Bennet's Reviews > Arts of the Possible: Essays and Conversations

Arts of the Possible by Adrienne Rich
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Aug 09, 12

really liked it
bookshelves: essays-memoir-etc

Rich, who died in March, described herself as "a poet who knows the social power of poetry," and in these essays she explores the alchemy of "the possibilities that exist between two people, or among a group of people. They are the most interesting thing in life."

I agree with that, and for years have admired her perspectives more than I have enjoyed her poetry, which I can take only in small doses. I found lots of good food for thought here, though my enthusiasm waxed and waned throughout the meandering compilation. I got most involved with her notions about how imagination conspires with intellect in the creative process, and its influence on identity and relationships.

"A certain freedom of the mind is needed, freedom to press on, to enter the currents of your thought like a glider pilot, knowing that your motion can be sustained, that the buoyancy of your attention will not be suddenly snatched away. Moreover, if the imagination is to transcend and transform experience it has to question, to challenge, to conceive of alternatives, perhaps to the very life you are living."

How to facilitate that kind of creative freedom within the context of one's daily commitments and chores has been much on my mind lately, and I wanted to read more about it than this volume provided. What I did read was well worth it, but it's a given that any collection by Rich is going to be as political as it personal, which I appreciate but happen not to be in the mood for. Perhaps that's why the read felt disjointed to me and I'm not giving it five stars.

The New York Times did a nice obit on her, which noted that for decades she was "among the most influential writers of the feminist movement and one of the best-known American public intellectuals. She wrote two dozen volumes of poetry and more than a half-dozen of prose; the poetry alone has sold nearly 800,000 copies, according to W. W. Norton & Company, her publisher since the mid-1960s. Triply marginalized — as a woman, a lesbian and a Jew — Ms. Rich was concerned in her poetry, and in her many essays, with identity politics long before the term was coined."

Complete obit at

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Reading Progress

07/26/2012 page 21
10.0% "A certain freedom of mind is needed . . .Moreover, if the imagination is to transcend and transform experience it has to question, to challenge, to conceive of alternatives, perhaps to the very life you are living. You have to be free to play around, nothing can be too sacred."
08/07/2012 page 159
76.0% "The relationship of the individual to a community,to social power,and to the great upheavals of collective human experience will always be the richest and most complex of questions. The question might well be: With any personal history what is to be done? What do we know when we know your story? With whom do you believe your lot is cast?"

Comments (showing 1-6 of 6) (6 new)

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message 1: by Magdelanye (new) - added it

Magdelanye how can I add this to my quotes?
I feel like this could be my motto

Bennet You can create a quote n your "quotes I like" page. This is a condensed version to fit the allotted update space. If you can get a copy of the book, you'll find the excerpts in the first chapter.

message 3: by [deleted user] (new)

Thank you for introducing me to Adrienne Rich. I may have read her obituary in times, but I was unfamiliar with her until then, and I have subsequently forgotten about her--sad to say, because I need to hear voices like hers. YOur remarks about politics struck a chord as it is a subject that leaves me distressed. I am hopeful that a young woman today would no longer feel "triply marginalized" to have those qualities, but would istead feel blessed. You always find interesting books.

message 4: by Magdelanye (new) - added it

Magdelanye Thanks B and for the link to her obit which really was informative. I had no idea of her early marriage or family,or even her jewish connection (technically not,because her mom was christian) My opinion that her religion was 'feminist'.
Maybe I mentioned this already, but I saw her ar Cambridge in the late 70's. Her presence was dwarfed by the poet she introduced, Audre Lorde, who absolutely electrified. Still, her powerful writing is still relevant and needs careful consideration

message 5: by Bennet (last edited Aug 10, 2012 04:59AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Bennet Steve, it is hard to imagine a young woman today feeling marginalized, mostly thanks to Rich and her kind for relentlessly advocating diversity and social justice for women. It distresses me to hear young women who have no idea and don't really care about the ordeal it was getting to a place of acceptance and opportunity. And still we're arguing over the legitimacy of birth control! Makes me want to do more to remind, and to help marginalize those who continue to advocate archaic and unjust notions about gender and gender relations.
Thanks as always for taking time to comment. xoxo

Bennet M, I don't think you mentioned Cambridge to me, but I'm envious -- seeing Rich and Lorde was an amazing opportunity. Her writing is powerful, her poetry so much so that, as noted, I can only take it in small doses. I admire her enormously, and I think you'd like this collection.

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