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LIT 4930.001
Appreciating Poetry

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

Class 25

Reading Assignment:

    Poetry: Yom Kippur 1984 (124)

    An Atlas of the Difficult World (142)

Prose: The Genesis of "Yom Kippur 1984" (1987) p.252

DUE: Group A: Post 13

POEM TO ANNOTATE: Yom Kippur or Atlas of a Difficult World

    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

    The Genesis of "Yom Kippur 1984" (1987) p.252


    This brief essay is a rare treat from a gifted poet; in it Rich dissects the process of creating the poem "Yom Kippur 1984," explaining how she weaves the events and facts of 1984 into her personal consciousness and history. She also discusses her poetical intentions and the ways in which these are modified through her honest interaction with the ideas that confront her. This essay helps us to understand "Yom Kippur 1984" more thoroughly, but the ideas she expresses here also help us to understand other poetry as well.

    Rich offers us a context through which to understand the personal voice of poetry. What is the distinction between autobiography and poetry?

    Note the importance of technical form to her process. In particular she discusses her choice of line, allusion, dialogue, historical fact and of setting or context. How does this help you understand the poem? the relationship between content and form?

    In what ways are her insights on the creation of the poem useful for our creating the meaning of the poem?

    We have come full circle from the beginning of the class and Oliver's insistence that poets and poetry speak to other literature. How does Rich speak with and through other literature? What does this tell us about the nature and power of poetry?


    Yom Kippur 1984 (124)

    Yom Kippur 1984 should be read in conjunction with the essay, "Genesis of Yom Kippur, 1984." What does the essay reveal to you? Analyze the use of specific technical devices mentioned in Rich's essay.


    An Atlas of the Difficult World (142)

    An Atlas of the Difficult World represents the world in terms of its people and their stories. What is the effect?

    The poet speaks to us in the end of part I: "If you had known me / once, you'd still know me now though in a different / light and life. This is no place you ever knew me. / But it would not surprise you" (60-63).

    What does the poet mean by being the same but in a different place? How does the identity remain the same? How does the poetry remain the same? What is significant about the different light and life?

    In part II she suggests that the map is a mural and the distinction doesn't matter. "where do we see it from is the question" (100). What is the meaning of this question? How does one answer it? What is the significance?

    In part III the poet is back in Vermont. What is the significance of her remembering the biography of Charlotte Bronte? What has changed in the time since she read it?

    What do the objects of her house mean to her? How is the spider like the poet?

    Who are those "urgently needed for the work of perception" (195)? What is their role? Why are they no longer here?

    Section V challenges the reader to "catch if you can your country's moment" (255). What information or "material" as she says in line 247 does this include? Is this the stuff of poetry? Why or why not? What are the implications of this section?

    Section VI addresses Irish imigrants -- what is at issue for the people here? How does this operate within "An Atlas of the difficult world"?

    Section VIII appears to be a description or personfication of westward expansion in the North America. What are the implications of this personification? What does Rich suggest by her language? Who is responsible for the growth? What are the consequences? How does the second part of the section fit with the first?

    Along the same lines, whose story is the poet trying to understand in section IX? What are the implications?

    Section X represents scenes and quotations from southern California and George Jackson. The time is 1991. What impact do these images and words have on you?

    Section XI covers the outbreak of the Gulf War and the various reactions of the American citizens. What causes the confusion for the speaker? What is the patriot she defines? What is the pain of the "internal emigrant"? In the final stanza the poet addresses her reader as "you" but she clearly intends a diversity of readers. How does she describe them? What does the reading of poetry mean in each case? What is the composite impression of these readers? How is this an appropriate ending for "An Atlas of the Difficult World"?

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