Adrienne Rich’s Ways of Being

Mark Ford at the NYRB:

Adrienne Rich, New York City, 1973

The poem’s most haunting moments, however, are fraught with a more confused and confessional charge—it was composed between 1958 and 1960 and seems to me to reveal the influence of Robert Lowell’s own watershed sequence, Life Studies(1959). As in Lowell, these moments explicitly dramatize what would become a 1960s slogan: The personal is political. The frustrated daughter-in-law has “let the tapstream scald her arm,/a match burn to her thumbnail,//or held her hand above the kettle’s snout/right in the woolly steam.” Her impulse toward self-harm is figured as an internalization of the culture’s instinctive violence toward women: “A thinking woman sleeps with monsters./The beak that grips her, she becomes.” This poem is Rich’s first deliberate act of resistance against these monsters and the beaks that would grip her; it’s her radical answer to Yeats’s rhetorical question at the end of his sonnet “Leda and the Swan.”

more here.

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