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An Atlas of the Difficult World

4.18  ·  Rating Details ·  817 Ratings  ·  33 Reviews
In this, her thirteenth book of verse, the author of "The Dream of a Common Language" and "Snapshots of a Daughter-in-Law" writes of war, oppression, the future, death, mystery, love and the magic of poetry.
Paperback, 72 pages
Published December 17th 1991 by W. W. Norton & Company (first published October 17th 1991)
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A Wild Patience Has Taken Me This Far by Adrienne RichAmerican Primitive by Mary OliverWhy I Wake Early by Mary OliverWinter Numbers by Marilyn HackerThirst by Mary Oliver
Books by Lesbian Poets
26th out of 188 books — 8 voters
If Not, Winter by SapphoThe Dream of a Common Language by Adrienne RichSappho by SapphoPoems Between Women by Emma DonoghueBodymap by Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samara...
Best Lesbian Poetry
8th out of 100 books — 20 voters

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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 1,525)
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Dec 30, 2013 Melanie rated it it was amazing
I know you are reading this poem because there is nothing else / left to read / there where you have landed, stripped as you are'

The is an extraordinary collection by Adrienne Rich. If you like your poetry brave, original, potent and driven by truth & conviction, there is no better place to start. It's all at gut level and there is a sense that you'll always carry it there.
Mar 07, 2008 Alexander rated it really liked it
Shelves: poetry
All I can say about this book is that several years ago I read the poem that begins with "...I know you are reading this poem..." and it completely revitalized my desire to read more poetry, which (if anyone has seen my list of books) obviously has been a life's pursuit.

Enjoy. This book is awesome.
Mar 29, 2012 Mary rated it really liked it
Where are we moored?
What are the bindings?
What behooves us?
Mar 06, 2011 Heather rated it really liked it
Shelves: poetry
One of the later poems in this book includes a phrase from Simone Weil, and the full sentence the phrase comes from is given in the Notes: "The love of our neighbor in all its fullness simply means being able to say to him: 'What are you going through?'" The idea of answering or imagining or feeling one's way into that what are you going through? is a central idea of this slim volume of Rich's poems from the late 1980s and early 1990s: it's there from the very start of the very first poem and ke ...more
David Ranney
Aug 07, 2016 David Ranney rated it really liked it
One night on Monterey Bay the death-freeze of the century:
a precise, detached calliper-grip holds the stars and the quarter-
in arrest: the hardiest plants crouch shrunken, a “killing frost”
on bougainvillea, Pride of Madeira, roseate black-purple succu-
lents bowed
juices sucked awry in one orgy of freezing
slumped on their stems like old faces evicted from cheap hotels
into the streets of the universe, now!

Earthquake and drought followed by freezing followed by war.
Flags are blossoming now
Liz Shine
Apr 19, 2016 Liz Shine rated it it was amazing
Shelves: poetry
An Atlas of the Difficult World1> delivers, as Rich's collections always do. Reading her work must be ennobling; It feels as though it must. Even though so much here eluded me in the moment (i.e. I didn't "understand")--it is the lines that strike an immediate chord, then the reflection on the work as a whole that allow me to say I understood and was moved. To me, this collection seems to be a case for art, though it is difficult and there is so much suffering already. Art is better than memo ...more
Dec 11, 2012 Cheryl rated it really liked it
The intensity of these poems, of a woman who believes in and loves her country but needs to claim it back and evaluate it, and say the truth, was so appropriate around this election time. I had felt so very often during the Bush years that I needed to claim my country back, to be able to love it despite the direction Bush was taking it, and despite the fact that in Zurich when I visited, there was a Wanted poster for Bush for crimes against humanity. If the election had ended differently, I thin ...more
Annmarie Sheahan
Jan 30, 2015 Annmarie Sheahan rated it really liked it
I have read a few select poems by Adrienne Rich in English courses before, but this was the first time I read a volume of her poetry from cover to cover. Brilliant. She is endowed with a powerful voice that is both private and political, and though much of her poetry sits uncomfortably with me, it is none the less beautiful for that. Standouts in this collection were "Dedications" and the harrowing "Easter War Time". I look forward to reading more from this incredibly gifted woman.
Mar 28, 2014 Helen rated it really liked it
In An Atlas of the Difficult World, Rich uses poetry to address difficult topics and historical events. She succeeds, whether it be the brutal murder of two lesbians in America, Apartheid in South Africa, or the Holocaust in Europe. Haunting and strangely beautiful, the poet doesn't shy away from words, phrases, and topics we don't usually associate with our poetry. But each word is carefully placed, there's nothing gratuitous, the one fuck in the whole book stops you cold because it is, in fact ...more
Oct 08, 2014 Hanna rated it it was amazing
"'An Atlas of the Difficult World' is alive with beautiful and moving singing, with wisdom and authority. Adrienne Rich is our Atlas, holding up not the heavens but the earth-- and not just bearing it, as a burden-bearer, but dancing with it, as a lover" -Sharon Olds
Mar 07, 2016 Cheryl rated it really liked it
Shelves: poetry
Actual Rating: 3.5 of 5 thorns

This poetry collection is more historically situated than some of her other collections, making this one difficult for me to access. The poems are longer in length & lines.
Aug 09, 2015 Bradley rated it liked it
Like many others, my favorite poem from this collection is the final section (Dedications) of the title poem. The long title poem is phenomenal, but I was not moved by any of the other poems.
Sep 13, 2016 Apoorva rated it really liked it
Adrienne Rich, unsurprisingly, is GOOD. However, the edition I read had really bad formatting so that made it rather difficult to appreciate her words in all their glory.
May 12, 2015 Brendan added it
Shelves: lady-poets
Rating: 3 1/2

Decent collection; I'm not giving up on Rich because of these pieces. But I'm not dropping everything to buy another book of her poetry.

These were the stand-out poems, for me:

"An Atlas of the Difficult World, IX" - on loneliness

"An Atlas of the Difficult World, XIII (Dedications)" - in which she speaks to her imagined readers

"Olivia" - set in South Africa, during apartheid

"Eastern War Time, 10"

It was a burden for anyone
to be fascinating, brilliant
after the six million
Never mind ju
Oct 21, 2014 Rachel rated it really liked it
Shelves: favorites, university
I'm simply amazed by the feeling of empathy in this book of poems. I can't tell anymore where Rich's empathy ends and mine begins, where our humanity has converged or diverged.
Meg Gee
Sep 03, 2016 Meg Gee rated it it was amazing
Absolutely adored this collection. "That Mouth" alone is pure brilliance. A voice that is timeless in its urgency.
Mar 26, 2016 Becky rated it it was amazing
Shelves: poetry
Jen Helfand
Aug 01, 2015 Jen Helfand rated it it was amazing
I consider her an ancestor and feel proud to be in her lineage. A radical lesbian Ashkenazi Jew, reconciling the violence of the Shoah, the many questions of being alive and with a body in a complex world. Her words, in winding dancing arcs, speak to me: never again for anyone.
Tattered Kaddish in particular pumps the blood in my body stronger out to my finger tips and toes. Helps me find ways to honor those I have lost.
Mar 08, 2009 Joan rated it really liked it
..."I know you are reading this poem as you pace beside the stove
warming milk, a crying child on your shoulder, a book in your
because life is short, and you too are thirsty.
I know you are reading this poem listening for something, torn
between bitterness and hope
turning back once again to the task you cannot refuse."...

(Adrienne Rich, "Dedications")
Jan 27, 2015 Kim rated it it was ok
Shelves: poetry
I keep reading for the vision, for the strength in her. Some of the poetry I think I don't appreciate as much as I would if I could see all her references and historical context. Much of it just doesn't move me, although I wish it did. The poems are often overly long and imprecise, with words chosen more like in ordinary prose.
Feb 12, 2008 Elizabeth rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Anyone who respects and enjoys poetry
Recommended to Elizabeth by: Dr. Linda Taylor
Rich educates, requires your full attention, and sometimes cuts your heart deep and clean. She is not "easy reading" but she is worth the effort. The poem "Dedications" can still move me to tears in weary, lonely moments.
Miami University Libraries
Arianne Hartsell-Gundy read a poem called "Dedications" from this collection. King Library (2nd floor) | PS3535.I233 A84 1991
Gabriel Gadfly
Jan 28, 2011 Gabriel Gadfly rated it really liked it
I'd have given this 3 stars, but a series of poems under the section of the book titled Eastern War Time saved it for me.
Bill Tarlin
Jun 12, 2013 Bill Tarlin rated it liked it
Hadn't read her before. Nice introduction to her voice and technique. I'd like to see how it compares to earlier work now.
Alice Urchin
Jun 08, 2013 Alice Urchin rated it really liked it
Shelves: owned
Beautifully written, but there were some poems I just couldn't really connect with as much as others.
Jennifer Chin
Jul 16, 2007 Jennifer Chin rated it it was amazing
One of my favorite books of poetry of all time, mostly because of the poem "IV (from Dedications)"
Jul 23, 2016 Luci rated it really liked it
You're not supposed to read it all at once, or only once.
Sep 02, 2009 Tonya added it
I love the way she says so much with such simplicity of syntax.

Nov 01, 2012 Victoria rated it liked it
Shelves: poetry, read-2012
I find it extremely difficult to rate poetry, so ignore my stars.
Jul 21, 2008 Alison rated it really liked it
One of my favorite volumes of poetry.
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Adrienne Rich (b. 1929). Born to a middle-class family, Rich was educated by her parents until she entered public school in the fourth grade. She graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Radcliffe College in 1951, the same year her first book of poems, A Change of World, appeared. That volume, chosen by W. H. Auden for the Yale Series of Younger Poets Award, and her next, The Diamond Cutters and Other Poems ...more
More about Adrienne Rich...

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it will not be simple, it will not be long
it will take little time, it will take all your thought
it will take all your heart, it will take all your breath
it will be short, it will not be simple

it will touch you through your ribs, it will take all your heart
it will not be long, it will occupy your thought
as a city is occupied, as a bed is occupied
it will take all your flesh, it will not be simple

you are coming into us who cannot withstand you
you are coming into us who never wanted to withstand you
you are taking parts of us into places never planned
you are going far away with pieces of our lives

it will be short, it will take all your breath
it will not be simple, it will become your will”
“- this is where I live now. If you had known me
once, you'd still know me now though in a different
light and life. This is no place you ever knew me.”
More quotes…