Diving into Adrienne Rich: A Group Read

After a post here about writer Adrienne Rich’s recent passing, several of you expressed an interest in reading more of her work. I thought we might do that collectively by reading one of her earlier and most noted works, Diving into the Wreck. Will you join us?

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I came to explore the wreck.
The words are purposes.
The words are maps.

The words are from the title poem of Adrienne Rich’s book Diving into the Wreck: Poems 1971-1972. A National Book Award winner that was published in 1973, Diving Into The Wreck captures the essence of the feminist movement and the reinterpretation of the myths of men and women.

“The wreck she is diving into, ” wrote Margaret Atwood in the New York Times Book Review, “is the wreck of obsolete myths, particularly myths about men and women. She is journeying to something that is already in the past, in order to discover for herself the reality behind the myth.”

Her 1973 review goes on to explain, “This quest — the quest for something beyond myths, for the truths about men and women, about the “I” and the “You,” the He and the She, or more generally (in the references to wars and persecutions of various kinds) about the powerless and the powerful — is presented throughout the book through a sharp, clear style and through metaphors which become their own myths. At their most successful the poems move like dreams, simultaneously revealing and alluding, disguising and concealing. The truth, it seems, is not just what you find when you open a door: it is itself a door, which the poet is always on the verge of going through.”

Even more contemporary reviewers concur. Amazon book reviewer Gabecca writes: “Adrienne Rich is one of America’s best poets, and this is certainly her best collection…. Common themes of awakening and discovery run through this book; I wish that every woman would read these poems. Rich finally shakes free of the masculine poetic establishment and rejects male mythology as she writes: A man is asleep in the next room/ We are his dreams/ We have the heads and breasts of women/ the bodes of birds of prey/ Sometimes we turn into silver serpents. Rich dives into the wreck and comes out transformed. Don’t miss this opportunity to explore your own wreck.”

There are layers and layers at work in Rich’s poems — feminist theory, the politics of the day, war and current events, as well as the very nature and affect of being a woman.

You may choose to dig deep. “To read the poems without acknowledging the force of feminist thinking in them is to miss their complexity…. To ignore their testing and figuration of theory is to miss the poet’s complex philosophical, political, and aesthetic effort,” writes Alice Templeton in The Dream and the Dialogue.

Or you may choose to read them from you own time and experience as a woman today. “Diving into the Wreck is one of those rare books that force you to decide not just what you think of it, but what you think about yourself,” wrote Attwood, “It is a book that takes risks, and forces the reader to take them also.”

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My hope is that you’ll join us in this group read of Diving into the Wreck and share your thoughts and experiences in the comment section below.

Click here to order a copy of Diving into the Wreck from a local, independent bookseller. It is also available at Amazon.com.


Buy the Book Now

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If you would like a good primer for Diving Into the Wreck, check out Chapter 2 of The Dream and the Dialogue on Google Books here, or read Rich’s biography on Wikipedia for a broad-brush summary of her life and works.

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