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LIT 4930.001
Appreciating Poetry

Fall 2004
Time: Monday and Wednesday
11:00am - 12:15 pm
Room: CPR 348

Class 19

Reading Assignment: Adrienne Rich

    Poetry (1951-1963)
      Aunt Jennifer's Tigers (3)
      The Uncle Speaks in the Drawing Room (4)

      The Diamond Cutters (6)

      The Knight (8)
      Snapshots of a Daughter-in-Law (9)
      Prospective Immigrants Please Note (17)

      Poetry and Experience (1964) p. 165
      When We Dead Awaken (1971) p. 166

      DUE: Group A: Post 10


    Class Objectives:

  • To read selected poems from Rich's first three volumes of poetry

  • To read Rich's prose on her poetry as a way to understand the personal and poetic development in these volumes

    I encourage you to read all of the poems from the first three volumes in the collection (several of which we have read and discussed from Perrine) because it will give you a greater exposure to Rich's style and characteristic themes. As you read you will begin to notice how certain recurrent images -- say, her use of trees as a metaphor for human beings -- become symbolic of particular meanings that you might miss if you only read partially. These are the shortest poems (outside of Keats' sonnets) that we will be reading, and because they are written in a contemporary idiom, they should be immediately more familiar to you. However, this does not mean that you can or should read them quickly. On the contrary, all poetry -- and Rich is no exception -- requires patience. Be patient with the text; read carefully for nuance and inference. Know what the words mean. Look up words that are unfamiliar -- look up words that are familiar but you cannot specify. Pay attention to words or phrases that resonate with other things you know and try to identify the connection. Be patient and read slowly, and you will be amply rewarded.

    I recommend that you read the poems first and follow that by reading the prose essays. Rich is incredibly insightful and clear in her analysis of her own poetry, and she offers us remarkable commentary on the process of poetry -- that is, the process of creating poetry and the processes through which poetry gains meaning and coherence in the world. After you read and understand her essays, return to the poetry and read them again. Read especially the poems on which she directly comments.

    Reading Notes and Discussion Questions


    A Change of World (1951) and The Diamond Cutters (1955)

    In her essays, Rich looks back to these early poems and finds them incredibly formal and impersonal. In what ways are these poems formal? Are they regular in rhythm and line length? Stanzaic form? Rhyme? What effect does this formalism have on the meaning of the poems?

    In what ways are these poems impersonal? Whose voice does each poem adopt? What characterization develops? What are the poems about?

    In "When We Dead Awaken" Rich discusses her attempt to be universal, which she says means "not female." In what ways do these poems attempt to be universal? To what extent do they succeed?

    Examine the metaphor of cutting diamonds in "The Diamond Cutters." What does the metaphor refer to? Read Rich's reaction to that metaphor years later -- see pp. 259-260, and comment on the following passage:

    In response to the question about whether or not she now censors certain metaphors for their political implications, Rich says:

    "Well, I think you have a censor going if you're -- how shall I put it? -- in a position of dissent in this country. You need a consciousness alerted about what images you yourself are receiving from outside, what the media are representing, what mainstream art is representing. A lot of critical antennae develop as you become aware of the amount of disinformation that's being purveyed, how little the conditions of our actual lives are reported or represented -- what's left out as well as what is presented. And I think those censors inevitably also refer to what you yourself are creating. I mean you can't live in a constant state of checking everything as it swims to the surface of consciousness. But I think that there is a way in which that process -- "what is missing here? how am I using this?" -- becomes a part of the creative process" (260).


    Snapshots of a Daughter-in-Law (1963)

    Observe the formal departures of this set of poems. In what ways does Rich begin to experiment with the line?

    In "The Knight" what does the titular figure represent? (And in this way it functions in a way similiar to that of "The Diamond Cutters.") I think this poem is particularly appropriate to comment upon having just finished discussing Keats' poetry. In what sense might this be a poem in dialogue with the chivalric past? In what sense, then, might Rich as a poet be in dialogue with Keats (and here I'm thinking of the Keats of La Belle Dame Sans Merci and Eve of St. Agnes and possibly Lamia)?

    In what ways does this poem respond to the medievalism / high romance characteristic of some of Keats work? What is the response?

    What does the Knight symbolize in the first stanza? What does he symbolize in the second stanza? What do the series of questions in the final stanza indicate? What is the speaker's attitude toward the knight?

    What might this poem have to say about constructions of masculinity in literature and culture?

    For "Snapshots" I recommend that you read the poem first and try to understand the collage of images and voices that Rich brings together here. What do these separate stanzas have in common? What theme runs throughout uniting the disparate parts?

    After you have reached a level of understanding of the poem on its own terms, read Rich's explanation of it in "When We Dead Awaken." How does this information affect your understanding? What is happening to the speaker in this poem?

    This poem is particulary dialogic -- by which I mean it includes the speaking voices of many people, past and present. In forming these dialogues the poet is deliberate, deliberate in choice of person/character/author and deliberate in the lines chosen. What is the effect of these dialogues?

    What is the tone of the speaker in "Prospective Immigrants"? What information does the speaker relay? What is the condition of immigration that the poem explores and how might this be a metaphor for other experiences? After reading "When We Dead Awaken", how might you understand the lines: "Things look at you doubly / and you must look back/ and let them happen" (7-9). What might this have to do with the metaphor of vision and revision that Rich describes on page 167?

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