As a women who wants kid, there is something romantic about the idea of the “stay at home mom”. Not in today’s sense of the word where the women is scorned for being lazy, or put on a pedestal for marrying someone who can provide so much. The idea of the stay at home mom, when it wasn’t a title, just the norm. Where the loving father leaves in the morning for a hard day’s work, and the mother gets her perfect children ready and off to school, then cooks and cleans her story-book day away until the whole family comes together that night at the dinner table. But then once you step back and the cracks start to reveal themselves, it loses the romantic aspect. Certainly the norms in nineteenth century North America were not romantic; where woman were open vessels, at their husbands bidding. Being abused sexually or physically and not being able to divorce without losing your kids. Never mind even aspiring for a life without kids… Wasn’t really an option. Where is the freedom in that?
In Blood, Bread, and Poetry Adrienne Rich claimed “I naturally absorbed ideas about women, sexuality, or power from the subjectivity of male poets… The dissonance between these images and the daily events of my own life demanded a constant footwork of imagination” (244). Similarly to what I was saying in my last post, it is difficult to change the only thing that you know. Just think about it. Prior to the Civil War, white southerners released all kinds of literature related to slavery and how it was really doing a service do African-Americans, who they believed could not really live on their own. To these white southerners, who were raised with the idea that this was OK, even if they started to doubt themselves the reinforcement of these documents could justify what it was they were doing. Further, to the Northerner who has not seen slavery first hand, reading these documents they can fall into the trap of believing it.
Of course this applies to anything and everything, and anyone can be subject to believing it unless they have enough knowledge to sort through what is true and what is not. So in a world were women belong on the backburner, it is difficult to change the dynamic enough for them to become the main course. Rich has a purpose when she pursues geography and moves straight to the body. In a sense the idea of having countries and continents, cities and states, may be a little unnatural. Who are we to divide up pieces of the earth? Who are we to stop people from roaming the world as they please? However, for a woman who is not at peace with what she finds within the country, this retreat within the body, seems completely natural.
This is where questions can begin to be answered, feelings unveiled, injustices recognized. Rich is taking these feelings and observations, and putting them into her poetry. To say that politics should stay out of art, like poetry, is contradictory. It is like saying that women should not be allowed to vote when in a democracy… Oh wait. Taking politics out of art is leaving an entire piece of our society behind and closing the door on their voices. We are not fulfilling our duties as informed citizens by ignoring these voices.
In An Atlas of the Difficult World, among many other themes, Rich addresses a woman’s place in the world. The frustrating search for this place has many negative components, but that is life. Many of Rich’s poems are tough to read, such as “That Mouth,” where disturbing images offer no relief except a father can try to choke you,/a mother drown you to save you.
What struck me most about Rich’s collection is not the disturbing passages, but the universality that these provide. Rich is writing as many things- a white Jewish woman, middle-class American, a feminist, a lesbian, an activist. But she touches upon so many more concepts. While some of her poems are more specific, like section five of “Eastern War Time,” where she expresses the thoughts of a young Jewish girl during World War II, others are more generic. The second page of her collection offers a harsh look into a relationship gone bad, that could be represented by any young adult or woman. So while the whole world has changed, it is important to note where it once was, and the work it still needs to do. While it is better than it has ever been, there is still enormous effort that needs to be put forward worldwide.