Stride Magazine -


FOX by Adrienne Rich, 64pp, $21, W W Norton, 500 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10110,

As I write this Britain sags under the weight of Majesty, unable to disentangle itself from its history, offering its ancient dead not just appropriate respect but a stifling, cloying, hat-tipping reverential deference.

Adrienne Rich is American. Like a pioneer she stakes out her territory, breathing in the winds across the Great Plains, the smell of history and prehistory, always respecting what  was there (she wouldn’t  have shot any Indians), sinking water wells into the rich earth.

For fifty years she has spoken out for the poor and dispossessed, and for a land ravaged by vicious policies. For Rich the personal is the political, and conversely every political action resounds through her heart and brain. But she does not use poetry as a vehicle to move her collected thoughts and ideals along to a considered conclusion (polemical poetry has its place, but I prefer poetry that has no designs on us). Rather, poetry is the engine, at cellular level the mitochondria, which energises her vision and will.

She’s relatively old. But just because you’re old doesn’t mean you’re not a vigorous forward looking person. In ‘Signature’, after a beautifully cruel side-swipe at impotent old men with bad prostates (the double meaning of ‘rising four times nightly’) she answers Yeats back:

          Here an old woman’s best country is her art
          or it’s not her country
          Here the old don’t pity the old
          As when young we scale our rock face
          relentless, avid

          looking sometimes back at the whole terrain:

          – those scrapings on the rocks
          are they a poet’s signature?
          a mother’s who tried for all her worth to cling
          to the steep      with the small soft claws gripping her back?

But she is not a ‘woman poet’:
          How I hate it when you ascribe to me
          a ‘woman’s vision’
          cozy with coffeepots     drawn curtains
                             [from ‘Terza Rima’]

The opening poem, ‘Victory’, celebrates her friend Tory Dent who died of cancer (‘Something spreading underground won’t speak to us / under skin won’t declare itself’). She herself covers immense ground: ‘ancient or transient villages’, medieval art:
          Suddenly instead of art we’re eyeing
          organisms traced and stained on cathedral transparencies
          cruel blues    embroidered purples    succinct yellows
          a beautiful tumour

ending with the Winged Victory:

          Displaced, amputated    never discount me

                    indented in disaster   striding
                             at the head of stairs

The best way to convey to you the depth and breadth of Fox – how the multiplex meanings of lines and phrases live and resonate – would be to quote the whole lot. That would probably be breach of copyright and certainly unfair on author and publisher. So I would just say buy this well produced book (if it’s yet available in the
UK) and read it. Then read it again. Because it’s worth it.

                   © Janet Fisher 2002