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LIT 4930.001
Appreciating Poetry

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

Class 24

Reading Assignment:

    Poetry: "Sources" (101)

Prose: Split at the Root: An Essay on Jewish Identity (1982) p. 224

DUE: Group B: Post 12


    Class Objectives:

  • Analyze Rich's poems of the 1980s and 1990s: considering the themes of the implications of place and nationhood, her Jewish identity and the political role of the poet.

  • To read her essays as guide to understanding her poetry and the central themes of her art

    Over the next three classes, I have assigned three important essays by Rich because I believe they will meet the objectives of this class in an important and direct way, by explaining in clear language how poetry functions in society. What becomes clear to Rich, and to us through her essays, is that at this point in history (1980s), she knows the consequences of speaking (or writing) and the political implications of location or place. For instance, her essays and poems for this week address the conditions of knowledge and ignorance in the United States of America, a country with immense political and economic power in the world, but also a country in which many of its inhabitants never see or understand the consequences of its role for others. Moreover, she analyzes the implications of cultural identities within our own national space, identities formed by religion, education, family, and geography. What she insists on over and over again is that every utterance has meaning, and that as responsible, conscious human beings we need to investigate these meanings. The risk of ignorance is no less than death, as she points out through example after example of the brutality and violence born of ignorance.

    Poetry is a way of naming the condition of pain and consequently becoming active in resistance to the cause of pain. Unfortunately, in our society poetry is rendered effete by the apolitical standards of literary value and the refusal to make art useful and meaningful on a popular level. Rich works against these elite definitions of art through both her open investigation of the poetic process in her essays and through the direct connection between her poetry and her world. This world is also our world, and her poetry asks us to recognize that land and those people.

    Reading Notes and Discussion Questions

    Split at the Root: An Essay on Jewish Identity (1982) p. 224


    Born of a southern gentile mother and a Jewish father, Rich learned to assimilate according to the demands of her culture. She explores her own split identity in terms of the external and internal forces that shape her. In the process she raises difficult and necessary questions about the facts of anti-Semitism, racism, and sexism. She also articulates the value of community and degrees of awareness that lead to change.

    She claims that reading the essays of James Baldwin in the fifties "stirred me with a sense that apparently 'given' situations like racism could be analyzed and described and that this could lead to action, to change" (236).

    What are the implications of this realization?

    How does this essay help you to understand better "For Ethel Rosenberg"? How does this information open the meaning of "Sources"?


    Sources (1986)

    What is the speaker exploring in the opening sections of this poem? With whom is she talking? What is her debate?

    It will be especially important to have read the essay "Split at the Root" to understand the images she refers to in this poem. What questions of identity plague the speaker? How is this relevant to or for other readers of the poem?

    In the prose sections of VII and XXII the speaker addresses two individuals. With whom does she speak? What is at issue with each? What is the effect? What understanding does she come away with?

    She criticizes the "New" Englanders and their climate. What is the significance of the "short growing season"? How does the poet connect character with place?

    In stanza XIII the speaker claims to see the old place in a new way. What does she see that was unavailable to her before? What does this indicate about the poet? What does this indicate about the durability of the poem?

    How is believing one has a destiny the product of privilege? In contrast what is the faith of the "despised and endangered"? (XV)

    Throughout the poem, the speaker reflects on her own experiences with Judaism and her own silences. What finally does her relationship with her father and former husband suggest about her Jewish identity? How does the poem close? what are the implications of the statement: "When I speak of an end to sufferng I don't mean anesthesia. I mean knowing the world, and my place in it, not in order to stare with bitterness or detachment, but as a pwerful and womanly series of choices."

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