Cover image for Arts of the possible : essays and conversations
Arts of the possible : essays and conversations
Rich, Adrienne, 1929-2012.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : W.W. Norton, [2001]

Physical Description:
190 pages ; 22 cm
"When we dead awaken": writing as re-vision -- Women and honor: some notes on lying -- Blood, bread, and poetry: the location of the poet -- Notes toward a politics of location -- Raya Dunayevskaya's Marx -- Why I refused the National Medal for the Arts -- Defying the space that separates -- Poetry and the public sphere -- Muriel Rukeyser: her vision -- Some questions from the profession -- Interview with Rachel Spence -- Arts of the possible.
Format :


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Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
PS3535.I233 A83 2001 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area
PS3535.I233 A83 2001 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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"I am a poet who knows the social power of poetry, a United States citizen who knows herself irrevocably tangled in her society's hopes, arrogance, and despair," Adrienne Rich writes.The essays in Arts of the Possible search for possibilities beyond a compromised, degraded system, seeking to imagine something else. They call on the fluidity of the imagination, from poetic vision to social justice, from the badlands of political demoralization to an art that might wound, that may open scars when engaged in its work, but will finally suture and not tear apart.This volume collects Rich's essays from the last decade of the twentieth century, including four earlier essays, as well as several conversations that go further than the usual interview. Also included is her essay explaining her reasons for declining the National Medal for the Arts.

Author Notes

Adrienne Cecile Rich was born in Baltimore, Maryland on May 16, 1929. In 1951 she graduated from Radcliffe College and was selected for the Yale Series of Younger Poets prize by W.H. Auden. She began teaching for City College of New York in 1968, and was also a lecturer and adjunct professor at Swarthmore College and Columbia University School of the Arts. She taught in CUNY's basic writing program during the early 1970s.

In the 1970s, she started to be active in the women's liberation movement. Her work has been characterized as confrontational, treating women's role in society, racism, and the Vietnam War. In addition to many collections of poetry, she has also written several books of nonfiction prose, such as Arts of the Possible: Essays and Conversations, What is Found There: Notebooks on Poetry and Politics, and Of Woman Born: Motherhood as Experience and Institution. Her last poetry collection was entitled Tonight No Poetry Will Serve: Poems 2007-2010.

She has won numerous literary awards, including the 1986 Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize, the 1992 Poets' Prize, the 1997 Wallace Stevens Award of the Academy of American Poets, the 2004 National Book Critics Circle Award in Poetry, and the 2006 National Book Foundation Medal of Distinguished Contribution to American Letters. She has also received the Bollingen Prize, the Lannan Lifetime Achievement Award, the Academy of American Poets Fellowship, the Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize, and a MacArthur Fellowship.

In 1974, she refused to receive as an individual the National Book Award for Poetry, instead accepting it on behalf of all silenced women. She also refused the National Medal of Arts in 1997, stating that "I could not accept such an award from President Clinton or this White House because the very meaning of art, as I understand it, is incompatible with the cynical politics of this administration." In 2012, she won the Lifetime Recognition Award from the Griffin Poetry Prize. She died from long-term rheumatoid arthritis on March 27, 2012.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 4

Booklist Review

To read poet Rich's sharp, clear, and uncompromising essays on gender, art, and social responsibility is to enter a place where the light is brighter than in everyday life, where sound is crisper, and the line between right and wrong holds firm, a mental space that enables readers to step back from the usual clamor and recognize just how vulgar and dishonest most public discourse truly is. Rich begins this powerful collection with several early and influential essays, including "Women and Honor: Some Notes on Lying" (1975), then works forward to "Why I Refused the National Medal of the Arts" (1997), a bracing explanation of her courageous protest against a government beholden to corporate powers and guilty of systematically undermining education and the arts, a course, Rich argues, that puts democracy at risk. Art, Rich asserts, is "our most powerful means of access to our own and another's experience and imaginative life," the realm where the private is made public and justice and compassion take eloquent form. Donna Seaman

Publisher's Weekly Review

Rich's engaging new collection of essays reaffirms what Norton editors declared some 25 years ago: the "private poet" has gone public, "without sacrificing the complexity of subjective experience or the intensity of personal emotion." This certainly holds true for Rich the essayist as well, for she has firmly established herself as a major American poet and intellectual most concerned with the intersection of the public and private, the social and personal. The overarching goal of her intellectual project is to discover what's imaginatively possible in a cultural system debased by economic, social and political injustice, which, she suggests, are perhaps inherent in capitalism. While her powerful and frequently anthologized essay on "compulsory heterosexuality" is not included, the equally famous and influential "`When We Dead Awaken': Writing as Re-Vision" leads off the collection. This 1971 feminist tract brilliantly strategizes how women can re-examine literature and culture in order to resist patriarchal hegemony and give voice to their own experience. Other notable entries include "Blood, Bread, and Poetry: The Location of the Poet," which posits that "political struggle and spiritual continuity are meshed"; the title essay, a consideration of, among other issues, identity politics; and the spirited 1997 essay-letter that explains why she declined the National Medal for the Arts. As Rich herself acknowledges in the foreword, a few of the essays "may seem to belong to a bygone era." They provide, however, a prism through which to view Rich's thinking over the years, and they neatly demonstrate the transformations in her views over time. While the essays, "notes" and "conversations" may be read individually, what's perhaps most fascinating and rewarding about this collection is charting Rich's intellectual journey itself. (Apr.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

The author of more than 16 volumes of poetry, plus four of prose, and winner of many awards, including a MacArthur and a Lannan, Rich needs no introduction. This prose collection begins with four "background" essays, first published in the 1970s and 1980s. The rest proceed more or less chronologically, tracing the poet's thinking about her art and her time and culminating in the fine title essay (which may have been the impetus behind the book). Rich here characterizes herself as a poet of the "oppositional imagination, meaning that I don't think my only argument is with myself." She has always been concerned with issues larger than the personal, though labels such as lesbian, feminist, and Marxist do as much to obscure as to illuminate the poet's points. She wants us to look at our lives and capitalist society and ask anew the kinds of questions Marx asked. As she inquires in the title essay, "What about the hunger no commodity can satisfy because it is not a hunger for something on a shelf?" Recommended for academic and public libraries. Mary Paumier Jones, Westminster P.L., CO (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

In this new collection of essays, Rich provides the reader with some of the best clues to her biography, beginning with the strongest and most compelling work in the collection, "When We Dead Awaken," which first appeared in 1971. In this she lays out her poetic beginnings, naming the writers most important to her and (most poignantly) how she came to recognize the difficulties of trying to write and being female in a male-dominated culture. In the succeeding essays, she describes the evolution of her poetry, her social conscience, moving away from the traditional and recognizing how the wars and the corporate world have come to shape her language and her approach to a poetry that holds the imagination against hostile circumstances. Her essays become more political through the years, culminating with "Arts of the Possible," which concludes her bildungsroman, her journey from apprentice to activist. Today, Rich is espousing the need for a humanistic society and sexual emancipation from every source of oppression. She castigates safe, dreamy poetics, asking poetry to hold a mirror to the world as it is. Upper-division undergraduates through faculty. H. Susskind emeritus, Monroe Community College

Table of Contents

Forewordp. 1
"When We Dead Awaken": Writing as Re-Visionp. 10
Women and Honor: Some Notes on Lyingp. 30
Blood, Bread, and Poetry: The Location of the Poetp. 41
Notes toward a Politics of Locationp. 62
Raya Dunayevskaya's Marxp. 83
Why I Refused the National Medal for the Artsp. 98
Defying the Space That Separatesp. 106
Poetry and the Public Spherep. 115
Muriel Rukeyser: Her Visionp. 120
Some Questions from the Professionp. 128
Interview with Rachel Spencep. 138
Arts of the Possiblep. 146
Notesp. 169
Acknowledgmentsp. 177
Indexp. 179