Outward

Adrienne Rich’s Expanding Solitudes

2021
Author:

Ed Pavlić

Outward

The first scholarly study of Adrienne Rich’s full career examines the poet through her developing approach to the transformative potential of relationships


Poet, scholar, and novelist Ed Pavlić considers Adrienne Rich’s entire oeuvre to argue that her most profound contribution in poems is her emphasis on not only what goes on “within us” but also what goes on “between us.” He shows how Rich’s most radical work depicts our lives—from the public to the intimate—in shared space rather than in owned privacy.

Adrienne Rich is best known as a feminist poet and activist. This iconic status owes especially to her work during the 1970s, while the distinctive political and social visions she achieved during the second half of her career remain inadequately understood. In Outward, poet, scholar, and novelist Ed Pavlić considers Rich’s entire oeuvre to argue that her most profound contribution in poems is her emphasis on not only what goes on “within us” but also what goes on “between us.” Guided by this insight, Pavlić shows how Rich’s most radical work depicts our lives—from the public to the intimate—in shared space rather than in owned privacy.

Informed by Pavlić’s friendship and correspondence with Rich, Outward explores how her poems position visionary possibilities to contend with cruelty and violence in our world. Employing an innovative framework, Pavlić examines five kinds of solitude reflected in Rich’s poems: relational solitude, social solitude, fugitive solitude, dissident solitude, and radical solitude. He traces the importance of relationships to her early writing before turning to Rich’s explicitly antiracist and anticapitalist work in the 1980s, which culminates with her most extensive sequence, “An Atlas of the Difficult World.” Pavlić concludes by examining the poet’s twenty-first century work and its depiction of relationships that defy historical divisions based on region, race, class, gender, and sexuality.

A deftly written engagement in which one poet works within the poems of another, Outward reveals the development of a major feminist thinker in successive phases as Rich furthers her intimate and erotic, social and political reach. Pavlić illuminates Rich’s belief that social divisions and the power of capital inform but must never fully script our identities or our relationships to each other.

Outward

Ed Pavlić is distinguished research professor of English and African American studies at the University of Georgia. He is the author of twelve books, including, most recently, the poetry collection Let It Be Broke, the novel Another Kind of Madness, and the critical study Who Can Afford to Improvise? James Baldwin and Black Music, the Lyric and the Listeners. He also wrote Crossroads Modernism: Descent and Emergence in African-American Literary Culture (Minnesota, 2002).


Outward

Contents


Introduction: “How we are with each other”


Charting a Radical Geography


“Our words misunderstand us.”


Poems toward an Aesthetics of Experience, 1951–1970


“look at her closely if you dare”


Feminism and a Relational Solitude, 1970–1981


“solitude of no absence”


The Fugitive Condition of Social Solitude, 1981–1991


“so are we thrown together”


Fugitive and Dissident Solitude Mobilized, 1991–2006


“Voices from open air”


Mutually Embodied in Radical Solitude, 2006–2012


Coda


Acknowledgments


Sources of Quotations


Bibliography


Index