturalized progression in which Cather is the “daughter” of the plains and the people in them, and her interpretations of them make them “live again,” making her only a rightful heir telling a family story and reanimating


the lives of her predecessors unmediated. According to the marker, Cather’s “vision” gives birth to the past without engaging with it, acting as dutiful heir, not as someone posing a challenge. There is a way in which all reading is an act of violent identification where the text at hand is incorporated by the reader. Emma Wilson argues that reading has often been figured as a violent moment, quoting R.P. Warren’s “theory of reading” in which he likens reading to devouring a monster: “There is only one way to conquer the monster: you must eat it…even then the monster is not dead, for it lives in you, is assimilated into you, and you are different, and somewhat monstrous in yourself for having eaten it” (25-26). In becoming the monster of patriarchal violence while retaining spaces of resistance to it, Rich’s poetry reads that violence into itself in order to obtain power over it, inevitably absorbing some measure of the power it opposes. Resistive power is thus compromised, but this is necessary in order to disable oppressive violence. The quotation of the marker signals an engagement with old texts, in this case a text that specifically includes a moment of violence hidden in its description of landscape – “man fought to establish a home.” What may appear an innocuous word choice for a settler’s struggle with natural forces is questioned and made suspect when the line is repeated later, as the narrator fills in structuring absences in the marker’s text: On this beautiful, ever-changing land -the historical marker saysman fought to establish a home (fought whom? the marker is mute.) They named this Catherland, for Willa Cather, lesbian – the marker is mute, the marker white men set on a soil of broken treaties, Indian blood, women wiped out in childbirths, massacres – for Willa Cather, lesbian, whose letters were burnt in shame (281).


The marker’s silence attempts to cover up the very history of violence it depicts, and the poem enters it from a new critical direction, bringing attention to the gap and tearing open “the assumptions in which we are drenched.” Speaking of another poem, Hoogestraat writes that “Rich breaks silence to tell the story, but she leaves intact the silences of what we cannot recover” (30). Calling attention to these moments of silence undoes the argument that patriarchal representations are natural depictions of lived experience and points to what they create and to how this process can be disrupted by different identifications. In reading Cather, the marker makes her writings perfect replications of settler lives and, in doing so, glosses over the distances that her writing embodies. Rich’s poetry brings back attention to difference in identification. In doing so, it counters the textual violence with its own project, literally breaking apart the lines of the marker’s text, interrupting it so that the “self” of the poem can emerge. This self exists as the compilation of new and old pieces that are mingled together, mangling the old to create the new that includes it. Although the tactics of violent expansionists and female poets appear to be diametrically opposed, they in fact structurally collapse into each other within the poem. The poem is structured around the narrator’s discussion of “Julia in Nebraska” and the landscape around her, which the marker seeks to describe. Julia, the title character, is a “Brave linguist…bent on restoring meaning to/our lesbian names, in quiet fury/weaving the chronicle so violently torn” (281). Julia’s “quiet fury” suggests Judith Halberstam’s invocation of “rage” – “a political space opened up by the representation in art, in poetry, in narrative, in popular film, of unsanctioned violences committed by subordinate groups upon powerful white men” (187). In “Imagined Violence/ Queer Violence:


Representation, Rage, and Resistance,” Halberstam contends that violence by members of oppressed groups against their oppressors portrayed in fictional spaces serves a productive purpose in destabilizing those oppressive relations. She argues for the “production of counterrealities as a powerful strategy of revolt” (189). The call for visions of explicit violence as a method of resistance is not necessarily fulfilled within the content of Rich’s work – she does not particularly depict “fighting back” in any literal way. However, Rich’s insistence on violent identifications as a means of resisting patriarchy structurally enacts Halberstam’s “strategy of revolt” using imagined spaces, even going beyond what Halberstam envisions by developing a violence that is contaminated by association with patriarchal methods. Although Julia is “weaving” against the “violently torn,” her work also violently tears the chronicle of patriarchy. Despite the peaceful connotations of weaving, Julia’s work is depicted as that of a warrior – she has “womanly wrath” and is armed with imagined weaponry – “your double axe and shield.” Her restoration project is particularly unsanctioned for its injection of lesbianism into a text that had excised it. The narrator also acts in this way, saying “They named this Catherland, for Willa Cather,/ lesbian – the marker is mute,” thus interrupting the official narrative with the excluded story of Cather’s lesbianism. Felman argues that identifying with these “mute” spaces is the only way for women to tell their own stories – to detour through the other in the process of reading and rewriting patriarchal texts. She writes, “I will propose here that we might be able to engender, or to access, our story only indirectly…reading, thus, into the texts of culture, at once our sexual difference and our autobiography as missing” (14). “For Julia” tells the story of the two women, the narrator and Julia, through the missing spaces in the marker, literally adding in lines of their own


narration sandwiched between the marker’s words. Their story is also told through the lens of Cather’s work, suggesting the necessity of breaking open other texts in order to implant repressed stories. In reading the missing marks of sexual difference and autobiography into the texts, “For Julia” goes another step and uses the identification that allows seeing the self through the other to displace the other from a position of primary power. In waging a war of restoration and reading, the narrator forms an identification with Cather only by following Cather’s own process of identification, employing the strategy of using white male figures to resist patriarchal colonialism. Echoing Felman’s language, the poem even says Cather “could not tell/her own story as it was” (282): she wrote stories of men and had her letters “burnt in shame.” While the poem notes this of Cather and repeats her lesbian identity, it also speaks to Cather by discussing her mainly through characters in her books – “her Archbishop” of Death Comes to the Archbishop and Tom Outland, the protagonist of The Professor’s House. The former is a white missionary in the American southwest as colonization of the area and displacement of Native people heats up, and the latter is a white student who studies an ancient cave once inhabited by Native people; he eventually dies in World War One. Although both characters represent alternatives to violent colonialism, they are also implicated in it – they act as replacements for Native people who are marked as absent. Tom is particularly important for his position as a reader who seems to stand in for the dead Native people who are supposedly unable to offer their own stories and readings – in this way, he acts much like the marker, even though his aim is different, as is Cather’s own. The poem makes the case that these characters spoke for Cather, writing that Cather “could not tell/


her own story as it was,” suggesting that she told her story through the men, even though this displaced its specificity. While we cannot know whether or not Cather identified with these characters, they represent her voice in the poem. The poem directly incorporates not Cather’s ideas, but that of the two men, suggesting that these men offer a lesson for the poem, and that this lesson is Cather’s own argument. It thus collapses the distinction between the two. Because these two figures are among the very “white men” that the narrator marks as violently repressing both their own acts of violence and Cather’s lesbianism, the poem ultimately returns full circle here and has the narrator speak through the voice of the patriarchal and colonialist marker. Yet the poem also reclaims this voice and overpowers it by returning power to the female writer who was previously repressed, unable to represent herself. By incorporating all of these texts, the poem enacts “a specific act of identification that seeks to harbor that other within the very structure of the self” (Butler, Gender Trouble, 78). Instead of being “the other whom one desires and loves,” however, the other of this poem is precisely one who is not loved, though they may be desired. And while the narrator claims to follow the lesson that “the young must learn/…from people/discredited or dead,” she seems to respond, at least, only to those dead, but not discredited. She employs the historical marker and the figure of Cather and her characters, but not the people she suggests are missing, such as those native to the area or the white women who came as settlers. In doing so, the narrator is structurally aligned with Tom Outland, again marking her identification with the patriarchal ideas embedded in the marker by displacing and incorporating them into her specifically woman-oriented poetry and project of revision. Where Tom Outland took in native lessons, however,


incorporating and displacing them, and the marker took in Willa Cather’s story and displaced the parts of which it did not approve, the poem switches the positions of power by changing who is being displaced in the identification, changing who gets to speak. In speaking back to the men the historical marker represents, the narrator makes them objects that are displaced as they are devoured, the ones represented by others. Thus the “eating” that occurs in reading a text, according to Warren, here confuses altogether who is reader and who is writer, further confusing already complex power relations but also making a tangible difference in who has the power to represent by making the devouring reader into a powerful writer, as well. As Halberstam writes, “This is the return of the gaze in cinematic terms, the threat of the return of the repressed, an always bloody and violent re-entry into the realm of signification… my entry into representation may erase your control over how I am represented” (195). When the narrator states of Cather that “she knew as well that history/ is neither your script nor mine” (282), the poem makes history their script by retelling history in concert with their lives. Doing this overrides the control patriarchy has had to depict women’s experiences only as silence by identifying with the position of the speaker. While “For Julia” does not contain fantasies of explicit bodily violence towards “powerful white men,” it establishes the violence of writing and re-writing and then enacts that violence upon the violent through identification. Nevertheless, breaking apart other texts and incorporating them is not enough, even though it eases patriarchal control over the representation of women. “How are we going to do better?” asks the narrator, going on, “for that’s the question that lies beyond our excavations,/ the question I ask of you,/ and myself, when our maps diverge, when we miss signals, fail –” (282). To excavate the past, dominant or discredited, is not


enough, for to represent the self through an appropriated history, as Tom Outland did, leaves out the specificity of the writer. The narrator claims that the lesson Cather’s characters teach is that the past “needs a telling as plain/as the prairie,” but this attempt to connect one’s story to the place where it occurs does not quite succeed. The answer to the question of how to do better comes when the narrator says, And if I’ve written in passion, Live, Julia! what was I writing but my own pledge to myself where the love of women is rooted? And what was I invoking but the matrices we weave… flung in audacity to the prairie skies… to outlast the iron road laid out in blood across the land they called virgin (282). The narrator claims that in writing to Julia, she is writing to herself, and simultaneously invoking the more universal “love of women,” which is made to outlast the history of oppression symbolized in the railroads. Here, the narrator presents herself in opposition to “they” – the white frontiersmen who committed genocide and covered up stories they did not want told. Yet in doing so, the women make a bond in the skies, escaping but not displacing the words of the historical marker and the stories it represents. Specifically, the narrator invokes “the matrices we weave,” and the meanings of matrix as “something within or from which something else originates, develops, or takes form” and “material in which something is enclosed or embedded” (OED) point to the entanglement of the women in the bloody activities they seek to escape. Their weaving holds within it the possibility for new stories to develop, but the word choice also highlights the way the older stories have also been spaces in which theirs developed, and which are now embedded within this feminist poem. However, “matrix” can also mean “womb,” and


comes from the same root as “maternal” (OED), so this naming also refigures the preeminence of feminine power. Casting off stands in tension with the structure of the poem, which may be written from “where the love of women is rooted,” but is able to be so rooted by invoking not only “the matrices we weave,” but also the iron roads and their violence. The voice of the narrator here depicts the more pacifist strategy commonly associated with femininity, which, Halberstam notes, “produces determined efforts to eradicate expressions of rage or anger from political protest” (187). This eradication can tend to defuse protest and detract attention from the violence of patriarchal control. The narrator’s answer, in contrast to the poem’s structure, at first appears to be to stay away from the land, away from naming/writing, away from violence. Despite the matrices flying away from the bloody ground, however, the poem explicitly insists upon the representation of violence, in opposition to the covering up and sanitizing enacted by the “mute” marker. By contrasting the bloodshed of colonialism to the supposed virginity of the land, the poem marks the contradictions of its inherited patriarchal language, and continues in its project to break apart traditional narratives and let the blood run. Furthermore, although the narrator implies that “they” are the powerful white men “of broken treaties,” Rich herself is one who has also historically called the land virgin – in “Abnegation” (1968), where she treats on similar themes and specifically traces her ancestral link to colonialism. In that poem, Rich writes: I go along down the road to a house nailed together by Scottish Covenanters, instinct mortified in a virgin forest (Fact, 94), juxtaposing the constructed human impact with the pristine natural state. In order to expose and resist the violence of patriarchal language, the narrator must incorporate the


very violence she pushes away to locate it, and acknowledge her own identification with that legacy. The poem offers images of a textual war in which women’s very survival is at stake and structurally fights that war using identification as a powerful weapon. By the moment of “For Julia,” Rich’s poetry offers identification with the past as a paradoxical method of symbolic violence against it. Yet in some of her earlier work, the focus was much more on placing herself in opposition to such texts, refusing the idea that women must interact with the assumptions in which they are “drenched.” To offer such a stark contrast, though, can also reveal as crucial the very alliances one refutes. Diana Fuss outlines the difficulty of dealing with such complex levels of identification, writing, How might it change our understanding of identity if we were finally to take seriously the poststructuralist notion that our most impassioned identifications may incorporate nonidentity within them and that our most fervent disidentifications may already harbor the very identity they seek to deny? (“Look,” 391). “For Julia” exhibits just this notion, structurally incorporating the identities it seeks to deny (that of violent expansionists), yet in doing so it opens up a space from which to displace the power of the ideals those incorporated represent. “Abnegation” (1968) offers an earlier version of Rich’s identification and incorporation tactics, one that raises thorny issues of different kinds of violence and the ramifications of identification. In this poem, Rich asks what the fox wants with “the dreams of dead vixens/ the apotheosis of Reynard/ the literature of fox-hunting” (Fact 1984, 94). The narrator identifies with this fox (who shows up repeatedly in Rich’s poetry, culminating in her 2001 volume Fox) who does not care about the way she is represented. For the fox, it does not matter whether the story comes from a being like her, one trying to represent her kin from a literary standpoint, or one opposed to her existence – they are all forms of representation


she rejects, refusing in a way to identify with any of them. Here, many kinds of textual history are collapsed, and the narrator appears to shun the model of critical entry into such texts in favor of the fox’s lack of history. The fox has no use for textual violence or defense, or even for language itself, she only responds to the present of her body. Where in “For Julia” Rich explored methods of textual resistance, “Abnegation” sees resistance as bodily, marking representations of the body in the text as tainted and inextricably tied to violent action. She juxtaposes the “archives” left by her literary ancestors to the fox’s instincts, “Only in her nerves the past/ sings, a thrill of self-preservation” (Fact 2002, 55). Here text is equated with violence and murder, while the body itself is the bringer of life, devoid of violent response. The project here is also different than that in “For Julia”, as muteness is actually the preferred course. Telling one’s story in any form appears to contaminate it. Instead, the narrator admires the fox’s ability to have only the goal of staying alive, not to “survive the long war between mind and body,” as in “For Julia,” but almost the converse, a sense of living for the moment only, with no sense of past or future. The narrator here does not look for any entry into old texts, or for the creation of new ones, but seeks to ignore violence unless it is seen as immediate. This project is undermined, however, by the active identification with the fox that takes place through writing. The narrator does not have the past “in her nerves,” instead, she has to develop herself by writing her identifications. By imposing herself on nature and forcing nature into her writing, the very violence the narrator seeks to avoid is once again textually enacted; however, it simultaneously serves a productive purpose in reversing power relations.


The narrator of “Abnegation” attempts to cast off her human inheritance and the history of violence it includes, in favor of identifying with the “immaculate present” of the fox. Through the poem, Rich renegotiates the gendered identification process and thus challenges patriarchal control, even as she upholds the very binaries she acts against. As in “For Julia,” the narrator describes the violence of colonial ancestors, though in “Abnegation” she explicitly marks that history as her inheritance: They left me a westernness, a birthright, a redstained, ravelled afgan of sky. She has no archives, no heirlooms, no future except death and I could be more her sister than theirs who chopped their way across these hills – a chosen people (94). The speaker here denies her birthright in favor of identification with the female fox, associating herself with the nature and the land over those who “chopped” it. Rejecting connection with the “chosen people” involves casting off the archives that she engages with in “For Julia,” in some ways mirroring the gesture there of casting nets in the sky. In not wanting to deal with the contaminated ground, the women in “For Julia” had tended towards this desire to move away from spaces imbued with violent history. Yet even as the archives left to the narrator find their way into her poem, making hers not an “immaculate present” (94), her turning her back on them can be read as an identification process that challenges their primacy. In writing that the fox has “no archives,/no heirlooms, no future,” Rich calls on a vision of nature as empty and timeless. Judith Butler writes of this idea that “the concept


of nature has a history, and the figuring of nature as the blank and lifeless page, as that which is, as it were, always already dead, is decidedly modern” (Bodies, 4). To identify with this nature’s “immaculate present” may then be called into question, Butler suggests, for the way in which it marks the natural as “that which is ‘before’ intelligibility, in need of the mark, if not the mar, of the social to signify” (Bodies, 4). The idea of the “immaculate present” “in need of the mark” echoes strongly with the process of identification as theorized in psychoanalysis. Diana Fuss writes, “identification names the entry of history and culture into the subject, a subject that must then bear the traces of each and every encounter with the external world” (Identification Papers, 3). Identification acts as the mark “of the social to signify” upon the self, placing the subject in a world of traditions. The poem reverses what Butler argues is “the discourse which figures the action of construction as a kind of imprinting…tacitly masculine, whereas the figure of the passive surface…is…quite obviously feminine” (Bodies, 4). “Abnegation” argues, however, that one can, through identification, reverse this process, move from marked to unmarked, moving outside of the progression of human tradition. It thus uses the insistence on one identification, “I could be more her sister than theirs,” to undo another identification process. The narrator uses the literary sense of identification to bind herself to the natural, and turns the psychoanalytic process on its head, arguing for an embrace of the feminine without the need for masculine involvement. Yet in doing so, the poem’s form also requires the traditional identification process of marking to first take place, in order that it may be abnegated. “Abnegation” thus partakes in the patriarchal understanding of identification and nature, becoming implicated in that system even with its resistance.


While reinforcing the binary that paints nature as feminine (blank) and the social as masculine (inscription), the poem argues for the imposition of nature on society instead of vice versa, using the title to mark this identification as a kind of falling back, moving through the other into a prior self. After all, the narrator’s archives are staring the reader in the face, and even as she abnegates their legacy, she contributes to their continuation. Only through identifying with the masculinist writers and colonizers can the narrator fall back into identification with nature (a nature figured by patriarchal ideas), only by calling them up can she claim to discard them. And in doing so, her birthright shines through; her violence is theirs, as it must be in order for her to renounce it. This process of identifying and falling back lines up with Diana Fuss’s exploration of female homosexuality within psychoanalysis. Fuss writes that “female homosexuality is posited as regressive and reactive, primitive and primal, undeveloped and archaic” (Identification, 64). For Freud, Fuss explains, lesbianism occurs as a result of identification gone wrong, of the subject reverting to a time before she distinguished between identification and desire. Lesbianism becomes both the desire of a woman for a woman and the identification of women with women, and this collapse is figured as one that moves the subject back to a time before signification – to the moment in which the poem figures the fox and the land. The point here is not to see “Abnegation” as a foreshadowing of Rich’s coming out as a lesbian, but instead to recognize the way the poem acts to displace patriarchal control and compulsory heterosexuality by tracing an identification process through violent male history into a nature that is seen as pre-existing patriarchal society. Rich rejects this poetic identification process, however, in “For Julia,” where she makes clear


her inability to wash her hands of identification with this patriarchal history because it is too formative and impossible to completely dislodge. Here she recognizes the way her own writing makes being “unmarked” impossible. She then engages with the patriarchal texts and marks herself as linked to them by recalling the use of “virgin forest” here in “Abnegation.” Doing so, she identifies with her earlier ideology only to displace its conclusions, mirroring her new strategy for engaging with patriarchal past. “For Julia” thus indicts the simplifications of “Abnegation,” where the narrator took for granted the existence of Nature as a category separate from patriarchal society without interrogating the way that very grouping was patriarchally determined. In light of this, the later poem argues for the impossibility of excising patriarchal identifications from the female poet who wishes to disturb those very foundations. This progressive movement towards balancing identification and disidentification in some ways culminates in “Fox” (1998), where Rich writes, “I needed history of fox briars of legend it was said she/ had run through/…lacerated skin calling legend to account/ a vixen’s courage in vixen terms” (Fact 2002, 303). In this poem, the fox has a history, and her body is caught up in and interacts with the “legend” instead of predating its mark. The relation between human and nature is also shown to be another way of calling on human history – “For a human animal to call for help/ on another animal/ is the most riven the most revolted cry on earth/…Go back far enough and it blurts/ into the birth-yell of the yet-to-be human child.” Rich’s repetition of “animal” links the creatures under the banner of nature, noting that humans and animals have an inextricably connected history. This call of identification is “riven,” shattered, because it breaks apart the dominant idea that the two animals have different spaces and times. In “Abnegation,”


the fox had “no archives,” but in “Fox” there are vixen terms and history, and identifying with the fox no longer erases the identification with patriarchal history, but allows a further symbolic violence against the history that covers the connection. Rich’s longing for identification in “Fox” reveals another side of the uses of identification in her poetry and the violence those identifications can produce. While the violence of identification can be a mode of resistance, the line between defensive and predatory violence also depends on where one’s identifications lie. Identifying with patriarchal texts can be a method of symbolic violence to break the hegemony of those texts, but the impulse towards identification as a tool for coalition is equally powerful – and equally dangerous. Around the same time as “For Julia,” Rich wrote “Frame,” in which identification is no longer a tool for resistance. “Frame” (1980) tells the story of a female college student harassed and arrested by white men in power. The poem is narrated at first in a third person omniscient voice, which catalogues the woman’s actions and her thoughts as she waits for a bus in the cold, wondering of her professors, “which of the faces/ can she trust to see her at all” (Fact 1984, 187-188). While the woman is narrated as thinking of her professors superficially, as faces, her concern actually seems to focus around their ability to interact with her as a person and not just with what they see in her body, mainly her sex and skin color. The varying meanings of “seeing” as knowledge, power, and surface level understanding, structure the poem’s ambiguous message, making it difficult to trace the narrator’s position. Questions of vision are central to the way the poem unfolds, and to the complicated index of identifications that take place. Even as the woman is looking for her bus, italicized lines introduce another narrator (or another aspect of the same one), whose


first line is, “I don’t know her. I am standing though somewhere just outside the frame of all this, trying to see” (188). This first person narrator is separated from the woman by her physical displacement, standing outside the frame. Her attempts to “see” are at least superficially successful, as her next interjection states that she is “watching the man” who enters the scene. Later, she notes, “I can hear nothing because I am not supposed to be present but I can see” (188). Yet even this watching seems structurally to set her apart from the woman within the poem, described, “Watching so, she is not/watching for the white man who watches the building/ who has been watching her” (188). Immediately, the first person narrator seems more aligned with this man than the woman, as they are both watching her. The narrator goes on to note of the man, “we are both white,” drawing attention to her exclusion of the woman in the statement (188). The two narrators seem to fuse together in emphasizing the distance of the woman, as a first person narration is presented without italics: “She is smaller, thinner/ more fragile-looking than I am” (188). Every comparison the narrator makes between herself and the woman outlines their differences, while a tenuous identification based on race and perspective is drawn between the man and the narrator. When a police officer enters the scene, he is included in the racial identification of whiteness as he violently arrests the woman, “throwing her down,” “dragging her,” “banging her head” – he “pushes her,” “twists the flesh of her thigh,” and “sprays her in her eyes with Mace” (188-189). All of these violent acts are marked as being “in silence,” both because the narrator is “unable to hear a sound” and because “it is meant to be in silence that this happens” (189). The silence is prescribed, “meant to be,” because the violence inflicted upon women of color is structured within the racist and sexist society to be something writers are “silent” about. The narrator


comes up against the barrier that structures her knowing of the situation – she may be able to see it, but she cannot hear the woman speak and thus know what her internal experience is. This silence is juxtaposed to the narrator’s last lines, which focus on the act on speaking, on telling, moving from an absolute reliance on vision to a battle of voices as the narrator asserts: “What I am telling you/ is told by a white woman who they will say/ was never there. I say I am there.” The narrator argues that her seeing somehow makes her privy to being present at the event, despite the silence surrounding it. There are no white women marked in the scene, and the narrator is “outside” the scene itself, so this assertion requires an insistence upon identification to make sense. But who is the narrator identifying with? Literary critic Roger Gilbert assumes that the narrator is identifying with the woman who has been wronged. In his analysis of the poem in the essay “Framing Water: Historical Knowledge in Elizabeth Bishop and Adrienne Rich,” he charts the layers of distance in the poem, but claims that the “they” in the narrator’s declaration “insist on race as another kind of boundary dividing witness from victim, historian from history” (152). In doing so, he argues implicitly that the narrator seeks to argue against the boundary, to be the voice refusing what “they” say, and identifying with the woman in the poem despite racial difference. Yet Gilbert also goes on to say that “both the poem’s speaker/witness and the poet herself are complicitous in the act of framing” and that the speaker/witness is “occupying a voyeuristic position” (153). Technically, voyeurism implies that the viewer is getting some sort of pleasure from the viewing of others, so this term is somewhat inappropriate in Gilbert’s formulation, where the narrator is opposed to the situation. However, his usage suggests the somewhat sinister side of the narrator’s


position. The speaker/witness’s attempt to see early in the poem echoes the woman’s question of whether her professors can see her – but her vision is, Gilbert suggests here, superficial in its involvement with the scene in that, he implies, her real reason for watching is for herself, not for those involved. Yet he argues that her end position goes beyond sight to true understanding and identification. Gilbert draws evidence for his argument from the poem’s structure, arguing that “the careful distinctions and demarcations established earlier…have broken down” and that, by the end of the poem, “Rich insists on her power to know the other’s pain and the injustices that produced it” (155). But Gilbert’s reading ignores the possibility that the poem is deliberately ambiguous about how, exactly, the narrator is present, and in being so points to a central question of Rich’s work – how to navigate the violence of identification. Not only does the narrator specifically link herself to the white men in the poem who bring unprovoked violence, she also implies through this identification that in a violently racist and sexist attack on an implicitly non-white woman by white men, a white woman is the one who must emerge to tell the story. Gilbert reads the narrator as speaking for the woman in the poem, an interpretation that could set off alarm bells about appropriation, but Rich’s poem resists this reading, even as it offers it as one possibility. When the speaker says “I say I am there,” after repeatedly protesting that she is outside the scene and elaborating the differences between herself and the woman and the similarities between herself and the men, she can also be read as speaking not as a figure standing in solidarity, but as one who is culpable for the violence enacted. And this culpability seems to spring in part from the very vexed nature of her identifications. The narrator tells the reader that she is “standing all this time/ just beyond the frame, trying to


see” (302), but it is never clear that the student’s worry when she wonders “which of the faces/ can she trust to see her at all, either today/ or in any future” (301) could not also be directed at the narrator. Her culpability seems to be especially enacted not through the voyeuristic looking Gilbert notes as the position of power, but through her speech, which is, in fact, her writing. The narrator is “telling” – but the format is written, and in fact she does not literally break from the “silence” enforced by patriarchal and racist culture. Writing lurks in the space between seeing and hearing, between watching and speaking, though it is never mentioned in the poem, it is the poem. The narrator’s writing also implicates her in that she is structurally making the scene happen by writing it, doing violence to the woman in the poem in that she literally creates the violence of the poem. This introduces the problem of writing into the mediation of identification and its violence and simultaneously pulls in the problem of reading – readers of the poem are also watching the scene in reading it, also forming their identifications and finding themselves constituted in the process. Tentative attempts at identification as the basis for coalition, such as Gilbert reads in “Frame,” are always questioned in Rich’s poetry, always marked as less than pure. Looking at Rich’s 1991 poem “Final Notations,” Barbara L. Estrin argues that “Rich indicates that becoming the other…solves no problems” (354). Yet, as has been suggested earlier, Rich’s poetry does include moments of becoming the other, despite the violence this involves, in order to interrupt patriarchal narratives and form alliances. In “Sunset, December 1993,” Rich returns to this recurrent topic, writing, Dangerous of course to draw parallels Yet more dangerous to write as if there were a steady course, we and our poems


protected: the individual life, protected (Dark Fields, 29). Danger is always present in “drawing parallels,” creating metaphors, making identifications. Yet this danger is surpassed by the danger of turning away from the other, as the narrator in “Abnegation” seems to desire. What “Abnegation” and this poem have in common, however, is the objective of disrupting the “steady course” of time. Identification acts violently, but in doing so it shatters the perception that the present is a development of the past instead of encouraging challenges to patriarchal traditions. Whether identification is an act of resistance achieved by “entering” old texts or an attempt to bear witness in solidarity, it is dangerous, but necessary in order to recognize the ways in which each individual experience is already imbricated with many others. The danger here is the danger of having power – in drawing parallels one exerts the power of authorship, which can displace difference, yet without taking up identification, one leaves power in the hands of those who are using it oppressively to mark off certain groups as “other” and undeserving of representation and selfhood. Rich is commonly criticized for her book The Dream of a Common Language, which detractors claim imposes a false sameness on the category of women. Yet as Linda Garber notes in Identity Poetics: Race, Class, and the Lesbian-Feminist Roots of Queer Theory, the oftquoted “common language” in Rich’s poetry is “a striving for community and communication, not an achievement of it” (131). Rich herself marks the ways in which identification is only always temporary and conditional, writing in “Cartographies of Silence,” “each/ speaker of the so-called common language feels/ the ice-flow split, the drift apart” (Fact 1984, 232). Identifications are necessary in order to have a self, and building them gives one a position from which to speak in connection with the world, but


a split is threatened with every coming together. The narrator’s uncertain identifications in “Frame” suggest that one might simultaneously be making a connection and breaking that connection apart – and, as Fuss suggests of the identification process, these gestures might be the same thing. Estrin argues that “Rich gives the other, displaced by form, a voice in her poems despite the fact that the other who speaks will turn around and indict her as a conspirator in the displacement process” (347). Yet this very indictment incorporates both of the ways in which Rich does collapse her narrators and “the other” (from positions both dominant and resistive) – after all, it is Rich indicting herself through the other that she inscribes. This is necessary for Rich to critique herself as violent and point out her own fragmentation, but it also threatens to erase alternate voices in this particular formulation and keep the focus on Rich instead of on a larger network of actors for change. Rich suggests this slippery slope in “For a Sister” (1972). In writing about Natalya Gorbanevskaya, a prisoner of a “Soviet penal mental asylum for her political activism,” Rich writes, “I have to steal the sense of dust on your floor,/…I’m forced to guess at the look you threw backward” (Fact 1984, 175). Because Gorbanevskaya did not write about her experience herself, Rich’s attempts to grasp it are tenuous, possibly coercive. In identifying with Gorbanevskaya in order to write her, Rich risks taking something away from her, re-imposing the old patriarchal strategy of representing someone instead of letting them speak for themselves. The image of her stealing Gorbanevskaya’s experience places her writing in dangerous territory, lining up with the “trained violence” of the doctors who stole Gorbanevskaya’s life. She goes on to emphasize the distance between them and simultaneously lays out her project of


identification: “My images. This metaphor for what happens.” (Fact 1984, 176). Rich tells Gorbanevskaya’s story, but it is also a way of telling her own story as much as it is making a connection to the other woman. Rich writing “Your story” (176) comes off strangely false, considering the stealing mentioned in the first stanza. Rich detours through Gorbanevskaya to signify the fragmentation of her own experience and to discuss violence against women, but this task hinges on violation. Rich’s discomfort with this violation combined with a sense of its necessity is figured in three poems about “burning” through the other in order to build the self. Two mirroring poems, “Burning Oneself In” and “Burning Oneself Out,” both 1972, accompany “For a Sister” in Diving into the Wreck. In “Burning Oneself Out” (1972), the narrator argues that “a word” can make someone understand the other’s experience, “burning as if it could go on/ burning itself, burning down/ feeding on everything/ till there is nothing in life/ that has not fed that fire” (Fact 1984, 175). The excitement about the possibilities of identification here is belied by the violence of the action it takes to get there. In the previous poem, “Burning Oneself In,” the “flames” “keep it fed, whether we will it or not…however we may scream we are/ suffering quietly” (Fact 1984,174), so the fire in the second poem is suspect. It is further called into question when the narrator says, “You told me of setting your hand/ into the print of a long-dead Indian/ and for a moment, I knew that hand” (174). Identification is made possible by the distance between the narrator and the person she “knows” – it is because they are “long-dead” that she is able to use them. The experience of others must be consumed in order to feed the fire of well-meant understanding. This action simultaneously burns the reader/narrator, too, as the title implies, but this burning is depicted as a necessary consequence of making


identifications for coalition; however, there is no one left with whom to form the coalition. This uneasiness is even more evident in an earlier poem, “The Burning of Paper Instead of Children” (1968). The narrator first describes reading the Trial of Jeanne d’Arc until “they take the book away/ because I dream of her too often…I know it hurts to burn” (Fact 1984, 117). Here, writing allows a visceral identification with Joan that summons up possibilities of resistance. Yet the narrator goes on to break down the power of the text in creating identifications, arguing that “The burning of a book arouses no sensation in me. I know it hurts to burn. There are flames of napalm in Catonsville, Maryland” (Fact 1984, 119). The narrator no longer identifies with pain and suffering through the book and makes a distinction between the burning of texts, which is unmoving, and the true correlation to her own burning, the burning of cities and people. To identify with others through text, then, can be effective in stirring the imagination, can be a moment of resistance. However, this practice runs the risk of collapsing identities and violating experience without the awareness and notation of difference. Rich ultimately suggests that violent identifications may be useful, but they will only get you so far. In a section of “Turning the Wheel” (1981) called “Particularity” she writes, In search of the desert witch, the shamaness forget the archetypes … So long as you want her faceless, without smell or voice, so long as she does not squat to urinate, or scratch herself, so long as she does not snore beneath her blanket … so long as she does not have her own peculiar face… so long as you try to simplify her meaning so long as she merely symbolizes power


she is kept helpless and conventional her true power routed backward into the past, we cannot touch or name her and, barred from participation by those who need her she stifles in unspeakable loneliness (Fact 308). In keeping past icons generic, contemporary subjects can draw on them to dislodge positions of power. But doing this alone limits what the past has to give to the present, stymieing both arenas of creation. In order to not keep “true power routed backward,” the past also has to be allowed to play a role in the present – where it returns in the form of the dead.

Chapter 2 - Ghost-Ridden Crossroads: The Haunting Process of Disidentification Suppose we came back as ghosts asking the unasked questions. - “Draft #2006” (2006) To proceed from a discussion of violence and identification to one of death and identification may seem an obvious move. Yet in a way Rich’s poetry disrupts the chronology that places violence as prior to and the cause of death, suggesting modes of violence that surpass death and deaths that exist beyond violence. The complexities of identification confuse the temporality of violence and death as well – violence may seem like something that occurs perpetually in the present, while death is always about the past, yet the violence of identification is often about responding to and shaking up the


past, refusing to let it rest in peace, while the dead return through identification to haunt present struggles and even visions of the future. Identification functions through the backward glance – that which has come before is integrated into the new self. For Rich, it is crucial to recognize and denaturalize the impact of the dead upon the living and the living on the dead. Jan Montefiore writes that Rich is “accepting her responsibility to the silent dead” (224) – but Rich’s poetry insists that the dead are not silent. By bringing in the dead, Rich emphasizes the histories that position the living and refuses to leave behind the atrocities that occur, marking the living as implicated in those tragedies and thus required to engage with and process the actions of the past. To abandon the dead to the past would mean giving up on past offenses and thus abnegating responsibility for their continuing consequences. Despite the gestures towards newness that many critics have focused on, Rich’s poetry is haunted by a past that those in search of a new world neither can nor should look to be free from. The many kinds of things that are dead and haunting the poems suggest the complicated web of interconnection that exists between past, present, and future, and how those connections and different identifications can inspire change. In Rich’s earliest work, the dead are the family group, the elders who have shaped the self and who one follows in an endless, natural pattern. As her work progresses and changes, however, the identities and forms of the dead multiply, destabilizing the category and calling into question the relation between dead and living, and the process of identification that joins them. In “A Valediction Forbidding Mourning” (1970), death is associated with structures, particularly with writing and language. With “Twenty One Love Poems” (1974-1976), which many critics mark as a breaking point in Rich’s career as a whole,


Rich extends her prior understanding of the dead to let the ancestor be both separate and inhabiting the self without being merely a reproduction, and also marks certain structures, even language itself, as dead things. In “Through Corralitos Under Clouds” (1989-1990) and other poems, the dead are a part of the self but do not necessarily in any way precede the current self. “A Woman Mourned” (1960) and “From an Old House” (1974), among many others, speak to dead loved ones the narrator has known in her own life, while “From an Old House” and “Calle Vision” (1992-1993) also mark the dead as the repressed Other who is both never known by the speaker and yet speaking to her position and exerting influence on her understanding of the world. These shifting inhabitants of death in Rich’s poetry confuse these categories and disrupt the original suggestion of natural and passive identification with one’s ancestors, offering alternative ways to use old materials in creating new forms. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the transitive verb “haunt” is defined as Of unseen or immaterial visitants…Of diseases (obs.), memories, cares, feelings, thoughts: To visit frequently or habitually; to come up or present themselves as recurrent influences or impressions, esp. as causes of distraction or trouble; to pursue, molest. esp. Of imaginary or spiritual beings, ghosts, etc. Recurrence is thus the main theme of haunting, but there is also a strong connotation of the disruptive and the deathly, even as haunting is based in familiarity and repetition. Bringing back the past means trouble – it unsettles linear progress and suggests the sameness of present and past, even as it relies upon their difference. With haunting, Rich delves into another paradoxical figure. The relation between the haunting influences of people versus that of “memories, cares, feelings, thoughts” is blurry here, but both have


been in the past and their reappearance brings with it traces of their original moment. When Rich brings in visions of ghosts, either as specific individuals or shady types, or inscribes the work of her dead in her own poetry, she foregrounds the circumstances surrounding death and suggests that identification with the past is not natural or oppressive and has powerful consequences. The previous chapter attempted to lay out the ways in which identification with the past alters power relationships by enacting symbolic violence on patriarchal legacies, while this chapter looks at specific images of the past and argues that the past can productively haunt the present even as it disrupts it. In Rich’s first book of poems, A Change of World, she both stylistically and conceptually endorses a naturalized identification with the dead. Such a process involves the young being formed by incorporating the identities and knowledge of those before them, so that the dead exist in the progeny they leave behind, but no longer exert any direct impact on the condition of the world. Following Donne’s “A Valediction Forbidding Mourning” (1611), the narrator of “At a Deathbed in the Year Two Thousand” (1951) argues that those close to the dying should “let be/ Impotent grief and mourning” (Collected, 21). Donne’s narrator had similarly reprimanded readers that at a death, “let us melt, and make no noise, no tear-floods, nor sigh-tempests move.” Rich neither mentions Donne nor invokes his language, instead, she takes up his theme without calling attention to the inheritance, and her narrator expresses a desire for a similar kind of legacy, saying, “This text I leave the young:/ Your rage and loud despair/ But shake a crumbling stair” (21). This bequest of a message for younger generations erases the influence the actions of the dead and dying will have on those living and still to come, by suggesting some remove of the former self from the text that is left behind. The narrator


also gives agency to the living to take up the suggestions of the past or not, as they desire, while simultaneously effacing the historical context of their lives. The setting of the poem “In the Year Two Thousand” emphasizes this static nature of history, presuming perhaps that nothing substantial will have changed by the millenium. Rich’s early work thus engages with identification with the dead in a way that claims to ignore the past only to take it up thematically without reflection or engagement on how it was forged. However, it also holds the seeds for later themes by marking the remains of the dead as “text,” suggesting the ways that old texts can be used in order to negotiate and engage with the past in working to imagine and create a future that lets history progress by refusing to ignore its impact. The poem “The Perennial Answer” (1955) both extends and troubles the notion of the dead as the family group from which one emerges. The narrator is cautioned, “Take care, unless you want to join your dead;/ it’s time to end this battling with your years” (Collected, 103), focusing on the family group and death as a natural recurrence and resistance to “your years,” taking time into account, as illness. As the poem continues, we learn that the narrator is ambivalent about death at best and that joining her dead seems an unattractive option, yet despite her struggle against death as a naturalized force she does not seem to have many options. The poem also begins to question the idea that a descendant need be formed through identification with her forbears along gendered and family lines. The narrator struggles with proscribed social reality and identifies with representations of her family across gendered lines, looking to artistic texts for understanding. Marriage is for her “as a room so strange and lonely” (104), and she does not draw comfort from the social position she inherits from her culture as a result of


marrying. She strays from her husband, arguing that he is incomprehensible to her. Even a distant and unrelated figure offers more potential for connection than her husband. She compares a former patriarch to him and finds the living man unfavorable in the match: “the tortured grandsire hanging in the hall/ Depicted by a limner’s crabbed hand/ Seemed more a being that I could understand” (104). Told from the perspective of a woman confronted with death, the bulk of the poem concerns her experiences with her husband and the man she loved, who have both died before her. She explains her memories by saying, “the penalty for dying last/ Is facing those transactions from the past/ That would detain you when you try to go” (106). Here she is prevented in proceeding to death by the dead, instead of welcomed by them. There is in this poem tension around death, an uncertainty in the narrator herself. Although the narrator recounts mournfully that her husband is “decreed till death to have me all” (104) and takes his death as the first time she is able to sleep soundly (107), she also rejects her potential lover’s trust in life after death, responding to his claim that “we die/ To gain the day at last” by saying “Why not believe in life?” (106). Yet her life is filled with death, and in wondering “what we’re bound to after death,” the best she can seem to come up with in the end is, “My debt is paid,” ultimately painting life as the space of hardship and death as one of release. That the dead haunt her understanding of her life, however, marks this narrator as one for whom death is not an easily assumed position. Rich wrote on The Diamond Cutters, in which this poem appeared, that it was “a last-ditch effort to block, with assimilation and technique, the undervoice of my own poetry” (What is Found 233). Here she uses the form of a story from long ago, picking characters from a different time that indicate her taking up of poetic tradition while remaining removed from her choices. In light of this,


Cheri Colby Langdell argues that hints of resistance to established poetic traditions were already present in The Diamond Cutters (29), and Deborah Pope locates the possibility of Rich coming to speak for herself more in this poem because of its emphasis on marriage and domestic life (Separate 127). Langdell writes that the first poem in the volume “begins with a road washed away, suggesting that some of the traditional patterns – or poetic ‘roads’ – she has followed may be discarded” (29). “The Perennial Answer” can also be seen as indicative of the course Rich’s poetry was to take and specifically of the way her figuring of death and identification would change. Rich’s ongoing revision of her earlier themes, including her stance on identification, is evident in her explicit taking up of Donne’s poem in “A Valedication Forbidding Mourning” (1970). This poem is much darker than its fellow written almost two decades before. Here, the contradictory meanings of death for Rich and the potential of engaged practices of identification both come to the surface. Here, death is no longer a natural passage to be greeted with laughter and the passing on of knowledge to form future generations. Instead, death is placed in a context of pain and fear – the narrator is “attacked” by grammar, which, read in light of “At a Deathbed” can suggest the way the textual heritage left by one’s predecessors can contribute to death instead of continued living. The narrator underscores this point by lashing out against the structures that demarcate the spaces for poetry, and specifically women’s poetry: I want you to see this before I leave: the experience of repetition as death the failure of criticism to locate the pain the poster in the bus that said: my bleeding is under control. A red plant in a cemetery of plastic wreaths.


Repetition, which in “At a Deathbed” appeared to be offered as a model for living, is here equated with death, a particularly interesting choice in light of Rich’s own “repetition” of Donne’s title. Since Rich’s writing is “an experience of repetition,” death is once again figured as a potentially productive location for the emergence of poetry. Langdell argues that “the whole poem is on one level a discussion of language and its powerlessness to embody the reality of intense emotion and thoughts adequately” (110). Yet if Rich is disavowing language, she is choosing a strange medium in which to do so. Instead, I would argue that the poem suggests the ways that life can grow out of death without succumbing to it. The “experience of repetition as death” argues for a break with the kind of artificial poetry based on sameness with the past that Rich had previously embraced. This poem, however, stands out as the “red plant in a cemetery of plastic wreaths” – flourishing in the context of the dead, drawing sustenance from them, but refusing to be reduced to a mere imitation of life in deathly materials. Rich argues here for a new view of identification with the past – to use the materials given, but to make visible the ways that past writing, in particular, figures future progeny in very limited ways, ignoring the specifics of their experience. There is a particularly gendered aspect to this setup, the poem suggests, recording the poster that celebrates the control of bleeding, perhaps alluding to the way that patriarchal structures seek to control women’s bodies – and their writing. Rich brings in “repetition as death” to make known these expectations and limitations, to sketch out the ways in which her position is shaped through identification with the past, even as she moves away from and against those materials. Several critics have formulated Adrienne Rich’s poetic project as that of rediscovering a “prehistoric” past, of searching behind patriarchal society for a woman-


centered vision of being that can be brought to bear in creating an anti-patriarchal worldview. These critics have focused on Rich’s presumed goal as building in Diving into the Wreck and culminating with Dream of a Common Language. In such an understanding, Rich’s poetry seeks to bypass the history of “civilization” and move back to a pre-linguistic gynocentric model, unearthing its hidden structures and giving them new life. Here patriarchy is equated with that which is forever dead, and feminism with a reincarnation that brings the old to life through the identification of the present with the past beyond the past. As Susan Stanford Friedman writes (in an essay to which Rich responded with great distrust), “[Rich’s Dream] names the love between women as the life-force countering patriarchy’s death trip” (228)4. Both Friedman and Adrian Oktenberg have pointed to Rich’s use of the “death-spiral” in “Twenty One Love Poems” to indicate that patriarchy’s “values are dead in the sense that they no longer hold meaning for us…and that they lead to extinction” (Oktenberg, 332). These critics fail to understand, however, that death for Rich is a constantly shifting category, encompassing patriarchal structures of oppression, those that have been driven to silence due to those structures, and the worlds and systems that predate such structures entirely. After all, “we dead,” in Rich’s seminal essay on women’s writing, references the women who have not written their lives truly, the living dead, not the patriarchal figures who overshadow them. And supposedly dead patriarchal writings are continually reborn in Rich’s work through their incorporation into her own poetic language. There is thus no easy differentiation between the dead and the reborn in Rich’s work, between those who haunt current meanings and those reincarnated through newly reflective attention. Instead of seeking a

In her “Comment,” Rich takes issue with Friedman for, among other things, “isolating the artist from her political and historical matrix” and for, in Rich’s view, setting up a “competition” between Rich and H.D. which induced “oversimplifications” in the reading of Rich’s work (735).


pre-historic past, Rich looks to shake up the differentiations between past and present to keep from repeating the same mistakes. Tracing death and the dead in Rich’s work, particularly in the forms of ghosts and structural haunting, provides a valuable lens for understanding identification as it winds through Rich’s poetry. When other critics dismiss the dead as standing for oppression that is irrelevant to those seeking a feminist and justice based world, they reinforce those structures they wish to fight by ignoring the ways the dead impact the living. Rich’s complicated and often conflicting portrayals of the dead reflect the way the self develops and the way writing is produced, building upon the old by calling it up, but never as it has been, always renegotiated in light of its new surroundings and its ghostly journeys. This engagement brings to light the way that past structures, narratives, and voices constitute cultural knowledge and position the self in society. By following the identifications that form the self and the text, one can see how that self fits into social structures and thus is implicated in and must respond to the way those structures have functioned. Dealing with the past is thus a necessary present foundation for the future; otherwise, Rich’s poetry seems to argue, the past creates unseen and thus un-dealt with barriers to justice and dialogue. Bringing these barriers to light through nontransparent figures that question current circumstances is accomplished through Rich’s infusion of her poetry with haunted material and personas. This practice suggests a strategy of disidentification. According to José Muñoz in Disidentifications: Queers of Color and the Performance of Politics, Disidentification is about recycling and rethinking encoded meaning. The process of disidentification scrambles and reconstructs the encoded message of a cultural text in a fashion that both exposes the encoded message’s universalizing and exclusionary machinations and recircuits its


workings to account for, include, and empower minority identities and identifications. Thus, disidentification is a step further than cracking open the code of the majority; it proceeds to use this code as raw material for representing a disempowered politics or positionality that has been rendered unthinkable by the dominant culture (31). Although Muñoz’s book focuses specifically on the performances and productions of queer people of color, he does not limit the tactic of disidentification to this group, also noting its use by such white gay male figures as Andy Warhol and Jack Smith, a performance artist who Muñoz writes “made worlds during his performances; he recycled schlock culture and remade it as a queer world” (ix). The violence of identification is in some ways the process of “cracking open the code of the majority,” breaking the power that normative structures have had. Muñoz’s theory is particularly useful in that it “can be understood as a way of shuffling back and forth between reception and production” (25), just as Rich’s changing representation of the connection between the dead and the process of identification requires moving from receiving the old and producing new understandings of what old materials mean in new contexts and when working with other, sometimes opposing forces. Muñoz’s discussion of disidentification shows how processes of self formation are specifically linked to ideas around death and past forces. He relates the process of disidentification to Freud’s concept of mourning, which he describes as “the reaction to the loss of a loved one, or to the loss of some abstraction which has taken the place of one such as one’s country, liberty, an ideal, and so on” (63). This process requires the incorporation of aspects of object or abstraction into the self, and thus, in a way, all mourning involves some identification. Muñoz notes that Freud finds this process healthy only if the lost object eventually disappears entirely into the self. In “the work of


mourning [Muñoz] is discussing [there] is no such escape from the lost object. Rather, the lost object returns with a vengeance. It is floated as an ideal, a call to collectivize, an identity affirming example” (52). The dead here do not drift off into fond memories and unnoticeable qualities of the self, instead, they are used as markers of loss with which to critique the present. He argues that in the example he is addressing, “Basquiat saw the need to call up the dead, to mingle the power of the past with the decay of the present” (52). Rich is a part of a quite different cultural tradition, and in a sense her poetry is more disruptive than Basquiat’s art to day to day norms. As Muñoz notes, “Basquiat understood the force of death and dying in the culture and tradition around him” (51), while Rich emerges out of a tradition where death is marked as simply a natural progression, as seen in her early poems. For Rich, investigating the presence of the dead is breaking a taboo. However, Rich’s poetry does similar work, taking the culturally enforced ideal and mingling it with evidence of the harmful effects of that tradition, to argue that the present suffers from the past but is also empowered by it. The fact that Rich invokes the dead both as those lost through their personal absence and those lost through enforced submission to dominant narratives allows for a “call to collectivize” that displays the necessity of multiple histories in creating new subjectivities. Muñoz writes of those whose work uses disidentification to create new possibilities, “this task can be summed up as the (re)telling of elided histories that need to be both excavated and (re)imagined, over and above the task of bearing the burden of representing an identity that is challenged and contested by various forces” (57). Rich’s work enacts these principles by recognizing ghosts and haunting structures that can both (re)tell elided histories and put them in the context of the challenges they face, thus producing


complicated identifications that move forward by knowing the full power of the past. Yet Rich’s work goes beyond this step by setting up ways in which the “raw material” of the past can be utilized “for representing a disempowered politics or positionality.” She refigures that material as ghosts and ruins –dead, but not gone, it must be broken down and destabilized, recycled as a mixture to develop new creations. This is not to say the ghosts do not maintain power – their presence as entities attests to the influence they continue to exert in suggesting that something in the present is informed by past creations, while also being manipulated to mark the gaps in narratives of the past that can be filled or at least brought to attention in the present. For Rich this “raw material” must recombine with its own hidden roots of exclusion and exploitation and the strands of history that have been silenced through the naturalization of any particular past as history. This process is necessary for people looking to build just societies and empower those who have “been rendered unthinkable by the dominant culture.” Oktenberg and Friedman’s readings of Rich as discarding the patriarchal as dead respond to one element within her work, certainly. Yet even as her poetry shifts and changes over the years, it continually returns to the question of what the living owe to the dead, how to understand the dead as still among the living, and what death means at all when the living must regularly encounter and engage with that which has supposedly “passed on.” In “When We Dead Awaken,” Rich writes, “The awakening of dead or sleeping consciousness has already affected the lives of millions of women” (18). The sliding between “dead” and “sleeping” is telling – the dead may not stay so, and that which is dead is often wrapped inside that which is living as the undead – and its reincarnation within the living self is a part of the (dis)identification process.


Everyone does not see melancholy as a positive force in the way that Muñoz does, but even one of the greatest critics of this view still ends up promoting techniques such as Rich’s. In “Melancholy and the Act,” Slavoj Žižek’s interpretation of melancholy and mourning portrays melancholy as much more detrimental, as it is in Freud, making it seem completely foolish as grounds for resistance. Yet his example of the way melancholy may have been advocated in post-colonial studies is telling: he situates the lost object that is internalized as a “specific legacy” of cultural tradition threatened by “new global culture,” which once internalized allows the subject to participate fully in “global culture” because they carry within them their traditional background, regardless of their current behavior (658). In Muñoz, however, and in the relation I am attempting to attribute to Rich, part of that which is lost and internalized is the oppressive tradition which one seeks to internalize in order to distance the power it wields and to be conscious of the ways that history impacts one’s behavior in attempting new (justice oriented) ways of living. Žižek mocks the melancholic by arguing that s/he “is not simply the one who is unable to renounce the object but rather the one who kills the object a second time (treats it as loss) before the object is actually lost” (662). The bottom line of Žižek’s argument here is that melancholy attempts to kill that which is still alive by treating it as lost and internalizing that loss. But if the object is that which is reviled at the same time as it is beloved or at least held up as important, might this not be a meaningful technique for combating the primacy of the object in one’s world? Rich’s dead include both the oppressor and the oppressed as she seeks to recognize a world necessarily framed by both. Her poetry thus is perhaps in danger of becoming obsessed with the (never really) lost object, but she prevents this by giving those objects form in the ghosts


that haunt her poems, allowing space for concerns that can disrupt any cohesive understanding of simple relationships, making productive use of the characteristic Žižek scorns to make people wary of what they are internalizing and for what purposes – what is thought to be hidden or absent becomes present and apparent, but only for the confusion that it is. One critic who has interpreted Rich’s poetry as going beyond merely dismissing dead patriarchal works and values is Barabara Estrin. In her reading of An Atlas of the Difficult World, Estrin argues that Rich follows Judith Butler in exemplifying that “the present is rooted in the past” (347). Despite Rich’s statement in On Lies, Secrets, and Silence, which Friedman quotes, that “what we have yet to create does not depend on their [men’s] institutions: would in fact rather be free of them” (231), Estrin traces in Atlas a much more complicated relationship to patriarchal pasts. This connection does not involve breaking free entirely; instead, it focuses on the ability to move beyond those institutions and flourish beyond their boundaries, always returning to them in order to understand their impact. Estrin’s reading is aligned with Rich’s own comments in response to Friedman’s essay, in which she states, “A political speech is not the same as a poem…I am not warning against reading men’s books, learning whatever they have to teach, but against the dangers of identifying with the male mentor to the exclusion of other women” (736). This concern with excluding other women echoes in the poem, where one woman seems to have almost killed her twin-self. In reading Rich’s 1989-1990 poem “Through Corralitos Under Rolls of Clouds,” Estrin constantly sketches the connections between this poem and Petrarch’s Poem 366, arguing that Rich follows a classic tradition of recognizing the enemy in the self and the


self in the enemy (356). In the Petrarch poem the narrator begs the Virgin to take pity on him in his final moments. Yet even as she moves between the dead poet’s work and the living one, Estrin argues of the poem itself that “the field of difference between life and death is hardly there…Yet the gulf that separates the living from the dead is inexorable” (358). According to Estrin, the poem recycles the raw material of Petrarch, and according to the poem, the living self both encompasses and refuses the death within it. In the second section, Rich writes, it’s as if part of you had died in the house sometime in that last low-lit afternoon when your dreams ebbed salt-thick into the sheets and now this other’s left to wash the corpse, burn eucalyptus, turn the mirrors over – this other who herself barely came back, whose breath was fog to your mist, whose stubborn shadow covered you as you lay freezing, she survived, uncertain who she is or will be without you (Atlas, 47). The poem moves from lightly suggesting “it’s as if part of you had died” to focusing in on this split self, making the living version “this other” who “survived uncertain who she is or will be without you.” Even the structural technique here upsets subject positions, as the narrator appears to be omnisciently speaking to an imagined presence rather than to the reader. In his essay “Apostrophe,” Jonathan Culler argues that “apostrophe…makes its point by troping not on the meaning of a word but on the circuit or situation of communication itself” (59). By writing to “you,” the poet insists that the subject is already othered, outside the poem even as it fills it, confusing further the subject who is living and the one who is dead. After all, it is “you” who has died, while the more distanced “she” remains – but she seems beyond address. Furthermore, the survivor is drawn in images of “fog” and “shadow” – attaching her to the familiar figures of the


ghost. The possibility of being “without” the “you” who died, however, is problematized in the next section, when the poem asks, what do you know of the survivor when you know her only in opposition to the lost? What does it mean to say I have survived until you take the mirrors and turn them outward and read your own face in their outraged light? (48). The survivor here can be read in terms of the survivor of patriarchy, the one who lives to clean the sheets, a stand in for the physical washing of the corpse, build anew, and mourn. Rich had said that creation would be free of patriarchal institutions, yet the critics’ focus on the separateness of the world she seeks in many ways positions it “only in opposition to the lost,” instead of understanding the intertwining of new and old, past, present, and future. As Estrin writes, “the survivor reads her own face to learn that she survives her own dead body, at the expense of her dead body. When Rich’s outraged mirror speaks, it turns the survivor into a Claudius who kills his brother, a Perseus who beheads Medusa” (358). The survivor has to face her identifications by looking at herself in the mirror; so that while Estrin marks her as Perseus, she is also figured as the monstrous feminine, for Medusa is finally beaten by this gesture of looking into a mirror, in which she sees herself and turns to stone from the reflection of her murderous body. Following Estrin’s connection, then, the survivor reestablishes her own death through her attempts at identification. Here “you” become survivor instead of victim, yet the remaining self seems to hold the death of her other half within her through the gesture of the mirrors. Since both the survivor and the deceased here are female, and one, it may at first seem confused to read the poem in any way as having truck with the patriarchal past, the “death-spiral.” However, the survivor enacts the patriarchal tradition of turning over the


mirrors, following set cultural traditions from the past, even as she attempts to leave behind the piece of herself now frozen in the past, and Estrin connects her action to the male murder of the female monster – here embedded in the murderer/survivor herself. Rich’s very ambivalence about figures of the dead, and their movement – from oppressor to oppressed, from male to female, from self to other – suggests that dealing with the materials, the “raw matter,” of patriarchy is bound up in dealing with the way women interact with one another and the way movements of connection are built – after all, Perseus cannot kill Medusa without using her to do it. Identification with the dead means accepting the many different faces of communal and personal ghosts. Of Adrienne Rich’s many poems dealing with the ghosts of the past, “From an Old House in America” (1974) is perhaps the most explicit in its conjuring of the link between haunting spirits and living beings. The poem begins with an image of the time long ago when “the carcasses of old bugs crumbled into the rut of the window,” the bodies which are now replaced by the actions of new human inhabitants and the observation that “Fresh June bugs batter this June’s screens” (Fact 1984, 212). Despite the best efforts of the narrator to displace these reminders of death with “the snout of the vacuum cleaner” which “sucks the past away,” they return to haunt her, reviving themselves and bringing with them the understanding that “Other lives were lived here” (212). Every attempt at starting anew unearths the knowledge of former inhabitants, and the narrator finds herself obsessed with their remains, as the ghosts seem to both displace her present self and infuse it, expanding her understanding and experience. The poem seems to argue that despite the power that may come with identification, the displacement that may be enacted, identification always opens a path and destabilizes the chances that


any one person can retain sole power over the other. Identifying with the past thus changes the balance of power with its violence, but it simultaneously opens up gaps in the past, breaking apart historical fictions that dominate current power structures, and infuses current attempts to create new worlds with historical knowledge, the pieces of foundation to be built upon. In this poem, Rich combines the thematic element of haunting with a structural enactment of the theme. Section four of “From an Old House” best exemplifies this melding: Often rebuked, yet always back returning I place my hand on the hand of the dead, invisible palm-print on the doorframe … or I read the backs of old postcards curling from thumbtacks, winter and summer fading through cobweb-tinted panes – … set-pieces of the world stuck to this house of plank I flash on wife and husband embattled, in the years that dried, dim ink was wet those signatures Rich’s note to the first line of this section records that “The first line is borrowed from Emily Bronte’s poem.” Thus, Rich simultaneously muses on the nature of past materials and incorporates them into her own work, placing her hand as a writer on the hand of the dead. She invokes words pointing towards the usage of the past and suggests with Bronte’s line that refusing to engage with the past is a doomed tactic. Ironically, the


Bronte poem itself seems to posit the opposite conclusion. The narrator of “Often rebuked, yet always back returning” (1850) seeks to follow “idle dreams of things which cannot be,” where her “own nature would be leading” over “old heroic traces” and “the clouded forms of long-past history” (134). For Bronte’s forward looking narrator, the way to be true to the self is to refuse the course set by the past. In using Bronte’s phrase but turning against its context, “From an Old House” has the “clouded forms of long-past history” take over. Rich thus both enacts a disidentification with the past and suggests the ways the inhabiting of it can give a fuller sense of the present condition. Images of the past bring the former inhabitants to life for the narrator, give her “flashes” of the experiences they have had, create for her partial identifications. Yet they remain constantly “stuck” to the house itself, to the landscape, while the narrator only inhabits it. Yet as the poem continues and is almost overtaken by the stories of the past, the line blurs between the dead and the living. The narrator is surrounded by death. From the invisible handprint of the dead to the aging paper of the postcards and the cobwebs that have collected in the windows, the house is more than just “old;” it is haunted. The connection between the narrator’s haunting and the way the poems are haunted by older works is highlighted by the emphasis on writing in this section. It is through the postcards that the narrator knows of the “wife and husband” whose stories she imbibes, and she imagines their moment of life at the time when the ink of their words was still wet and fresh. There are several kinds of haunting taking place in the poem. The June bugs become patterns that cannot be swept away, carcasses that will not be removed, and the postcards suggest a written history that perseveres but dimly, in “flashes” and dried out in


comparison to its initial vibrancy; the lives behind the words are “invisible,” only vivid within the imagination of the narrator. Through her reading and writing, the narrator (and Rich) reincarnates the spirits of the writers that have come before her. In this, she seems to be actively salvaging their history – she could have thrown the post cards away. Yet the refusal of the June bugs to stay gone suggests perhaps that such a choice is less available than it at first seems and that the two kinds of history are less separate than initially hinted. In section two of the poem, the narrator confides that the other lives of the house have been “mostly un-articulate/ yet someone left her creamy signature/ in the trail of rusticated/ narcissus straggling up” (212). This flower becomes the mediator between the natural history, full of cyclic patterns and unstoppable, and the written past, left behind and doomed to fade away without direct intervention by a reader who reincarnates the words. The narcissus is “signature” and force of nature, struggling against the weeds but not defeated by these wild forces, though still endangered by them as the sun and air endanger the words on the postcards. The distinction between the categories blurs, as the June bug carcasses act “Deliberately” and the postcard voices are marked by the Bronte quotation as always returning, despite their dried ink. All these figures invoke the presence of the past within the current moment, all point to the fractured nature of the past as it impacts the present. These figures of the past interfere with the narrator’s life, but she also comprehends the ghosts as an active part of her creation. In section five, she laments, If they call me man-hater, you would have known it for a lie but the you I want to speak to has become your death


If I dream of you these days I know my dreams are mine and not of you yet something hangs between us older and stranger than ourselves the irreducible, incomplete connection between the dead and living or between man and woman in this savagely fathered and unmothered world (214). Here the ghosts of the recent and ancient past collide, and as already seen in Rich’s poetry, the other is incorporated into the self: the you exists only within the narrator as any sort of life. Yet death here is not an ending, like the postcards, the June bugs, the narcissus plant, death is not stable and does not equal an absence. And the connection between living and dead – which is “irreducible, incomplete” – is aligned with that between women and men. The “you” here should testify to a connection between men and women, should argue against the narrator’s prejudice, but cannot do so because of his absence. The dead one here is male, but the current world is also “savagely fathered.” So calling him up, even in his absence, points to the patriarchal control of culture, while his existence within the female narrator, imagined by her and part of her dreams, proposes women’s creation and selfhood within and against patriarchy. Discussing Rich’s supposed rejection of patriarchal tradition, Adrian Oktenberg traces the way this association expands in Rich’s “Twenty-One Love Poems,” arguing that “Rich lives among the artifacts and debris of ‘modern’ civilization, yet she knows it is dead…Its values are dead both in the sense that they no longer hold meaning for us…and that they lead to extinction” (332). Yet “From an Old House” seems to insist that the dead are neither extinct nor irrelevant. There is a gulf between living and dead, Rich argues, but the dead are also a


part of the creation of daily life, are incorporated into the self-identifications of the living. This is not a one-way street for Rich, either. Section seven of the poem blurs the narrative voice, and it appears to be the dead who speak, taking over the story, relating experiences in the first person that weave in and out with the narrator’s voice, making it at points impossible to ascertain with any certainty whether the story is related by the narrator of the first sections, or the “other lives” that were supposedly “un-articulate.” The narrator indicates the very normalcy of haunting with the lines, “All my energy reaches out tonight/ to comprehend a miracle beyond/ raising the dead.” The raising of the dead becomes in this poem a part of the order of things; it is a troubling but necessary element of any attempt at self-definition or creation to take up these ghosts, despite their unruliness, despite and perhaps because of the gaps between their experience and the narrator’s own. This is not to imply that death itself is figured positively, or that the dead have an inevitable impact that negates their physical absence. After noting that women can be dangerous to themselves, Rich writes in the last line of the poem, “Any woman’s death diminishes me.” Here, she speaks to John Donne’s declaration “any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind” (Meditation XVII). In doing so, Rich simultaneously marks the particularly gendered nature of death within a patriarchal society, suggesting that she is involved in womankind and thus concerned with their stories, and seems to argue that these deaths are inseparable from a patriarchal context, thus the Donne quotation that structures her speaking. Her insertion of “woman” instead of “man” calls attention to the way patriarchy excludes some in the making of “mankind,” which is supposed to stand in for humanity, but, as Rich notes, really does


not. Despite the way dead women’s stories infuse the poem, the narrator’s loss questions not only the meanings of death, but the meanings of life. This moment anticipates the question in “Through Corralitos”: “What does it mean to say I have survived”? Ghosts have some unsettling history, some incomplete desire, and Rich suggests that their uneasiness is a piece of the narrator and of the living more generally. Only by inhabiting the past through their connection to the dead can the living grasp the limited nature of patriarchal ways of seeing and experience a fuller range of possibilities. Only through “disidentification” can the living rework the stories of the dead to give themselves life. Rich’s poetry is haunted not only by her predecessors and the past of her surroundings, but by her own poetry. Oktenberg writes of “Twenty-One Love Poems” that “almost every line reflects on or reverberates off of something Rich has written elsewhere” (339). She points specifically to “neighborhoods/ we move into and come to love” in section XVII, comparing it to “To pull yourself up by your own roots; to eat the last meal in/ your old neighborhood,” the last line of “Shooting Script” (1970), and “the slow-picked, halting traverse of a pitch” of XIX, which she links to “The Roofwalker” (1961), where Rich wrote, “I’m naked, ignorant,/ a naked man fleeing/ across the roofs.” I would add the striking repetition of “I choose” in the last stanza to the list, arguing that it harkens back to “The Roofwalker” line “A life I didn’t choose/ chose me.” Yet these recurrences are less about reflection than about haunting, as the old poems are only pale recollections called up in their reincarnations, adding an echo of meaning but having been substantially altered, as discussed in chapter one’s examination of “For Julia” and “Abnegation.” Despite the sameness of the signature and phrasing, Rich positions the portions that are “self-referential” (Oktenberg, 338) as ghostly by marking her former self


as dead. This opens the door even further for death to be read as a metaphor. In poem VIII of “Twenty-One Love Poems,” she writes, “Well. That’s finished. The woman who cherished her suffering is dead. I am her descendant.” Drawing on the former incarnations of death in her poetry, where the dead were largely ancestral, Rich replaces that construct with the self/ancestor, who now haunts her writing in the references to her past works and reappearance of earlier phrases and themes. Since the relation between ancestor and descendant has been destabilized and shown to be one that requires mediation and distance while also being crucial to new self-formation, the self as descendant shares this uncertain link with her past. In this formulation, there may seem to be a clear break between the two selves, yet the way the writing “reverberates” blurs the distinction between the two, again emphasizing the role the dead have to play in new creation, despite the ways in which the narrator disidentifies with her past self. After all, as soon as she names herself a “descendant” she goes on to note “the scar-tissue she handed on to me,” realigning the two selves in one body, and confusing the metaphor, since physical scars are not inherited, drawing attention to the impossibility of the speaker existing without invoking her own ghost, the scars that remain present within her. “Twenty-One Love Poems” is dated 1974-1976 and thus can be seen as a sort of sequel to or extension of “From an Old House.” Both poems trace an aspect of identification that is crucial to Rich’s poetry both structurally and thematically throughout her career – the inevitable impact of even the ghosts one distances in making one’s self, or one’s world. Rich’s assertion of a former self’s death in “Twenty-One Love Poems” also adds a new level of haunting to “Through Corralitos.” If the narrator in the earlier poem is the survivor of her former self, does the latter suggest that she is implicated in that self’s


death, even as she cannot detach herself from it, and especially as she marks that death as necessary? Oktenberg argues that in “Twenty-One Love Poems,” “much ‘courtly’ or ‘romantic’ baggage is jettisoned as so much dead weight” (336) and marks it as failure when “some, forgotten or unexamined, remains” (336, note 6). Yet what Oktenberg fails to realize is that in Rich, the dead do not disappear – “remains” are not an indication of forgetfulness or lack of examination, but a crucial component of moving forward. In “Rusted Legacy” (1997), Rich conjures up an image for the kind of reading Oktenberg has made, writing, Imagine a city where nothing’s forgiven your deed adheres to you like a scar, a tattoo but almost everything’s forgotten… – a city memory-starved but intent on retributions Rich’s title marks exactly the perspective Oktenberg reads into “Twenty-One Love Poems,” where the past is useless and corroded. Yet she juxtaposes the situation described with one in which there is remembering and forgiveness, suggesting a way to work with the past that is not so dangerous and decayed. The poem speaks to the idea that to work with the dead is to understand one’s actions, to move beyond the image, which will inevitably be drawn from the past, into building knowledge by reconstituting what the image means and has meant. Past experiences are here painful impacts that cannot be washed away – “a scar, a tattoo.” Unlike Rich’s symbolic movements of violence detailed in the first chapter, this poem is uninterested in “retributions” or punishing that which has been painful. What needs to be claimed are memories, in all their spoiled state, to get beyond the appearance of a structural traditional, one that you can see inscribed on the body, to one that is internal. Here Rich longs for an exhumation of the internal deaths, a


way of learning not from the remains of what has happened but in order to not continually repeat past injuries. More than thirty years after “Twenty-One Love Poems,” Rich’s poetry tries to make this point – that history is a part of the self that must be reckoned with for one to have choice in one’s fate. In “Letters to a Young Poet” (1997), the title of which is revived from Rilke’s famous piece, Rich writes, Let me turn you around in your frozen nightgown and say one word to you: Ineluctable – meaning, you won’t get quit of this: the worst of the new news history running back and forth panic in the labyrinth. Here, the narrator’s warning to the young is to watch out for precisely the trap Friedman and Oktenberg suggest Rich falls into – searching for a way to leave the past behind. What is unavoidable here is the repetition of history, but this may be only because it is still being seen through the lens of the “new” and individual; when history is personified and able to run and panic, it is not understood as structural damage. The “worst of the new news” is ultimately “history” – the dead come to life again because the wrongs of their lifetime are not recognized, and the poet is absolutely tied to the movement of history into the present, cannot help but look to it in order to speak. However, this reckoning with the dead does not advocate a constant backward glance. Such a position would be one of stagnation, whereas the poet’s role is an active disidentification that, as in Muñoz’s description, is all about movement and change, re-creation. Rich cautions, “ – Be – infernal prefix of the actionless…You can be like this forever – Be as without movement.” To only be is to go beyond death, which is never figured as a place of


stillness, to something worse. Once one grasps the presence of death as an indicator of trouble, one has the potential to choose her own course, to try to wrestle with the ghosts instead of letting them act unseen. This reverses a perverse process in which the dead are acting for the living while the living are “frozen” and allows death to be something faced head on and thus for it to be productive in generating newness. In the following section of the poem, the narrator exemplifies this: But this is how I come, anyway, pushing up from below my head wrapped in a chequered scarf a lanterned helmet on this head pushing up out of the ore this sheeted face this lanterned head facing the seep of death my lips having swum through silt clearly pronouncing Hello and farewell This presence arrives from below ground, refusing burial even, full of movement though “pushing up” from death. This figure represents the refusal of the past to stay gone, the ways in which death and life refuse to be separated. The necessity for engagement with the past, particularly in its patriarchal and supposedly “deadly” forms, is not easily accepted in the face of its dangers and failings. In “In Memoriam: D.K.”, Rich’s famous elegy for her friend David Kalstone, Rich writes of the dying man, “what good will it do you to go home and put on the Mozart Requiem? Read Keats? How will culture cure you?” James Najarian paraphrases Langdon Hammer, writing, “Rich points out the powerlessness of Kalstone’s – and Rich’s – investment in high culture” (14). These dead poets of high culture, who Najarian also notes died young and often take death as a subject, appear to be useless in the face of death. Yet Najarian goes on to point out that Rich is “once again constructing a version of Keats” (15) when she takes up Keats’ phrase the “living hand” in her final stanza, writing:


Give me your living hand If I could take the hour death moved into you undeclared, unnamed – even if sweet, if I could take that hour (Time’s 13). Perhaps what all the dead writings of “culture” give are a way to interpret what death can mean, and a way to understand a continued existence after it. Culler argues that in Keats’ poem, “the narrator contrasts his life with his death, proleptically predicting that when he is dead the reader will seek to overcome his death, will blind himself to his death by an imaginative act,” and that this succeeds because as readers we “embrace a purely fictional time in which we can believe that the hand is really present” (69). By grasping Keats’ “living hand,” Rich accomplishes something similar; she freezes, for a moment, Kalstone as living even as she frames him as already filled with death, and ends imagining that she could rewrite the past. The Keats’ poem claims that the currently living hand would, if it were dead, “haunt thy days” – and here Rich marks how these dead are living, and how this does disrupt time, even when it cannot do so in order to save her friend. Keats lives on in his poems, and Kalstone will live on for Rich here. She cannot take back the hour he was infected, but she can reach back to Keats to make Kalstone part of the poetic tradition that gets recognized. Interestingly, there is no corresponding “then” in the poem to Rich’s repeated “ifs.” She never states what she would do if she could return Kalstone to health. Yet the structure of the poem suggests that the unstated “then” is, “then I would not write you.” If Rich could take away Kalstone’s death sentence, the poem would no longer exist. Death thus offers the possibility of writing, and “culture” gives the dead a space in the present. “Culture” can’t cure Kalstone – but maybe it gives Rich a framework for his death, and allow him to live on through her writing and reading, through becoming a part of her.


As Rich herself faces death more directly with old age, her poetry holds more and more literal ghosts and gives more clues about her use of structural haunting. In her latest book, Telephone Ringing in the Labyrinth, Rich returns again and again to death and simultaneously, returns to literature that her poetry incorporates and examines. “Rereading The Dead Lecturer” (2005) examines varying strategies for dealing with the past, and perhaps finds them all lacking, but gestures towards the way Rich’s own poetry has used past materials for many years. The poem begins, “Overthrow. And make new.” It echoes Ezra Pound’s book title, “Make it New,” but adds the corollary “Overthrow” which becomes the precondition to newness. The line thus presents a suggestion that is electrifying in its demand for change, presenting again the violence of making the new dominate the old, and the radical potential of that move. The poem goes on to illustrate the attractiveness of this idea, “echoing everywhere,” but pulls back with the question “And the past?” The question marks seems to stop the gathering momentum of “make new” in its tracks, as the poem continues, “Overthrow of systems, forms/ could not overthrow the past/ nor our/ neglect of consequences.” Rich’s poem seems fairly pessimistic about the impact of political action, yet it also seems to argue what her poetry has been suggesting for at least four decades, that the past cannot be merely refused, because this action obscures its power and dooms those involved to merely repeat it instead of using it for change. She argues in the poem, “There were consequences. A world/ repeating everywhere: the obliterations.” Movements that sought to mark themselves as solely different from the past have instead, she argues, become exactly the same. Acknowledging identification with the past, then, and using those materials for disidentification, seems to have more of a chance at being successful in uprooting


oppressive systems than merely denying their impact and influence. To delve into the past is, as Rich puts it in another poem of the same volume, “looking for openings where they’d been walled up,” and more, pursuing those openings and trying out the paths they offer.

Chapter 3 - A Long Conversation: Coalitional Discourse and Complex Identification “She had wanted to find meaning in the past but the future drove a vagrant tank a rogue bulldozer” – “Tendril” (2003) “My testimony: yours: Trying to keep faith not with each other exactly yet it’s the one known and unknown who stands for, imagines the other with whom faith could be kept.” – “Inscriptions” (1993-1994) Confusion and difficulty are ubiquitous in Rich’s poetry as it struggles with identification and its possible deployments. Rich’s work itself is difficult and nontransparent its many allusions and citations mingling promiscuously with original formulations and diverse voices. This is a poetry that makes its reader work, not in service of some highbrow literary taste, but to make connections and imagine that which is missing, and it is through this work that the poetry itself acts on the world. As previously argued, Rich’s poetry refuses a temporality in which past, present, and future are distinct entities leading one to the next. For all its symbolic undertakings of resistance and disruption of linear narratives that would make readers into passive receptacles by refusing them engagement with the materials of the past, Rich’s poetry strives to be more


than a record of connection or a national conscience, undertaking a larger project of engaging in a collective imagining of the future through its very nontransparency. Rich’s commitment to establishing change through identifications with the past while simultaneously destabilizing historical hierarchies culminates in her dedication to a political poetry. Both the promises and the dangers of identification are clear to Rich, and she expertly makes use of both in her work in building a just world. Rich not only seeks to comment on movements for justice, but actively to engage them by building identifications between her subjects, her work, and her readers. According to Joshua S. Jacobs’ study of Rich’s Atlas, “Rich’s poetry of testimony…has attempted to be politically instrumental, spurring action both among those who are represented in her work and among her readers” (727). Yet the repeated invocation by critics of “testimony” and “witnessing” in response to Rich’s work misunderstands the implications of political poetry, which seeks not only to record or even to inspire, but to engage in movement. Jacobs paraphrases Cynthia Hogue to argue that “the force of this poetry…lies in Rich’s power to connect her readers and subjects across the boundary of the text” (727). The poems thus serve as a conduit for connection, made possible through Rich’s intense focus on the possibilities and perils of identification. This focus encourages readers to interrogate their own identifications and become conscious of their relation to the subjects of the text and of how those relationships function. Rich’s poetry facilitates nothing so simplistic or one sided as empathy: rather it acts as a model for engagement and a site of the fraught identifications that found coalitional connections and create a vision for the future. Rich’s poetry ultimately enacts Katherine Adams’ argument that “efforts toward cross-difference organization call for an understanding of identity as


fragmentary, unstable, inter-subjective, and inter-contextual” (4). Having figured such identities in various invocations in her poetry, Rich initiates cross-difference organization and models the dialogue of collective action. Doing this is part of a project to open up the future. In Poetry and Commitment, Rich writes, For now, poetry has the capacity - in its own ways and by its own means to remind us of something we are forbidden to see. A forgotten future: a still uncreated site whose moral architecture is founded not on ownership and dispossession, the subjection of women, torture and bribes, outcast and tribe, but on the continuous redefining of freedom…This ongoing future, written off over and over, is still within view. All over the world its paths are being rediscovered and reinvented (Poetry, 36) Time moves all over the place here. It is through memory that we develop a future that is constantly being created. Making a future is predicated on “continuous redefinition” that happens in a variety of places and is constantly changed in order to preserve choices. Rich directly correlates the ability of poetry to create such a future with a just world where society is not founded on the oppression of some for the benefit of others. In imagining a future collectively, then, poetry confounds history. Poetry’s role here is as memory keeper and salvager, yet it remembers that which does not exist and never has. What it reminds us of is longing, desire. Poetry arouses an awareness of what is lacking. It pushes us towards something better by making the unknown the only site in which humanity can fully function and coalition can replace hierarchical division. Rich does not actually imagine people arriving at a utopian destination. She suggests that poetry gets them moving by making the unknowable visible5. That which we are “forbidden to see” is “still within view” because poetry makes it possible to see in new ways that cannot be


This argument is indebted to Professor Wendy Chun’s November 13th, 2007 lecture, which discussed justice as “an opening to the future” which can never be pinned down.


forbidden. She suggests that poetry is a path towards this future, not a place to settle. The poetry itself is not enough, but it acts as part of a process. Rich’s poetry is a site for collective identifications that refuse homogeneity and inspire, in Adams’ phrase, “coalitional discourse.” Adam’s writes that this practice accommodates diverse truths…Further, it can open those truths – along with the identity positions that produce them – to ongoing negotiation and transformation, encouraging political actors not merely to articulate different identities and agendas, but to instrumentalize those differences toward formulation of new identities, new agendas, new alliances, and new political forms (2). Coalitional discourse is thus a space where identities are forged and reformed through contact with others while honoring the differences among the parties involved and retaining agency for all participants. The most obvious starting place for examining Rich’s poetry as a site of imaginative discourse envisioning collective possibilities is in An Atlas of the Difficult World, where Rich explicitly moves her poems from place to place, alternating voices and stories in her “mapping.” The long title poem is broken up into thirteen sections and treats events all over the world, with a particular focus, however, on the United States. Even when the poem references places outside the national borders, they are linked back to the violence of the U.S. government, as in section five: “Catch if you can your country’s movement, begin/ where any calendar’s ripped-off: Appomattox/ Wounded Knee, Los Alamos, Selma, the last airlift from Saigon” (Atlas, 12). The country in this poem is not limited to its geographic location; it is defined instead by its actions and interactions, by the impact it has and the events that define it. Worth noting, of course, is that the places mentioned here are all defined by their relation to violence. Here “Atlas” makes the argument that the United States as an entity is constituted through its acts of violence and that in identifying with the nation one is also


forged by violent acts, even as violence marks the core of all identification, as discussed in chapter one. Yet in portraying the contours of the nation, the poem manages to offer up an alternative formulation for communal understanding that suggests the country that could be; in doing so it forges new boundaries for what being “American” is. Since the poem labels itself as an atlas of the difficult world but focuses solely on American geographies and connections, it makes the case that the experiences of the whole world are wrapped up in what it means to be formed by an identification as “American.” This is not to say that America represents the entire world, but that being American cannot be understood except through connection points around the globe. What may once have been a category of exclusion becomes one of interconnection, and the perpetual retrospection of identification comes to enable a looking forward that is never closed because it is perpetually infused with new voices, new strands of connection. There is also a refusal here to let any identification with this category be stymied: the country itself moves. Judith Butler writes of coalitional politics that “the very form of coalition, of an emerging and unpredictable assemblage of positions, cannot be figured in advance” (Gender, 20). In order to keep open the space for coalition, Rich must never completely fill-in her outline of the future or place stock in immobile identifications; she must embed the possibility of change, which she does here by tracing how the country has moved and simultaneously arguing that understanding such (past) movement is a problem for the future: one must “catch” in the present the past movement to undo any preexisting assumptions about the future. When Rich hails her reader by writing “your country,” she challenges the reader to take a good look at where their identifications take them and how they can progress from that space. Norma Alarcón writes of the “‘not


yet/that’s not it’ position” whereby theorists have recognized “identity-in difference,” noting that this drive “points toward a future” (129). By figuring a country that has moved through event after event in which certain people marked as not belonging to the nation are therefore attacked, Rich calls on the reader to experience the “not yet” of national identification and in doing so opens lines of communication for the possibility of what is yet to come. One can only understand identifications with “your” country at the moment when the calendar is ripped off, where time ceases to function in a linear progression and the future remains unsettled. Joshua Jacobs argues that this poem is a “countermonument” that places Rich “in an American canon of witnessing poetry…and casts her own efforts at public poetry as a connection of these literary precedents to contemporary public art and the crises which it addresses” (729). By connecting poetic tradition and public art, Rich’s poetry argues for an expanded understanding of what materials should be used in constituting collective identifications. Yet while Jacobs contends that in Rich’s poem “the experiences of those Rich calls the ‘unmonumented’ (Atlas 13) are brought into an ongoing process of defining national identity that emerges from within the official symbols and narratives of America” (729), looking at the scope of Rich’s work suggests that she is interested not just in national identity but in collective identifications in general insofar as they have the power to create futures built on dialogue. The fact that the process of defining national identity is “ongoing” points to the role of poetry in bringing variety and confrontation to the “official symbols and narratives,” which can only ever focus on unity at the expense of difference. Jacobs suggests that poetry is the space where this compromise is


unnecessary. He argues that poetry is the medium that allows for connection to take place without being confined to a specific location by looking at the following passage: Driving the San Fransisco-Oakland Bay Bridge no monument’s in sight but fog prowling Angel Island muffling Alcatraz poems in Cantonese inscribed on the fog no icon lifts a lamp here history’s breath blotting the air over Gold Mountain a transfer of patterns like the transfer of African appliqué to rural Alabama voices alive in legends, curses tongue-lashings poems on a weary wall (12). Jacobs asserts that this passage indicates that in the poem, “[Rich] clearly wants to take up in new ways the power of poetry that Emma Lazarus used to announce a national symbol” (734). Poetry as a national symbol is made possible only by representing differences, even opposites – the two coasts, the different points of entry. Poetry can act as a national symbol, a symbol that creates an understanding of what the nation can be, by remaining, like the fog, nontransparent, not traceable to any one source because of the infinity of source materials. Jacobs goes on to say that “the fog acts as both text and monument, allowing Rich to be more direct in evoking a peopled landscape in which both her subjects and their historical setting have a specifically poetic voice for their experiences” (734). The poem holds many forms, allowing multiple styles of representation to coexist within it. All of the movements of cultures, of people, of forms, become “poems.” While this could be considered an appropriation of culturally specific forms into one form that is specifically situated, as Jacobs argues, in an established Western tradition, the focus on nontransparency keeps at bay this accusation. The poems are only visible because of the obscuring fog: something is covered over in order for


something else to be uncovered. But that which is hidden behind the fog is not completely absent because it remains in the viewer’s memory. In the fog, these examples of Western domination lose their power and are overcome by the histories they once obscured. They stand like the poems Rich alludes to, always in the background yet unable to honor different stories without being masked and revisioned. Rich’s poetry can allow for fragmented identities because it is literally full of fragments. Unlike a straight narrative, the text has literal gaps, and the narrator, originally placed so forcefully at the beginning of the stanza, quickly fades out. Fog and history move things, and, in the end, it is “voices alive in legends” that are the “poems,” coexisting with the narrative voice. There is still a narrator here, but her power seems particularly limited by her obstructed vision and the sweep of forces that would make her lone story seem small in comparison if it were not placed in a context of (other) people telling their stories. The “specifically poetic voice,” then, is crucial because it suggests the ways in which poetry can be a medium for collective identifications without trying to bring them into a unified formation, just as the narrator may be driving in San Francisco but the poem cannot be contained by this one place; it is connected to various other sites through the movement of poetic fragments and patterns. Jacobs discusses the ways other forms of art have been shown to develop identifications that refuse difference: “Recent works by Lauren Berlant and Benedict Anderson have asserted the homogenizing, effacing force of such monuments to shape a particular narrative of a nation” (728). Anderson’s Imagined Communities argues that nations come to be understood and identified with by their citizens through newspapers and novels, and that the nation is thus “imagined as a community, because, regardless of the actual inequality and


exploitation that may prevail in each, the nation is always conceived as a deep, horizontal comradeship” (7). This community of readers forges identification through their reading. This kind of national identification prevents excludes difference from the understanding of the group, hiding power differences in the name of “community.” Rich’s poetry looks to develop identifications that do not require difference to be hidden and does so by creating works that are always fragmented and looking towards future connections. Jacobs argues that Berlant is looking for “the literary and symbolic signs which may incorporate contested versions of national identities” (Jacobs, 728) and that Rich’s work accomplishes this. This is, in Jacobs words, “a new ground on which Americans might shape their national narratives” (728); but it is more than that. It is a form that embeds an understanding of identity as always in pieces and constantly reforming through shifts and movements, needing continued openness to be represented at all. Poetry’s role in facilitating complex identifications comes with added responsibilities. As Rich has warned of the dangers of identification, she also takes seriously the dangers of poetry. Poetry can be used to imagine the future collectively through conversation and to open the world to alternative possibilities, but there is danger in poetry that refuses to grapple with non-linear understandings of history or contradictory agendas. Again and again, Rich argues that poetry is embedded in a historic context. But such a context is not linear, nor does it refute the potential for identifications that disrupt the narrative of history. In “North American Time” (1983), Rich writes, “No use protesting I wrote that / before...” and goes on to give a litany of violent historical events that have shaped the understanding of history (Your Native Land, 35). She argues that poets may want to place their work in the context of their own experiences and


intentions, but that their words are always accountable for more than this. What is involved here is acknowledging the claims of the future, preserving the knowledge that you will never know in advance how your work will be used and refusing any attempts to freeze its meanings. Rich draws on older works in her poems, as discussed earlier, making them do new work in the context of her writing. With this poem she argues for the necessity of poets being aware of this possibility of re-contextualization, even when it results in a repositioning that they do not support. In the first stanza of the poem, the narrator recalls, When my dreams showed signs of becoming politically correct no unruly images escaping beyond borders when walking in the street I found my themes cut out for me knew what I would not report for fear of enemies’ usage then I began to wonder (33). Poetry is dangerous precisely because it is open for use. The narrator’s concern about having “themes cut out” argues for the importance of the unknown, for a willingness to keep poetry from becoming an already determined space. The lack of “unruly images” corresponds to knowledge about what one will and will not do. The narrator closes off continually developing identifications by marking what territory can and cannot be entered, by pointing out “enemies” and being sure she is never on their side. Rich argues with this poem that a poet can never really know that she is not the enemy. Identifications are never that stable. For all the instability, a poet can also not escape that which forms her, which also means being shaped even by the enemy. In the next stanza is Rich’s famous line that


“Poetry never stood a chance/ of standing outside history” (33). History here means that poetry can be invoked outside of its moment, not that it will be encased forever in its context. She goes on to claim that “We move but our words stand” (33), but the words

in fact are unmoored, extractable. They “stand” in the sense that they stand for something, they “become responsible/ for more than we intended” (33). Even as poets move, then, they are always connected to points that they may have wanted to leave behind; here again is Rich’s theme that the past does not disappear. In this context, however, it comes to figure the responsibility of the poet to the future, rather than her haunted and violent relation to the past. Although when poetry is used later, “context is never given” (35), this is even more reason to write cautiously, not by excluding “unruly images” but by writing with a specificity that recognizes the differences in the world instead of attempting a universalizing gesture. Rich writes, Suppose you want to write of a woman braiding another woman’s hair – straight down, or with beads and shells in three-strand plaits or corn-rows – you had better know the thickness the length the pattern why she decides to braid her hair how it is done to her what country it happens in what else happens in that country You have to know these things (34-35). Here, Rich argues for knowledge, where in the initial stanza knowledge was a limitation. This is the protection against writing only “politically correct” dreams – the images of the poem are built from all the things that shape them. Knowledge here allows for multiple voices to emerge, points to the limitless possibilities for new images formed under


different conditions, instead of expecting one universalized image to cover everything and then being shocked when it is used in another way from the one intended. This is not to say that the images no longer “stand” for other things, but they will announce in them their specificity, and that concern will perhaps allow for more identifications than a universalizing image would, as it encourages the proliferation of further images. Rich begins the final stanza of the poem with the proclamation that “In North America time stumbles on/ without moving, only releasing/ a certain North American pain” (36). Both “time” and “pain,” categories that might seem universal, are marked as more specific. That time is not moving aligns it with the words that “stand” instead of the “we” that move in the first stanza, but this serves only to highlight the focus of the poem on the necessary correlation between the nonlinear structure of history and the way poetry is used. Rich seems to call for a “North American time” that is less invested in linearity and its correspondent universalism and for an openness that will allow for complex identifications instead of one sided narratives that can never progress or stop inscribing their hurt. This is the flip side of what poetry can do; because of its power, poets must be cautious with their craft. The possibilities and pitfalls of conversation as part of world building, and the role of poetry in that dialogue, are explored in Rich’s 1975 poem “Cartographies of Silence.” The poem appeared in what many see as Rich’s seminal poetic work, The Dream of a Common Language. The “common language” of the title is, however, always already called into question, both by its status as a dream and through the poems that explore the concept, most notably “Cartographies.” Linda Garber argues in “An Uncommonly Queer Reading: Adrienne Rich” that critics of Rich have misunderstood the


phrase and that in fact “Rich figures the ‘common language’ as a multilayered chorus or conversation, not a homogenous white woman’s voice” (134). The common language, particularly in its form as conversation, is a fraught space for Rich, and it is here that she chooses to locate her poetry. The first section of “Cartographies” exemplifies some of the dangers that Rich has continually traced in identification and locates the ways those dangers can play out in conversation: A conversation begins with a lie. And each speaker of the so-called common language feels the ice-floe split, the drift apart as if powerless, as if up against a force of nature A poem can begin with a lie. And be torn up. A conversation has other laws recharges itself with its own False energy. Cannot be torn up. Infiltrates our blood. Repeats itself. Inscribes with its unrelenting stylus the isolation it denies. Here, conversation and poetry are explicitly opposed to one another, with conversation being the more dangerous, figured as disease in the way it “infiltrates” the body and as injury through its inscription. Conversation that “begins with a lie” is an impediment to identification; it splits people from any idea of the “so-called common language.” Butler speaks to this danger in Gender Trouble, writing, “the very notion of ‘dialogue’ is culturally specific and historically bound, and while one speaker may feel secure that a conversation is happening, another may be sure it is not” (20). Yet the dichotomy


between conversation and poetry is already an unstable one, in part because this poem “begins with a lie” as its topic of discussion and is not (at least ultimately) torn up, while the conversation “inscribes with its unrelenting stylus” – an image of writing that is suited to the poet and inherent in the creation of the poem. This slippage argues for Butler’s reading that what is understood by one party as conversation may actually be a more one way process, like writing. Of course, this instability also suggests that writing can be more interactive than it initially seems. The opposition between poem and conversation means that if the conversation “inscribes…the isolation it denies,” then the poem refuses inscription and in doing so offers a connection. These confused categories ground Rich’s treatment of what poetry can do when it enables conversation. In fact, it is poetry’s lack of clarity that makes it a site for coalition. The poem moves from contrasting conversation and poetry to opposing the use of words with the process of seeing in order to emphasize poetry’s ability to give agency to those involved. Once again, words come up lacking, as the narrator imagines, If at the will of the poet the poem could turn into a thing a granite flank laid bare, a lifted head alight with dew If it could simply look you in the face with naked eyeballs, not letting you turn till you, and I who long to make this thing, were finally clarified together in its stare (Fact 235). Here the narrator describes a poem that would be the spectator, and the two people, possibly representing writer and reader, are “clarified” by being looked at. This imagining of the poem reconfigured is grounded in the body – flank, head, face, eyeballs – which


acts as the opposite of language, which earlier in the stanza the narrator argues “cannot do everything” (235). Yet when the poem becomes a “thing” embodied, it is “granite,” hard stone, unyielding, and it forces those it looks at to stay frozen and passive. They become clear only through the view of the poem, not in relation to one another. That the narrator and the “you” are “clarified” also suggests that their impurities are removed, that they become transparent. There is no particular human messiness left to them, they have no potential for growth because they have become blank under the poem’s gaze. So when the next stanza begins with “No,” the reasons for the narrator’s rejection of this model are obvious. Whatever the potential harm of the conversation, it gives agency to the speakers and, if not a lie, allows for a flexibility lacking in the model of vision, where the poem becomes a camera, freezing a moment in time and turning its subjects into flattened and sanitized images, killing off their “liveness.” Poetry, instead, allows for a construction of the future by encouraging interaction. After rejecting vision for words, the narrator labels her chosen medium as “dust,” but goes on to say that they are “moving with ferocious accuracy/ like the blind child’s fingers/ or the newborn infants mouth/ violent with hunger” (235). Although words may be the collected remains of the past, dust, they can work to bring their subject to life, finding that which is necessary for survival and growth. The movement of the words suggests conversation, where words are transmitted from one subject to another. Finally, in the closing section of the poem, Rich writes, “If from time to time I envy/ the pure annunciations to the eye…what in fact I keep choosing/ are these words, these whispers, conversations/ from which time after time the truth breaks moist and green.” As in the consideration of poem as camera, vision here is linked with clarity, “the pure,” and this is rejected. In order for conversations to not lie,


they require the distance and confusion that com from multiple standpoints. Rich’s poetry, then, seeks to surpass the conversation that begins with the lie, to offer a space for identification, but one that refuses to inscribe “the isolation it denies.” Despite the “common language,” Rich seeks to accomplish this in her poetry by maintaining difference, refusing the false community of lying conversation for a poetry that does something besides recharging itself “with its own false energy,” looking instead to grow through its relation to that outside of itself, to enact the promise broken by the false conversation. Rich’s concern with repetition and inscription here is interesting in light of the prominence of repetitions of other phrases and works, the “hauntings” discussed in the previous chapter. Adams records the presence of painful hauntings in any effort at speaking across difference: “every cross-difference communication reinvokes cultural histories of oppression, silence, and resistance” (18). Rich’s poetry shows that all communication invokes the past, in all its formations and looks to denaturalize this invocation in order to use it productively. Looking in particular at “difference” is not then so crucial to Rich, as she has followed the ways in which difference and sameness are always mutually constructed in identification, but paying attention to power, on the other hand, is important. There must be some mediation of this reinvocation, which Rich has marked through her attention to dangerous identification, in order to develop coalitional discourse. These reinvocations, Adams argues, cannot be ignored or avoided, but must be recognized. Thus, by repeatedly calling attention to these cultural histories, Rich disentangles them and marks the opportunities for conversation within poetry. Her poetry itself qualifies as a conversation with past and present writers and identities, and this is


desirable. Discussing political poetry in Poetry and Commitment, she writes, “There are other ghostly presences here…I don’t speak these names, by the way, as a canon: they are voices mingling in a long conversation, a long turbulence, a great, vexed, and often maligned tradition, in poetry as in politics” (37). The longevity and disturbance of the conversation Rich mentions is opposed to the “false energy” of the conversation in the poem, offering instead “an exchange of energy, which, in changing consciousness, can effect change in existing conditions” (38). The difference here is in difference; the conversation in “Cartographies” is charged “with its own False energy,” despite the illusion of multiple voices, while the conversation of poetry that can effect change involves the refusal to displace difference, instead valuing the “turbulence” and “vexed” nature of speaking back and through other works. What is the connection here between conversation and poetry and identities and identification? In “Identity and Identification,” Emma Wilson argues that, “on the one hand, the reader…internalizes the text, interacts with it and relates it to him/herself. On the other hand, the identity of the desiring subject…is constructed as the product of the performance s/he enacts” (35). Identification thus occurs both through the content of the text and the possibilities of identifying with and approximating what is found there, and through the ways in which one is created as a reader of the text, produced by the act of reading. Rich’s poetry, particularly her later works, develops conversation by structuring both the reader and her narrators as a divided space, one that allows for difference. Jacobs discusses this process in Atlas, writing, “the degree of interactive connection Rich achieves with a range of unrepresented others measures the extent to which she can interrupt their subsumption into a singular, patriotic category” (737). Rich is thus creating


subjects that have diverse positions and voices, creating change by redefining how her subjects and readers are understood. Through poetry that emphasizes conversation, Rich makes way for conflicted and conflicting identifications, which allows her work to be a part of effecting change instead of inscribing more of the same, despite her use of the “same” materials as the past. This poetry does not just call for change, it develops it by shifting representations and thus making new positions from which readers and subjects can act, allowing them to escape the selves that are “forbidden to see” their own potential. Rich takes up another fraught tactic for coalition in the figure of translation. Unlike conversation, translation appears to be a one-way street, an action undertaken by one individual to recreate the work of another. In translating poetry, a new poem is created that is both the same and substantially different from the “original.” Yet, despite its appearance of individuality and linear progression, Rich marks translation as a useful step in conversation, though not in itself enough to renew “forgotten futures.” In a 1981 interview between Rich and her friend and colleague Audre Lorde, the women recall their conflict over Rich’s request for some sort of documentation to comprehend her friend’s experience. When Lorde mentions her frustration over this request (or possibly demand?), Rich responds, “trying to translate from your experience to mine, I do need to hear chapter and verse from time to time. I'm afraid of it all slipping away into: ‘Ah, yes, I understand you.’…I take seriously the spaces between us that difference has created, that racism has created” (732). Rich points to the danger of superficial conversation that can develop without some consciously forged bridge across the gaps of difference. Her desire for such a link also highlights the existence of those spaces, marking the deficiencies of a


category like “understanding.” Felman asserts that “empowerment becomes possible only when women can transmit and grasp - their own metaphoricity to one another, only when each woman can become (however different) the metaphor for another woman” (127), and she sees Rich as advocating this form of empowerment. For Felman, this means that in order for women to break free of patriarchal control they must understand their experience collectively so that they do not remain isolated. This is possible, she contends, only through a kind of “chapter and verse.” She writes, “the feminine predicament of ‘the absence of a story’ (or its counterpart, ‘the presence of too many stories’) can truly be grasped, and perhaps remedied, only through the bond of reading” (126). Women become metaphors for each other by letting their experiences be known as stories and as such available for expression and collective acknowledgement, as well as appropriation, revision, and metaphor. Without this sharing of experiences that has to be known through the telling of stories, women cannot escape the patriarchal dominance of language. Felman’s project is somewhat different than Rich’s, however. Rich is pointing to stories as important for grasping difference, while Felman sees them as necessary for coalition. Interestingly, she places this claim between an analysis of one of Lorde’s poems and one of Rich’s, suggesting their dialogue about this issue. In asking Lorde to tell her story with “chapter and verse,” Rich makes translation into a less one-sided experience because she draws on Lorde’s agency in the process, letting her name her own definitions instead of filling in the blanks with language that Rich already has. Stories here serve as a protective barrier and medium through which women can reach one another without collapsing their differences and imposing their violence on each other. Rich is asking here for signifiers to grasp Lorde’s experience, while Lorde feels she is being asked for


evidence. Fuss writes that “metaphor, the substitution of the one for the other; is internal to the work of identification” (390). But metaphor must always displace difference somehow, with consequences. Rich thus seeks to make translation as a metaphor less dangerous to coalition work by allowing for multiple voices and spaces of agency. Although she is “translating” from Lorde’s experience to hers, it is only with Lorde’s continued input that she can do so adequately. This differs from traditional translation in that the translation process itself is accomplished in collaboration, instead of having one person give over a text to another for them to translate. In 1969, Rich wrote in the poem “Our Whole Lives”: “Our whole life a translation/ the permissible fibs.” In recalling Auden’s initial description that her poems “do not tell fibs,” while Rich would argue that they did through their very similarity to other works, she makes the lies of translation truer than attempts at “pure” repetition. Translation is thus associated with lying, but it is lying that hopes for a future truth, even if a multilayered and contradictory one. Rich addresses this by marking the translation that takes place in all living and thus keeping translation an open process that is constantly refigured instead of a singular change. The “fibs” are allowed because they are necessary for coalition and because they are never permanent, but only conditional. Lorde’s concern here centers on the way she sees this translation as advocating distance instead of interaction, where one person would figuratively enter the other to find out how they feel instead of merely accepting what they say. She worries that using textual evidence to ground identification can only get one so far; it follows patterns of domination in that it requires women of color to speak their stories through already available materials that have traditionally excluded them. She replies to Rich,


“documentation does not help one perceive, at best it only analyzes the perception. At worst, it provides a screen by which to avoid concentrating on the core revelation, following it down to how it feels” (732). While Lorde appears to be arguing with Rich here, they actually are after a similar goal. Like Rich, Lorde rejects the process of one person using her pre-existing language to tell the story of another. She is opposed to the one- sided model whereby the translator remains separate from the subject of translation, skeptical of the translator who does not engage. Lorde transforms a potentially violent act of entering into a coalitional act of movement; they need to keep their discussion open to be “following.” All of Lorde’s words here suggest a process – the translator is “concentrating” and “following,” ongoing work towards a goal of understanding that may be forever delayed. There is never a final answer granted; instead, reading one another is a process that continues through time and is never complete. Lorde assures Rich, “I’m not rejecting your need for documentation” (732), pointing to their alliance. Their disagreement comes only over what it means to document; both are committed to revision and collaboration in mutual empowerment. Despite working to make translation a collaborative and ongoing project, it continues to be for Rich a necessary yet loaded practice throughout her writing career. In “The Art of Translation” (1995), Rich makes the case for translation as a dangerous exercise, writing “the translators stopped at passport control:/ Occupation: no such designation – / Journalist, maybe spy” (Midnight, 6). There is as much potential in translation for betrayal as there is for solidarity; a translator will always have her own agenda. That agenda might be to violate the original with the copy, by copying it to break it apart, or it might be an attempt at closing a gap, spreading knowledge, making a


fractured community bond. The one infects the other, contaminating each project. Each identification harbors a disidentification, each distancing a connection, and in attempting to violate or develop understanding the translator/poet/conversationalist always enacts some measure of both. The harm that is inflicted through translation is one that can be productive, as suggested by Lorde’s figuring of the process as one that involves a kind of entry into the self. Such “contradictory standpoints,” are not only for the cyborg. The very tears in the social fabric that can come from violent identifications and pressing pasts can make way for conversations that always leave open a future space for new creation, and thus work for justice by not defining it. “The Art of Translation” encompasses these “permanently partial identities” weaving throughout Rich’s poetry with this image: if I hold this end, you the other that means it’s broken broken between us, broken despite us broken and therefore dying broken by force, broken by lying green, with the flare of life in it (Midnight 4). Within these lines, connection encompasses rupture. Separated by the spaces that define difference, any form of identification brings people together while breaking them apart, becomes the branch “dying,” yet with a “flare of life.” The required break makes the life developed all the more valuable, offering hope for the future. By writing that the holding of two ends itself means that the link is broken, Rich argues for a paradoxical comprehension of translation, and, in a greater view, of working towards the future. The only way people can connect is through their broken stories, broken through the gaps that Rich mentions, born of oppression. Yet the breaks also make room for what is yet


unknown to tie the ends together. The “flare of life” comes from that unknown space between the ends, which must be salvaged when people work towards understanding and a just future. Even though the poem describes “translation,” this process is one of conversation, the connection across the gaps and within them. For the possibility of future life to exist, there must be a translation that structures a forward glance, one that does so by monitoring and respecting the gaps while simultaneously using conversational models to keep open paths for people to empower one another with their stories. As suggested by Jacobs, poetry may be the ideal form to enact this conversation, to hold onto difference. While other literary forms can be put to various uses in resistance, poetry can disrupt time and position in a way other forms cannot. “Slashes” (2002) discusses the coming together of “two who once/ don’t know each other at all” and argues, “You could describe something like this/ in gossip write a novel get it wrong.” The former quotation is temporally disjointed, with the characters placed in the past – “once” – but then discussed in the present tense -- “know.” The way a novel or gossip “get[s] it wrong” is by describing it at all, instead of leaving the situation open for interpretation and filling in by the readers. Poetry, then, leaves room for action on the part of the reader, and even requires such action; the reader is present in the space of the text. This is suggested in “The Novel” (1986), where Rich describes someone reading War and Peace. The “you” of the poem identifies with a character while reading: “Prince Andrei’s cold eyes…were your eyes” (Fact 2004, 215), and reads precisely for this purpose, asking “only for a shed skin, many skins in which to walk/ you were old woman, child, commander” (215). Yet in this identification the reader absents herself completely, not being altered or created through her reading but leaving behind a sense of self to be


completely subsumed by another position. The poem ends: “you knew the end was coming/ you knew beyond the ending lay/ your own, unwritten life” (216). Novels here are an escape from the reader’s life, which exists only outside of the text and must be displaced in order to identify with the characters. By the very repeated inscription of “you” into the poem, Rich argues that poetry is different. The words “you,” “yourself,” or “your” appear nineteen times in a poem with the same number of lines. While “you” may refer to anyone, it also hails the reader, particularly since the “you” described is a reader. Thus, in poetry, the reader’s life exists both within the poem and “beyond the ending,” and the reader is not required to put aside a sense of self in order to be further formed through identifications with the poem. The structural fragmentation present in Rich’s poetry embodies the spaces of difference between people, structuring the voices within the poems as always divided, always partial, always open. This gesture makes poetry a site where the unknown remains as a presence, creating a reader that is in conversation with the text, moved to keep the poem going with their own readings. However, Rich remains concerned about the possibilities for corrupting and coopting the form, never suggesting that structure alone can accomplish coalitional discourse. Particularly in the school among the ruins, Rich expresses apprehension about the potential for conversations that do not develop complex identifications, not unlike the anxieties expressed in “Cartographies of Silence.” Some selections from “USonian Journals 2000” best display this: I’d like you to see how differently we’re all moving, how the time allowed to let things become known grows shorter and shorter, how quickly people and things get replaced. How interchangeable it all could get to seem. Could get to seem. . .the kind of phrase we use now, avoiding the verb to be. There’s a sense in which, we say, dismissing other senses. (38) […]


I would, at least, not be engaged in some mess not my own. This is what I mean though: how differently we move now, rapidly deciding what is and isn’t ours. Indifferently. (38) […] Pause in conversation when time would stop, an idea hang suspended, then get taken up and carried on. (Then that other great style of conversation: everyone at once, each possessed with an idea.) This newer conversation: I am here and talking, talking, here and talking… (38-39) […] Private urgencies made public, not collective, speaker within a bubble. (39) […] Imagine a written language that walks away from human conversation. A written literature, back turned to oral traditions, estranged from music and body. So what might reanimate, rearticulate, becomes less and less available. (41) Over and over again in this poem, Rich returns to the dangers of refusing identification. The phrase “how differently we’re all moving” suggests not only a change from the past but an estrangement from one another. The “indifferent” assessment of “what is and isn’t ours” goes against the complex development of identifications Rich has employed in her poetry. In “USonian Journals 2000,” pieces of conversation are inscribed into the poem, yet they appear not as voices enhancing dialogue but as endless prattle unengaged with other lives, seeming perfectly to exemplify the lies that charge themselves with their own “False energy.” When “everyone at once” is talking, no one is listening; there is no room for absorption and change. Instead, people go on with their monologues without pause, suggesting that they already know what they will say because they have no interaction that could alter what they already think. The prominent lie here is that people are not connected, that it is possible to decide “what is and isn’t ours,” when Rich has shown throughout the years that even that which is seen as absent, even the dead, completely compel the direction of people’s lives


and understandings. This is explicit in the poem with the line, “What hangs in the air is already dead: That’s history” (38), which imagines that the dead and history are somehow invincibly separated from the thoughts of the living. This constant present, “all the newness of the new” (39), troubles Rich because it appears to uproot people’s ability to form the complex identifications at the root of coalition. They are so set on what is new that they think they already know what it is – which means that they are actually mired in the old. And yet this is in no way a tirade against difference. With the line “how interchangeable it all could get to seem,” Rich motions towards the peril of simply exchanging one identity for another, seeing them as flatly equivalent instead of developing a complicated network of identification and disidentification that brings forward the workings of social history and opens possibilities for conversations in which “time after time the truth breaks moist and green.” Having rejected the submersion of differing subjectivities within a hegemonic unity, Rich now disturbs the idea that difference without interconnection is valuable. The poem includes a variety of vignettes depicting moments where the narrator grapples with the lack of collectivity in her place and time. Her focus on the distinction between public and collective also recalls the false conversation, which attempts to utilize the “so-called common language,” but actually causes “drift.” There is a lot of “drift” present in “USonian Journals 2000,” as the narrator and her companions wonder of their role as artists, “If we’re collaborators, what’s our offering to corruption” (41)? The double meaning of collaboration comes into play here, with the poem implicitly posing a choice between the collaboration of collective creation and the collaboration that betrays people to their enemies. The artists misunderstand their


goal, finding themselves confused between the latter and former definitions because they cannot identify others as engaged in the same journey, and they can only see themselves as one with an enemy who would destroy any other. The “collaboration” that could be a model for collective action is instead a corrupted, violent form; while Rich has repeatedly shown the violence of identification, here she shows the violence of othering. Her call for “what might reanimate, rearticulate” repeats the necessity of drawing upon the past to imagine new futures that do not walk away from traditional forms but allow them to evolve through conversation. While incorporating such isolated bits of talk into her poetry, Rich partially interrupts these disturbing forms by historicizing the discourses and placing them in dialogue with other moments. When Rich writes “the kind of phrase we use now, avoiding the verb to be,” she once again brings in an echo of a former poem, “Letters to a Young Poet,” in which she had written “ – Be – infernal prefix of the actionless…You

can be like this forever – Be as without movement.” In the earlier work, “be” is figured as the space of danger, where one stagnates and refuses growth and change. Yet in the latter poem, avoiding the same word is abnegating responsibility and denying the impact of one’s actions. By calling up the previous context of the phrase in Rich, “to be” is to be implicated, and the newer work gestures back to the old simultaneously to assign blame and mark its absence. This dialogue between the poems works to undermine the dangers of the age by identifying with a body of work, foregrounding a dialogue that is not “without movement” and does not dismiss other senses, other moments, other presences, in the space of the poem, the space of the era, the space of Rich’s work itself. This is further underscored by the way both poems echo Archibald MacLeish’s famous phrase,


“a poem should not mean/ but be,” which is read as being in opposition to a commitment to public poetry, since it suggests that the creation of poetry is important and that the content should not seek to establish some “fundamental” truths (Barber, “Archibald MacLeish’s Life and Career”). Rich’s referencing calls up a figure who followed a similar poetic journey to her own, culminating in the need for public poetry. When Rich writes that people today are “avoiding the verb to be” she suggests that the “to be” is ever present, yet people are deceitfully pretending it is non-existent. In doing so, the poem argues that there has been a foreboding return to the theory that poetry can remain distant from the world, even as people cloak themselves in pretended engagement. This conversation between poems and the emphasis on conversation as a fraught space where complex identification is both necessary and hazardous points to the way Rich’s poetry works to, in Adams’ words, “reopen those histories [of “unjust and violent domination”] to an array of possible meanings and implications” (18). In her essay “Unnameable by Choice,” Jane Hoogestraat has argued for the importance of silence to Rich’s work, but these are silences that structure difference and thus make conversation possible. Hoogestraat states that Rich’s work “undoes some silences in the very act of referring to them” (25). Constantly acknowledging the dangers of speaking, Rich then uses silence sometimes as a means towards bridging the “ice-floe split,” while emphasizing its existence. Such paradoxes abound in Rich’s use of conversation as a tool for coalitional discourse. In “A Long Conversation” (1997-98), Rich imagines conversation as being built on precisely these necessary oppositions. She writes, “a long conversation/ between persistence and impatience/ between the bench of forced confessions/ […] and intimate resistance” (Midnight, 54), depersonalizing the speakers of


a conversation into separate poles of being and doing, marking conversation as necessarily embracing oppositions in order to perform any action. The problem depicted in “USonian Journals 2000,” then, is not one of oppositions, but of ignorance in not seeing oppositions as generative and creative, the space from which truth can spring. Oppositions and differences that are linked together in dialogue to produce “complex identifications” structure Rich’s poetry. “A Long Conversation” also incorporates traces of conversation, pieces of speech and argument. After a series of statements responding to Marx and a discussion of militarization, “someone” in the poem prepares to leave, saying, “I can’t stand that kind of language. I still care about poetry” (59). To which the next line’s response is, “All kinds of language fly into poetry, like it or not” (60). The response, unmarked as the other voices have been and thus emanating from a narrator somehow both outside of and involved in the recorded conversation, argues for poetry’s connectedness. “All kinds of language” breaks up the “so-called common language,” while still offering a space for poetry to act as a collective dialogue. Cheryl Colby Langdell states that in this poem Rich “consciously articulates and resolves this need for community” (220). Confusingly, however, Langdell reads the poem as almost cheerful, conjecturing that “[Rich’s] need to reach out to the audience and to convey affectionate perceptions requires a more intimate tone, a freer style, and more experimental form” (220). This analysis confuses the way the poem acts; it suggests not just a reaching out, but a reaching in, displaying within the poem itself readers arguing over meanings and messages. Despite Langdell’s comment, the tone of the poem is not really any “more intimate” than many of Rich’s other works; instead, it is relational in that it exposes the relationships that can be forged through literature and the literature that


can be forged through human connections. The poem inscribes a multiplicity of sources, quotations, and characters, not to be “freer” or “experimental,” but to set the stage for dialogue across difference that does not ignore its baggage. Discussing “a sentence that might someday end with the word, love” Rich suggests what is needed in poetry for it to be a conduit of connection, a political conversation. She writes that like Che Guevara’s, such a sentence “would have to contain losses, resiliencies, histories faced; it would have to contain a face – his yours hers mine – by which I could do well, embracing it like water in my hands, because by then we could be sure that ‘doing well’ by one, or some, was immiserating nobody” (64). This poetry attempts to contain such “losses, resiliencies, histories faced,” as well as the multiple positionings of selves, but does not argue that we are yet at a point where doing well for one does not cause another misery. So, instead, the poem incorporates elements of life and births them back, arguing for a nontransparent poetry, one that requires work and struggle in making connections. The poem ends by reaching out, not to an imagined audience but to language itself – “charred, crumpled, ever-changing human language/ is that still you?” (69). Not only does the poem, like many of Rich’s, contain many voices, it refuses to separate itself from discussion with other literary forms, like the manifesto, and from “our lives today,” arguing that our lives today (and our lives of the past) must infuse the poem in order for it to act as a political force to begin to dream of the future. The poem itself is thus forged through identification with spaces outside it – the discussion, the manifesto, the scenes of war and violence. All these are incorporated into the poem, and the poem is identified with their existence.


The search for productive conversations is one that looks to balance individual experience, public history, and collective action. In the 1991 poem “In Those Years,” Rich suggests the problem she continues to take up in her work on conversations in the years to come. The short poem sketches a society that has lost any sense of connection and is thus vulnerable: In those years, people will say, we lost track of the meaning of we, of you we found ourselves reduced to I and the whole thing became silly, ironic, terrible: we were trying to live a personal life and, yes, that was the only life we could bear witness to But the great dark birds of history screamed and plunged into our personal weather They were headed somewhere else but their beaks and pinions drove along the shore, through the rags of fog where we stood, saying I (Dark Fields 4). Rich’s dismay at the failure of the insight that the ‘personal is political’ is evident here; all that is left is the “personal life.” In a 1999 interview, Rich said “One of the things I have to say about this demon of the personal -- and I have to take responsibility for my part in helping create this demon, as part of a women's movement in which we celebrated personal experience and personal feelings -- is that it has become a horribly commoditized version of humanity” (Klein, “A Rich Life”). In the poem, the “demon of the personal” invites destruction, suggested by the line that the “dark birds of history” “were headed somewhere else,” but their presence is destructive to those who cannot see that “somewhere else” is connected to where they are. Thus, when critics such as Jacobs see Rich’s poetry as “witnessing,” they mistake its potential and impact; the only thing one can “bear witness to” is “a personal life,” while the interconnected nature of


oppressive structures requires more than witnessing, it demands conversation and connection. The image of people all “saying I” leaves out listeners and erases a dialogue where people understand themselves as a part of history. This confusion both leads them to abandon others in need, and to diminish themselves by refusing the wealth of experiences that shape and intersect with their own. By denying the importance of collective living, people are unable to combat oppressive violence against them because they enhance that violence by strengthening their separation, refusing contact and coalition. At the close of Linda Garber’s article on reclaiming Adrienne Rich for queer studies, she asks, “What if…Sedgwick quoted Judy Grahn and Audre Lorde, Rich quoted Pat Parker and Judith Butler, and both Sedgwick and Rich cited each other?” (146). This important question speaks to the need for dialogue in creating feminist theory and in building just ideologies more generally. But the question is also possible only because Rich embodies conversation in her poetry. The words are always leading somewhere – to the reader, to a former writer, to different political perspectives and generational moments. These poems are sites where people form identifications without getting lost in a hegemonic voice. So that even if Rich never quotes Sedgwick or Butler, they are always present in the spaces of her work, because it fosters interaction and conversation beyond its own bounds.


Conclusion – What Can You Tell Me: The Role of Feminist Criticism That a word can be crushed like a goblet underfoot is only what it seems, part question, part answer: how you live it – “Transparencies” (2002) Throughout this thesis, I have looked at the ways in which Rich reworks and engages with other writers and voices. She takes from myth, academic essay, polemic, poem, novel, play, letter, song, and biography in putting together her own work. Somewhat similarly, this work draws upon Rich’s poetry and criticism from a variety of disciplines and perspectives to make the argument that Rich refigures past, present, and future through structures of identification that open up the field of possible interventions in oppressive modes of interaction and representation and provide tactics for resistance and new ways of being, offering the possibility of a just future. Like Linda Garber’s essay and the work of other scholars, my thesis makes disparate ideas speak to each other and draws out their connections. I have done this in part to show that poetry matters – it can be a site not just for reflection, but for action. In examining the multiplicity of identifications and citations in Rich’s poetry, yet another quote is appropriate, this one from Ralph Waldo Emerson in the essay “Quotation and Originality”: “All minds quote. Old and new make the warp and woof of every moment. There is no thread that is not a twist of these two strands” (178).


If all minds quote, how is Rich’s use, or mine, particularly meaningful? While many writers attempt to cover up the derivative nature of their works, Rich’s poetry makes no such attempt, and an academic essay requires explicit citations. In both cases, there is an explicit association made between the current work and those cited within it. I have argued in this thesis that such association involves a form of identification, which has particular consequences for feminist projects. That Emerson chose to associate the universal practice of quoting with the feminized work of weaving is interesting, as the literary figures Emerson is referring to are certainly almost all male. Even the tension produced by this metaphor, then, suggests that the study of quotation is productive for feminist critics who discuss the implications of gender and sexuality in societal and literary practices. Here a male literary figure draws on a practice associated with women’s work, embedding it in his text and claiming it for his own. His lack of acknowledgement of this appropriation points to the ubiquity of this practice – women’s work can be overlooked, need not be cited, and cannot be original. For Emerson, however, drawing on other texts along with original thought creates better art, even “an ideal truth” (182). This disparaged and feminized practice is actually one to be celebrated, he argues. In doing so, we can see Emerson as a kind of protofeminist critic. Rich, then, reclaims the implications of the metaphor, weaving together threads of many texts in what develops into an explicitly feminist act of writing poetry. She does not merely extend the original intent of a given text, but mangles it, changing the context in which it exists, using it to reframe understandings of past, present, and future. By analyzing the function of identification in the text and arguing that this practice can be used for resistance, awareness, and coalition, I challenge readers to engage in


Rich’s project. This thesis joins a tradition of feminist criticism asserting the value of literary texts for feminist and other political purposes. Like Emerson, I want readers to reassess the usefulness of what has been covered up. Like Haraway and Rich, I seek to redefine the “friendly body.” Rich has been, to quote Garber, “vilified for the wrongdoings of a stereotyped…lesbian feminism” (127), and her complex poetry often reduced by simplistic (mis)readings. In bringing in a variety of theorists and studying Rich’s own interconnections, I argue that Rich embeds multiplicity in the very heart of her poetry, and that only by engaging with that aspect of her work can readers understand the political implications of it. There is an insightful, though intentionally thorny, path towards justice offered here, available for the taking if only readers would recognize it and follow, building together as they go. In many ways, such a critical project is suspect. Responding to Susan Stanford Friedman’s essay about her poetry, Rich writes, “How does the feminist critic approach the work of a writer who is still alive, able to feel the air on her skin, who continues to argue, experiment, learn, create?” (734). In other words, what does it mean when it is possible for a reader to literally be the subject of writing? She goes on to argue that the feminist critic is the mediator between the living and the dead, between writers of color and white writers (and their readers), between lesbian writers and heterosexual writers and readers, between writers and readers of the expanding and mixed cultures of a global society and that it is her responsibility to “recognize the kinds of bias she brings to her task” (737). She sums up her call by saying, “feminism really means the end of that world in which any poet or critic can draw safe lines within which we will evoke what is already familiar” (737). The feminist critic, then, is responsible for struggling against separation

and continually reaching for the unknown, while simultaneously providing a site of connection for members of identity categories that are themselves often formed by setting lines around the familiar and the alien. Rich calls for feminist criticism that is always between poles, never settled. All the categories listed do not merge at the site of the feminist critic, instead, she shuffles between them, existing only in their shadow, never within them. Perhaps here we can return to Haraway’s cyborg dreams, which challenge a feminism that has “restricted too much what we allow as a friendly body” (714). The job of the feminist critic, Rich suggests here, is to unsettle those restrictions, to recognize their boundaries without being limited by them. Yet what here is specific to the critic? For Rich’s poetry mediates different positions, as we have seen, negotiating the voices of the living, the dead, and the dead who continue to be present. Yet poetry does something that criticism cannot. In most poetry, neither speaker nor listener is marked. Jonathan Culler quotes John Stuart Mill in saying, “the lyric is not heard but overheard…The poet, so to speak, turns his back on his listeners” (60). Readers of poetry are figured as outsiders here, but Rich has shown how they participate in the poem because their identifications are not limited to specific characters, to take up various positions, to collaborate in the poetic project by continuing or reshaping what a poem has started. Two of the epigraphs to Rich’s most recent book of poetry, Telephone Ringing in the Labyrinth, are as follows: Poetry is not self-expression, the I is a dramatic I. – Michael S. Harper, Quoting Sterling A. Brown To which I would add: and so, unless otherwise indicated, is the You. – A.R.


With these citations, Rich argues that there can be no direct address in poetry. This is the consequence of poetry being a site for connection and engagement, left open for future collaborations towards justice. If Rich’s poetry is finally of the future, even as it takes of and engages with the past and draws connections for present struggles, then feminist criticism is placed in the present moment (as much as anything can be only in the present, which Rich challenges). Feminist criticism means speaking directly to one another, inhabiting a space inaccessible via poetry. What does it mean, Rich implies, if the ‘I’ and the ‘you’ are no longer dramatic, but attached to bodies and experiences, to ears and voices? Of course, the very mediation of writing makes this never entirely possible – ‘I’ and ‘you’ are still words on the page. Yet Rich encourages feminist critics, and by extension, feminist readers, to attempt it anyway. Feminist criticism here becomes the mediator between identification and separation, grappling with the ever passing present. Barbara Johnson writes in her essay “Apostrophe, Animation, and Abortion,” “If apostrophe is the giving of voice, the throwing of voice, the giving of animation, then the poet using it is always in a sense saying to the addressee, ‘Be thou me’” (31). The feminist critic assumes a reader who already has a voice, and thus does not insist on such identification to animate both parties. They exist, they are ready to act, and criticism can say, at best, act here. This thesis makes an intervention in current criticism that figures Rich’s work as simplistic and naïve witnessing, saying to readers already animate – here is a place to act, though you may not know yet what you are doing. Engagement is central. Go ahead, delve in.


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