Adrienne Rich

Rich is one of America's most controversial and widely respected writers, with a long distinguished career as feminist and poet. She has become one of the most provocative voices on the politics of sexuality, race, and woman's culture, and she is important in our consideration in how Whitman has affected gender politics. Rich is like Whitman in that she serves the role of poet prophet and becomes a radical feminist. She is an activist and cultural figure. She believes in art's ability to bring change and in art's "social presence as breaker of official silences, as voice for those whose voice is disregarded, and as a human birthright."

Rich has declared herself a "woman with a mission, not to win prizes, but to change the laws of history."' And in Diving Into the Wreck, she demonstrates this—her hopes that her words will incite action and change. With this work, we

Adrienne Rich

If you look at the back cover of Rich's 1973 collection of poems, Diving Into the Wreck, you'll see it says the book was a co-winner for the National Book Award. She won, but accepted it along with Audre Lorde and Alice Walker, the other nominees, in the name of all women, and said:

We ... together accept this award in the name of all the women whose voices have gone and still go unheard in a patriarchal world, and in the name of those who, like us, have been tolerated as token women in this culture, often at great personal cost and great pain ... we symbolically join here in refusing the terms of patriarchal competition and declaring that we will share this prize among us, to be used as best we can for women ... we dedicate this occasion to the struggle for self-determination of all women ... the women who will understand what we are doing here and those who will not understand yet; the silent women whose voices have been denied us, the articulate women who have given us strength to do our work ...

Adrienne Rich really see her change from a lyric poet to a feminist prophet. Around 1970, it has been noted, her work takes on a much more radical turn and becomes overtly ideological. On the original jacket cover, Rich describes the work as:

A coming-home to the darkest and richest sources of my poetry: sex, sexuality, sexual wounds, sexual identity, sexual politics, many names for pieces of one whole. I feel this book continues the work I've been trying to do—breaking down the artificial barriers between private and public, between Vietnam and the lover's bed, between the deepest images we carry out of our dreams and the most daylight events "out in the world." This is the intention and longing behind everything I write.

In Diving Into the Wreck, she also seeks to break down the gender barrier. The poetic consciousness in these poems seeks not to assume man's power, but to develop a wholly different way of being in the world. That's why many of the poems in this collection, including the title poem, are developed around the concept of androgyny. The audience in Diving Into the Wreck could be either male or female; the speaker, too, could be male or female, though most of her speakers are women. But this one defies easy sexual categorization.

It's notable that Rich admired Whitman for defying sexual categories as well. She saw, in Whitman, a new personality of a person beyond gender. In the early 1970s, as she was working on Diving Into the Wreck, Rich described Whitman as "that prophet, that American, who of all his brothers was most able to accept himself in his bisexual wholeness.'' She saw him bringing America to a "new bisexuality in poetry written by men, which in claiming its own wholeness would be able to greet wholeness in women with joy instead of death."

Even 20 years later, Rich sang Whitman's praises in an essay entitled "Beginners." According to Rich, Whitman managed to override "Puritan strictures against desire and [insist] that democracy is of the body, by the body, and for the body, that the body is multiple, diverse, and untypic."

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