Discuss the use of formal technique in Rich’s later poetry
The prose pieces for this class are particularly interesting because
the interviewer ask some questions that resonate with the
questions we have raised in discussion of her poetry. Take
the time to read the interviews, and pay particular attention
to what Rich has to say about the specific poems from
Midnight Salvage, about the role of poetry in the public
sphere (and poetic language), and about her conscious artistry.
Reading Notes and Discussion Questions
“A Long Conversation”
Comment on the form of the poem. Is this a “theatre of voices” and
if so, in what sense? Rich comments in her interview with Rachel
Spence, “Today, there’s a banalizing tendency to read all literature
as autobiographical, to discount the real work of the imagination.
I’ve been creating characters as the novelist or playwright might”
Who are the characters in this “long conversation”? In what
sense are they having a conversation?
With respect to her “figures of resistance” embodied in the poem,
Rich says they are “many characters, both historical and invented,
male and female, who I listen in on…. I’m not trying to iconize,
but to lay an ear to what’s under the surface” (141). How do you
understand this? What does it mean to iconize the figures/speakers
poetry, and how does Rich manage – if she does – to avoid this. In
what sense are we listening in?
According to Rachel Spence, Rich’s poetry engages in a “vehement
critique of capitalist North America.” To what extent do you find
this to be true? How or where do you see this?
What elements of Rich’s poetry – either formalistic or thematic –
seem new here? What resonate with earlier poems?
In her essay, "Blood, Bread, and Poetry," Rich describes a type of art that
she admires: "This kind of art -- like the art of so many others
uncanonized in the dominant culture -- is not produced as a commodity, but as
part of a long conversation with the elders and with the future" (252). To
what extent does this poem present such "A Long Conversation"? Who are the
elders? To what future does it lean?
How is the fox imagined in this poem? What iconic or symbolic
role does she play? How does this compare with the earlier
manifestation of “Fox” in Rich’s poetry (5:30AM p. 33-4 and
How does this poem take up history? She writes: “I needed
history of fox briars of legend it was said she / had run
through” (6-7). Why is “history of fox” – and note it is not
“the fox” – important? She says of her poem “Readings of
History” that it asks the question “Why does history matter?
Why know it?” In what sense does this poem suggest that
history matters? Why does the poet need it?
How is gender or sexuality represented in the poem? In what
sense is this part of the poetic process she describes on pp.
139-141: “What drives my poetry, always, is the need to see
revealed what isn’t necessarily apparent or obvious – to uncover
‘lies, secrets, and silences.’ For me it is always a question
of language as a probe into the unknown or unfamiliar. In the
1950s and early 1960s gender and sexuality were a field of lies,
secrets and silences. I didn’t make poetry out of theories; I
wrote from the need to make open and visible what was obscure
and unspeakable.” How is the representation of gender and
sexuality changed, if at all, from the earlier poems?
Please listen to Rich’s reading of “Fox” available from
Poets Online website. Take into consideration Charles Altieri’s
question of the music in Rich’s poetry on page 131: “When I hear
you read, I think there are two separate registers of rhythm –
one in the syntax as it unfolds and another, more abstract, dimly
heard music of large patterns. Are you at all conscious of seeking
such effects, and, if you are, can you tell us some of what you do
to achieve them, or at least let them come through and not muffle
them?” Read her answer, and decide what rhythms are at play in
this poem. Also consider “A Long Conversation” in this light;
it has more room to develop large patterns.
Back to Top of Page