Diving into the Wreck
Diving into the Wreck
"Diving into the Wreck," by the American poet Adrienne Rich, was first published as the title poem in her collection Diving into the Wreck in 1973. The book is still in print, and the poem also appears in the 2002 Norton Anthology of American Literature. The early 1970s was a time when the women's movement was having a significant influence on American society, and Rich's poem reflects her interest in feminism, taking the form of a heroic quest. The poet/speaker presents herself as a deep-sea diver who plunges into the ocean to examine the remains of an old sailing ship. The wreck she examines has different levels of meaning, referring to the neglected, unexamined inner lives of women, or perhaps to civilization itself, ruined by false ideas and stereotypes about gender and gender roles. The poet hopes to discard these falsehoods. "Diving into the Wreck" has had a prominent place in Rich's oeuvre ever since its publication. It expresses her search for the truth about women's lives and also represents an important landmark in the literature of second-wave feminism.
One of America's leading contemporary poets, Adrienne Rich was born on May 16, 1929, in Baltimore, Maryland. Her father, Arnold Rich, was a professor of pathology at Johns Hopkins University, and her mother, Helen Jones Rich,
was a pianist and composer. Rich attended Radcliffe College, graduating in 1951 with an AB (cum laude). That same year she published her first book of poetry, A Change of World, for which she was awarded the Yale Younger Poets Prize. Two years later, Rich married Alfred Conrad, a Harvard economist, and moved to Cambridge, Massachusetts. The couple had three sons over the next five years.
Rich found her true poetic voice in the 1960s, beginning in 1963 with the publication of Snapshots of a Daughter-in-Law, her third book of poetry, in which she first expressed her emerging feminist ideas. Rich and her family moved to New York in 1966, where she taught a remedial English program at City College. This was during the period when the feminist, civil rights, and anti-Vietnam War movements were growing in strength, and Rich became deeply engaged in these social issues. Her beliefs were reflected in her books, Necessities of Life (1966), Leaflets (1969), and Will to Change (1971). In 1969 she separated from her husband, who committed suicide a year later.
"Diving into the Wreck" was first published as the title poem in her 1973 collection. Diving into the Wreck received lavish praise from critics and won the National Book Award for Poetry, but Rich refused to accept the award for herself. Instead, she joined with two other female poets and accepted it on behalf of all women whose voices had been silenced.
Many other poetry volumes followed, including Twenty-One Love Poems (1976), A Wild Patience Has Taken Me This Far (1981), The Fact of a Doorframe (1984), Your Native Land, Your Life (1986), Time's Power (1989), An Atlas of the Difficult World (1991), Dark Fields of the Republic (1995), Midnight Salvage (1999), and Fox (2000). Her collection The School among the Ruins: Poems, 2000-2004 (2004), won the National Book Critics Circle Award. This was one of many literary awards Rich has received, including the first Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize, the Brandeis Creative Arts Medal, the Common Wealth Award, the William Whitehead Award for Lifetime Achievement, and the National Poetry Association Award for Distinguished Service to the Art of Poetry. In 1997 Rich refused the National Medal of Arts because she disagreed with the policies of the Clinton administration. Rich has also written many volumes of prose, including Of Woman Born: Motherhood as Experience and Institution (1976), On Lies, Secrets, and Silence (1979), Blood, Bread, and Poetry (1986), What Is Found There: Notebooks on Poetry and Politics (1993), and Arts of the Possible: Essays and Conversations (2001).
Rich has taught at many colleges and universities, including Swarthmore, Columbia, Brandeis, Rutgers, Cornell, San Jose State, and Stanford University. She was a professor of English and feminist studies at Stanford University from 1986 to 1992. Since 1976, Rich has lived with Michelle Cliff, her partner, a writer and editor.
At the literal level of the poem, the speaker of "Diving into the Wreck," who could be either male or female, is in a schooner out at sea, preparing to dive into the ocean in search of a wreck. The journey she (assuming a female speaker) is about to take is both external and internal, since she is also journeying into the depths of her own psyche and, symbolically, into history and society. Taking with her a camera and a knife, she puts on her rubber diving outfit, including mask and flippers. Then she comments that unlike Jacques Cousteau, the famous twentieth-century French marine explorer, she has no team of helpers to assist her; she is going to dive alone. There is a ladder hanging from the side of the schooner, and the speaker descends. As she begins her descent she is very conscious of the daylight and the air, the normal, familiar environment in which humans live. Her flippers make her feel uncomfortable as she descends the ladder with difficulty, conscious of the fact that she is alone, with no one to guide her.
She reaches the water and descends into it, conscious of how her visual environment has changed from the blue of the sky to the green of the water, which quickly turns to black. She is grateful for her mask and now has to learn how to move underwater, which is much different from moving about on land and requires a new set of skills. As she surveys the scene underwater, observing the teeming marine life, she realizes that she must focus her mind on the purpose of her dive and not forget it. The speaker reminds herself that she has come to explore the remains of a sunken ship. She wants to examine the extent of the damage the wreck has suffered and also to find what valuables remain.
The speaker explains that what she really wants is to find out the true condition of the ship, which may not be the same as what she has read or heard about it. The conventional wisdom about the ship may only be a myth. Just before she arrives at the wreck, she pictures to herself the effigy of a female face that was carved on the prow of the old sailing ship, which always looked upward, and she thinks of the damage the wreck has undergone in all the years it has spent underwater, with just a skeleton of its form remaining. She finally arrives at the wreck in stanza 8 and imagines herself as a mermaid that can take both male and female form. In this kind of imaginative androgynous form she swims all around the wreck and enters its hold. She refers again to the female face on the prow and then appears to find the ship's cargo of precious metals inside rotting barrels. She also discovers the messy, worn-away remnants of other parts of the ship's equipment, including its log and compass. The poem ends with an affirmation of the importance of making such a journey, whatever the motivation for undertaking it. The allusion here is clearly to the journey as one of inner exploration in search of the truth, the real truth as opposed to what others may have said.
The Search for Truth
Although the poem can be read at the literal level, it is really about the exploration of the areas of the speaker's mind, heart, and experience of life that have, for whatever reason, not been examined before. It relates a journey from the conscious, surface levels of the mind, the everyday reality of life, to the deeper subconscious levels that have been ignored, repressed, or distorted by self and others. The schooner on which the poet stands is the metaphoric equivalent of the everyday world: it exists in the daylight and the sunlight. The water into which the poet dives represents the deeper levels of the mind, and the ship discovered there represents the parts of the psyche that have not been consciously acknowledged. The poet is determined to discover the truth about these murky, unexplored regions, which is why she takes with her a knife (to dissect what she finds and to distinguish truth from falsehood) and a camera, which will record with absolute fidelity and without distortion what is truly present. There will be no convenient distortions to make life more superficially comfortable: the truth must be faced.
- Adrienne Rich Reading at Stanford was produced by the Stanford Program for Recordings in Sound in 1973. Rich reads fourteen of her poems on the recording, including "Diving into the Wreck."
That this is a difficult undertaking is made abundantly clear, because the speaker has to don uncomfortable clothing, complete with mask, rubber diving suit, and flippers, and get used to exploring unfamiliar regions. Different skills are called for than those that equip a person to succeed in everyday life, in which people may be compelled to adopt surface personas that are far from the truth of who they really are. And yet these subconscious regions of the mind, including desires, feelings, and hopes that have been repressed perhaps since childhood because the conscious mind decided that they were unacceptable, contain vital elements that are necessary for the person's psyche to be whole. This is clear from the fact that the cargo of the wreck contained precious metals, many of which remain within the shell of the sunken ship, waiting to be rediscovered by the intrepid explorer. This section of the poem (the penultimate stanza) also suggests the wisdom inherent in the deeper, unconscious levels of the psyche, since it refers to the instruments that once kept the ship on course. Getting in touch with those forgotten instruments (the authentic self rather than the socially acceptable self) is essential if the speaker is to live a life true to herself rather than to the standards and expectations of others.
TOPICS FOR FURTHER STUDY
- Other than anatomical differences, are there any other innate differences between men and women? Are all psychological and emotional differences the result of cultural influence and gender stereotyping? Are some roles in society more appropriate for one gender than for the other? Why do conservatives and liberals differ in their responses to these questions? Write an essay in which you discuss these issues.
- Write a report describing some of the gains made by second-wave feminism from the 1960s to the early 1990s. Given this progress, conclude your report by discussing what you think feminism has yet to accomplish.
- Bearing in mind that "Diving into the Wreck" advocates truthful inquiry into difficult situations, write a free verse poem in which the speaker faces up to an uncomfortable truth about his or her life, perhaps a situation or an inner conflict that he or she has been reluctant to acknowledge or deal with for some time.
- Read several other poems in Diving into the Wreck and conduct a class presentation in which you compare them to the title poem. Are the other poems more or less overtly feminist? What attitude does the poet show toward men, and how does that compare to the attitude shown in "Diving into the Wreck"?
Exploring Gender Roles and Their Meaning
The poem has a social as well as a personal dimension. Written by a female poet in the early 1970s, it is a plea for the voices of women to be heard by society. The collective rather than individual element in the poem is clear from the reference that the poet makes to the book in the first and last lines of the poem. This is probably a reference to the patriarchal nature of American society at the time, in which men determined what was important and what was true; in doing so they left women out of the discourse and tried to shape women's lives as they thought they ought to be, without reference to what women might actually want or be capable of achieving. This is why the book is referred to as a myth, since it does not record the truth and, as the last line suggests, often ignores the lives of women altogether. In this sense the poem can be read as a kind of feminist manifesto, according to which women must learn to understand the truth of their own lives and maintain that truth in the face of male ignorance and prejudice. However, the feminist interpretation does not exclude other interpretations, since the poet is careful to show the diver as an androgynous figure as he/she swims around the wreck. The implication is that both men and women need to be liberated from restrictive gender roles. It is in the interests of men as much as women that a more equitable society should be created, one in which women are as free as men have always been to achieve their goals and ambitions.
The poem is written in free verse, which does not conform to traditional patterns of meter and rhyme. It became a popular form of verse during the 1960s, when it represented, as it does in this poem, a rebellion against traditional form that paralleled the spirit of political and social upheaval and rebellion that characterized the decade. Thus, "Diving into the Wreck," a poem that has a feminist theme, is not restricted by any formal rhyme or meter but follows its own individual shape and rhythm. The poem is arranged in ten stanzas, ranging in length from seven to twelve lines. The lines are of many different lengths, as short as two syllables and as long as twelve. Thus the poem breaks with traditional form in the same way that it calls for a breaking with tradition in terms of women's place in society. Form and theme complement each other.
The controlling metaphors are those of the deep sea diver and the sunken wreck. Almost every image in the poem belongs in one or other of these categories, creating a broadly unified effect. The first metaphor, of the diver, represents the individual speaker. The speaker is on a quest to explore the crushed, buried aspects of the mind and heart; she probably represents all women who have been forced to suppress their deepest desires, longings, and ambitions because they were dominated by men, both individually and collectively, who arranged society for their own benefit rather than in an equitable manner. The sunken wreck represents everything that has been forgotten, devalued, and suppressed, all of which could have been of enormous value to the individual and to society had it been used properly. Instead, it has been left to rot.
The Beginnings of the Modern Women's Movement
The opening line of "Diving into the Wreck," about a female speaker who has read a book of myths, might be interpreted to mean the ways in which American culture viewed women and the role they were expected to play in society before the feminist movement arose. This would be America in the 1950s, when Rich was a young mother married to a Harvard professor and raising her three sons. In those days this was considered the ideal role for women: They stayed at home and raised the children while their husband was the breadwinner. According to statistics cited by William Chafe in The Road to Equality: American Women since 1962, in 1960, only one married woman in four held a paid job. If women did join the workforce, certain jobs, such as secretary, nurse, receptionist, bank teller, and clerk, were considered women's jobs, while only the unusual woman was given the opportunity to become a lawyer or a doctor, and even more rarely did women occupy senior positions in corporations. In 1960, women earned only 59 percent of what men received. This was a world in which men had all the power and privilege, a situation that was justified by the notion that this was a natural division of the sexes, sanctioned by tradition and even religious scriptures. It was presented as the truth of how things had to be, but emerging feminists understood it to be only a culturally generated myth.
The status quo between the genders began to change in the 1960s, a decade of immense social upheaval that included the civil rights movement. A landmark year for feminism was 1963, which coincidentally was also the year when Rich began to find her own authentic poetic voice. In that year the Presidential Commission on the Status of Women, created by President John F. Kennedy, reported that there was significant discrimination against women in employment and recommended improvements in the areas of fair hiring, training and promotion, paid maternity leave, and child care. Also in 1963 Congress passed the Equal Pay Act, which banned discrimination on the basis of gender and established the principle of equal pay for equal work and responsibility. And that same year Betty Friedan published her book The Feminine Mystique, which is widely credited with launching what is known as the second-wave feminist movement. The book was an eloquent and passionate protest against the restricted roles that society imposed on women, especially middle-class women.
In 1964, the Civil Rights Act banned discrimination in employment on the basis of gender or race. Two years later, feminists including Friedan founded the National Organization of
COMPARE & CONTRAST
- 1970s: Female poets such as Alice Walker, Marilyn Hacker, Marge Piercy, Linda Hogan, and Sharon Olds begin to make their mark on American poetry. Feminist writers argue their case in influential books such as Sexual Politics (1970), by Kate Millett, and The Female Eunuch (1971), by Germaine Greer. Publishing houses such as Feminist Press and Virago Press are established solely to publish work by women. Ms. magazine is founded in 1972 by Gloria Steinem and her associates to espouse the goals of the women's movement and challenge the images of women presented in traditional women's magazines.
Today: Women's publishing houses continue to flourish, although they face challenges due to the rising costs of publishing and the advent of alternative sources of information for readers, such as the Internet. However, the market for feminist writings now extends to mainstream publishing houses, which are eager to publish books with feminist themes. The popularity of books by and about women may partly be due to the continuing growth of women's studies at universities, which indicates that feminist thought is no longer a minority interest but is part of the cultural mainstream.
- 1970s: As second-wave feminism develops, it produces different kinds of approaches to ending discrimination against women. Organizations such as NOW take a liberal approach, emphasizing the need to expand opportunities for women at the individual level. More radical feminists take a collective approach in which they oppose the entire patriarchal system in all its aspects—social, political, economic, and cultural. Many such feminists see their struggle in terms of class warfare. Other feminist groups include socialist feminists and lesbian feminists.
Today: The newest generation of feminists are part of what is known as third-wave feminism, which began in the 1990s among women who came of age in the 1980s and who had grown up with an awareness of feminist issues. One prominent third-wave feminist is Rebecca Walker. In her introduction to a collection of essays titled To Be Real: Telling the Truth and Changing the Face of Feminism (1995), Walker criticizes earlier feminism because it sought to apply a new orthodoxy about how women were supposed to be.
- 1970s: According to statistics supplied by the U.S. Department of Labor, in 1970, more women are employed in the labor force than ever before in U.S. history. Mothers are more likely to work outside the home than ever before. However, the earnings gap between men and women is considerable; families headed by a woman who works are more likely to live in poverty than those headed by a man; and women tend to work in low-income occupations that do not reflect their educational achievements.
Today: According to NOW, women who work full time still earn only 77 percent of what men are paid. Although women have more opportunities to succeed in professions such as medicine, law, and business, the "glass ceiling," which prevents them from reaching their field's most senior positions, remains firmly in place.
Women (NOW). The goals of NOW included the passing of the Equal Rights Amendment to the Constitution, guarantees of equal employment opportunity, the right to paid maternity leave, publicly provided child-care facilities, equality in education, job training and housing for women living in poverty, and the legal right to abortion. NOW grew rapidly, from 300 members in 1966 to 48,000 in 1974 (as cited in Judith Papachristou's Women Together: A History of the Women's Movement in the United States).
While this political action was taking place to improve the lot of women, feminist writers were analyzing the psychological and sociological bases of the new movement. As Judith Hole and Ellen Levine state in their book Rebirth of Feminism, there were two aspects to this process. First, feminists had to counter the "biological differences" argument: "The single most important assumption of feminist analysis is that there are no inherent emotional, intellectual, or psychological differences between men and women. All differences that are considered to be rooted in ‘nature’ are … a reflection of socially-imposed values." The second aspect of the feminist argument of the era was a "social critique" in which the differences between men's and women's social values and institutions were viewed as the result of "sex-role stereotyping."
Feminism in the Early 1970s
Although gains had been made, in 1970 women still represented a substantially disadvantaged portion of the population in terms of economic opportunity. According to statistics issued by the Women's Bureau of the U.S. Department of Labor in 1970, as cited in Rebirth of Feminism, women were significantly underrepresented in the leading professions. Women made up only 9 percent of scientists, 7 percent of physicians, 3 percent of lawyers, and 1 percent of engineers and federal judges. Starting salaries for college graduates in every field from accounting to liberal arts were considerably lower for women than they were for men.
However, during the 1970s the women's movement continued to make a huge impact on American culture and society. In 1972 the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) was passed by Congress and sent to the states for ratification, a goal of feminist activists for fifty years. (In 1982 the ERA perished because it was not ratified by the minimum thirty-eight states required under the Constitution.) Also in 1972, Title IX of the Education Amendments Act banned gender discrimination in colleges and universities receiving federal aid. The result was a dramatic increase in the number of college sports programs available to women. A major landmark in the achievement of feminist goals came in 1973, when the Supreme Court ruled in Roe v. Wade that a woman's right to abortion was enshrined in the Constitution because of inherent privacy rights. Before this, abortion had been illegal in many states.
During the early 1970s the new opportunities for women were reflected in an upsurge of political participation. According to Chafe in The Road to Equality, from 1972 to 1974 the number of women candidates for state legislatures increased by 300 percent; participation by women in party political conventions also showed dramatic increases.
Along with these social and political changes, feminists set out to change the images of women presented in the media that reinforced the traditional notion that a woman's place was in the home. Feminists also mounted crusades against pornography, which they believed exploited women and contributed to sexual violence against women. The women's movement also opposed beauty pageants, arguing that such contests treated women as sexualized objects rather than as people.
Since its publication in 1973, "Diving into the Wreck" has been held in high esteem by scholars of Rich's poetry. The poem is considered central to her life's work as a whole. In an interpretation of the poem in Adrienne Rich's Poetry, Wendy Martin comments that "the poet returns alone to the sea, the origin of life, to explore ‘the wreck’ of civilization in an effort to determine what went wrong." Once she arrives at the wreck, "she accepts the wreck and learns what she can from it as a necessary prelude to beginning again." Erica Jong, in her essay in the same volume, asserts that "the old myths of patriarchy … that split male and female irreconcilably into two warring factions" must yield to Rich's "image of the androgyne" with "its idea that we must write new myths, create new definitions of humanity which will not glorify this angry chasm but heal it." Judith McDaniel, in Reconstituting the World: The Poetry and Vision of Adrienne Rich, notes that the poem "is Rich's most complex use of an image of rebirth." The wreck itself is "the history of all women submerged in a patriarchal culture; it is that source of myths about male and female sexuality which shape our lives and roles today." McDaniel also notes
that the reader is "given no explanation for why the wreck occurred. Nor is there any account of the swimmer's return, the use to which she puts this new information." For Cheri Colby Langdell, author of Adrienne Rich: The Moment of Change, the poem "embodies a true epic quest, with hero, mission, myth, epic locale." Langdell notes the originality of the poet's "focus on androgyny" and describes the epic quest as a journey that "becomes both a spiritual quest and a recollection of alienated parts of the hero's—or rather heroine's—self, a reconciliation or restitution of what is lost."
Aubrey holds a PhD in English. In this essay on "Diving into the Wreck," he discusses the images of women that were presented in American culture during the 1950s and 1960s and how such stereotypes impacted the poem.
No reader of Adrienne Rich's "Diving into the Wreck" will be left in any doubt about the difficulty of the underwater journey that the speaker undertakes. Simply to make the metaphorical dive itself is an act of courage, a refusal to accept the status quo, an affirmation of the duty of the individual to investigate for herself what is true and what is false, even if society as a whole seems satisfied with the version of truth that it has decided upon. Throughout the poem the perilous nature of the journey is emphasized; it involves a completely different way of being in the world, a different way of moving, a different way even of breathing, and certainly a different way of examining evidence. Also emphasized is the isolation of the speaker. There is no support along the way, no advisors or guides to help the underwater traveler. She is on her own. This is a journey away from the group mind, which is easily satisfied with lazy generalizations, in the direction of the power of the individual to discern the real nature of things for herself, if she can keep her nerve and trust the truths she uncovers.
The poem might be considered pessimistic. After all, the speaker descends in search of a wreck. The wreck might refer to the inner, true lives of all women, which have been undervalued and suppressed to the point where they barely exist anymore, worn away by the constant pressure from a male-dominated society that is not interested in acknowledging the reality of women's selves. The wreck is far gone and seems unsalvageable, and the speaker proposes no plan of rescue. Can any woman, given this wreckage, still find the lost things of value deep within herself? And, bearing in mind that the speaker is depicted at the end of stanza 8 as being androgynous—both male and female—can men also somehow liberate themselves from this same wreck? Just as women have been presented with a false image of themselves, so men have accepted a view of their own roles that is equally limiting.
Set against the rather pessimistic feelings generated by the poem is the striking, twice-mentioned image of the female face carved on the prow of the ship, which appears to have survived intact. The eyes are open and look up to the sun, an image that suggests the tenacity and will to survive of women in general, which seems to be confirmed by the fact that when the diver arrives at the scene he/she indeed discovers the precious metals that remain. It is as if the essence, the gemlike quality of the inner self remains, even in the midst of all the destruction that time and culture have wrought on both men and women.
Other significant images, of knife and camera, suggest an optimism, too. Culturally disadvantaged they may be, but women still possess the tools they need to reexamine themselves and their fate, and the same tools are possessed also by men, should they decide to use them for a similarly ruthless self-examination. The knife will cut through everything that is false, and the camera can record with photographic realism the truth. As the saying goes, the camera does not lie.
One of the central ideas of "Diving into the Wreck" is of a prevailing myth. The poem begins and ends with reference to a book of myths, which the speaker admits to having read; at the end of the poem she claims to have not found his/her name in it. The book of myths refers to the reality that has been created by society, which distorts both men's and women's understandings of themselves. Their true natures are not allowed to appear in this book, recording as it does a false history and a false culture that boys and girls are nonetheless raised to believe in without question, and which most adult men and women do not challenge. In creating myths about women, men have also created myths about themselves, which means that both sexes are equally trapped in a web of illusions about gender and identity.
WHAT DO I READ NEXT?
- The Fact of a Doorframe: Poems Selected and New, 1950-1984 (1984), by Adrienne Rich, is a collection largely culled from the poet's first nine books of poetry. Arranged in chronological order, the selection gives a good overview of how Rich's poetry developed over the period of more than thirty years.
- No More Masks! An Anthology of Twentieth-Century American Women Poets (1993), edited and with an introduction by Florence Howe, is an expanded and updated edition of an anthology first published in 1973. The anthology features over 400 poems by 104 poets from many different cultures and periods and includes a generous selection by second-wave feminist writers.
- Strike Sparks: Selected Poems, 1980-2002 (2004), by Sharon Olds, is a representative selection from Olds's seven published volumes of poetry. Olds is one of America's leading female poets, popular with readers and hailed by critics. Her work covers many vital areas of human experience—including childhood, marriage and children, sexuality, and domestic and political violence—with candor and unwavering insight.
- The Beauty Myth: How Images of Beauty Are Used against Women (2002), by Naomi Wolf, was first published in 1992. It shows the persistence, even after decades of the women's movement, of the supposedly ideal images of women that appear in popular culture. Wolf argues that women should accept their own natural beauty, even if it does not conform to an ideal imposed by society.
- Faces of Feminism: An Activist's Reflections on the Women's Movement (1997), by Sheila Tobias, is largely a history of the women's movement in the United States from the 1960s to the 1980s. Tobias documents the successes and failures of the movement and also offers personal reflections about her own involvement.
But what exactly were those myths that operated in American society during the 1950s and 1960s, when Adrienne Rich was herself a young woman, a wife and mother raising three sons? Times have changed greatly since those decades, and young Americans today live in a culture that is fundamentally different in terms of how women's roles in society are perceived. Women today do not have to undertake the ruthless stripping away of misleading cultural stereotypes that Rich and the women of her generation were forced to undertake.
In her seminal book The Feminine Mystique (1963), Betty Friedan refers precisely to this cultural myth as "the feminine mystique," a set of ideas aboutwomen's nature and correct role in life that had been universally adopted, even by women themselves, during the two decades following the end of World War II. According to the underlying premise of the feminine mystique, there are innate differences between men and women not only in biology but also in emotional and psychological make up. A woman finds her fulfillment in being a wife and a mother. This is her preordained "feminine" role. As Friedan puts it, as long as this view prevails, "there is no other way for a woman to dream of creation or of the future. There is no way she can even dream about herself, except as her children's mother, her husband's wife."Awoman's task is to make sure that her husband is happy, and this will also ensure that she keeps him. Her job is to clean the house, cook the meals, and raise the children while her husband pursues his career, earns all the money, and makes all the important decisions. Belief in the feminine mystique created a situation, Friedan points out, in which the drudgery, the endless repetitive routine of housework, was the only "career" available to women. This meant that a woman's mental horizons were necessarily narrow. Women were not interested in the wider world, the world of politics and social issues, which was the domain of men. In The Feminine Mystique Friedan tells a story about when she sat in on a meeting of mostly male magazine writers and editors. One editor of a women's magazine explained that his readers were not interested in national or international affairs; they were only interested in reading about family and home. After a guest speaker had talked about the nascent civil rights movement and how it might affect the upcoming presidential election, one editor remarked, "Too bad I can't run that story. But you just can't link it to woman's world."
The cultural myth of the feminine mystique was thus relentlessly reinforced by the mass media. A year after the publication of her groundbreaking work, Friedan was commissioned by TV Guide to write an article about how women were represented on television. For two weeks, Friedan watched television, morning, afternoon, and evening. After watching women in commercials, soap operas, situation comedies, and game shows and noting their almost complete absence in serious dramas or documentaries, she concluded in her essay that "television's image of the American woman, 1964, is a stupid, unattractive, insecure little household drudge who spends her martyred, mindless days dreaming of love—and plotting nasty revenge against her husband." In the article, which was later included in her collection It Changed My Life: Writings on the Women's Movement, Friedan calls for radical change: "Television badly needs some heroines. It needs more images of real women to help girls and women take themselves seriously and grow and love and be loved by men again."
Over forty years later, many of the changes in the media's presentation of women that feminists such as Friedan called for have taken place. Today, one can switch on the television and see any number of series about successful women lawyers, doctors, forensic scientists, athletes, and even action heroines who dish out violence to the bad guys as efficiently as any man. In the sphere of current events, there may be as many female news anchors as men, and women TV journalists regularly file reports from dangerous war zones. But in those far-off days in the 1950s and early 1960s, millions of American women, if they had time to watch any television at all (after spending so many hours scrubbing and waxing floors, running the washing machine, and trying to make themselves beautiful so that their husbands wouldn't leave them), would have seen this uniform, thoroughly impoverished image of women appear on the screen night after night.
This is the all-pervasive myth, or at least one aspect of it, that Rich's diver in "Diving into the Wreck" is determined to confront. The presence of the myth, which was affirmed and reinforced in every aspect of American culture, explains why the diver's journey is so perilous and difficult. How does one find truth when there are no cultural models to base it on? Such is the challenge taken up by Rich's diver.
Source: Bryan Aubrey, Critical Essay on "Diving into the Wreck," in Poetry for Students, Gale, Cengage Learning, 2009.
In the following interview, Rothschild speaks with Rich about poetry, feminism, and politics.
Adrienne Rich is one of the leading American poets of our century. For forty years, her distinguished writings have brought accolades, including the National Book Award, the Fellowship of American Poets, and the Poet's Prize. But as she puts it in her early 1980s poem "Sources," she is a "woman with a mission, not to win prizes/but to change the laws of history."
It is this mission that sets Rich apart, for she has forsaken the easy path of academic poetry and hurled herself into the political fray. An early feminist and an outspoken lesbian, she has served as a role model for a whole generation of political poets and activists. Consciously she has fused politics and poetry, and in so doing, she—along with Audre Lorde, June Jordan, and a small handful of colleagues—rediscovered and rejuvenated the lost American tradition of political poetry.
Her latest work, What Is Found There: Notebooks on Poetry and Politics, takes its title from a stanza of William Carlos Williams: "It is difficult/to get the news from poems/yet men die miserably every day for lack/of what is found there." This ambitious, sweeping work contains an elaborate defense of political poety, an intricate reading of three of her great predecessors (Walt Whitman, Emily Dickinson, and Muriel Rukeyser), and generous introductions to dozens of contemporary political poets. It also is a trenchant indictment of American society today and a turbulent coming-to-grips with her own citizenship. In this regard, it is a prose continuation of An Atlas of the Difficult World: Poems 1988-1991.
I spoke with her one cool sunny September afternoon on the patio of her modest home on the outskirts of Santa Cruz, California, which she shares with her partner, the novelist Michelle Cliff. When it became too cold, we went inside and finished the interview in her living room. Works by June Jordan and Audre Lorde rested on a nearby coffee table.
Q: In What Is Found There you write that "poetry is banned in the United States," that it is "under house arrest." What do you mean?
Adrienne Rich: When you think about almost any other country, any other culture, it's been taken for granted that poets would take part in the government, that they would be sent here and there as ambassadors by the state proudly, that their being poets was part of why they were considered valuable citizens—Yeats in Ireland, Neruda in Chile, St.-John Perse in France. At the same time, poets like Hikmet in Turkey, Mandelstam in the Soviet Union, Ritsos in Greece, and hundreds of others have been severely penalized for their writings, severely penalized for a single poem. But here it's the censorship of "who wants to listen to you, anyway?"—of carrying on this art in a country where it is perceived as so elite or effete or marginal that it has nothing to do with the hard core of things. That goes hand in hand with an attitude about politics, which is that the average citizen, the regular American, can't understand poetry and also can't understand politics, that both are somehow the realms of experts, that we are spectators of politics, rather than active subjects. I don't believe either is true.
Q: How did American poetry come to be viewed as so marginal?
Rich: Poetry in America became either answerable to a certain ideology—as it was, Puritanism—focusing on certain themes, expressive of certain attitudes, or it became identified in the Nineteenth Century with a certain femininity, the feminization of literature, what Nathaniel Hawthorne called "that horde of scribbling women." In What Is Found There, I suggest that in carrying out the genocide of the indigenous people, you had to destroy the indigenous poetry. The mainstream American tradition depends on the extirpation of memory and the inability of so many white American poets to deal with what it meant to be a North American poet—Whitman, of course, the great exception in his way, and in her own way Dickinson, so different but so parallel. And yet that still doesn't altogether explain it.
Q: What more is there?
Rich: I think there's been a great denial of the kinds of poets and poetries that could speak to a lot more people. Poetry has been kind of hoarded inside the schools, inside the universities. The activity of writing about poems and poetry—the activity of making it available and accessible—became the property of scholars and academics and became dependent on a certain kind of academic training, education, class background.
Q: Is that why people say, "I just don't get it. I don't understand poetry"?
Rich: It's something people say in reaction to feeling, "I don't know much about it. I haven't been exposed to a lot of it." It may also be a defense against what Muriel Rukeyser calls "the fear of poetry"—which she calls a disease of our schools.
Q: But a lot of contemporary political poetry is extremely clear and accessible, isn't it?
Rich: Instead of political poetry, we might want to say poetry of witness, poetry of dissent, poetry that is the voice of those and on behalf of those who are generally unheard. I'm reading poetry all the time that is enormously accessible in its language. And I don't mean by that using the smallest possible vocabulary. We're living in a country now where the range of articulateness has really diminished down to almost a TV level, where to hear people speaking with rich figures of speech, which used to be the property of everybody, is increasingly rare.
Q: What you call "the bleached language" of our era?
Rich: Yes. But I'm seeing a lot of poetry that is new, that is political in the broadest and richest sense. Fewer people would feel the "fear of poetry" if they heard it aloud as well as read it on the page. There are enormous poetry scenes now—poetry slams or competitions—they have the flavor of something that is still macho, but certainly lots of people go to them, and there are some remarkable women participants, like Patricia Smith. Throughout this country, there are readings that have nothing to do with academic sponsorship.
Q: The macho-ness, the turning of poetry into a competitive sport, does that trouble you at all?
Rich: For people to have a good time with it is wonderful. But in the past twenty years I have participated in and gone to so many women's poetry readings where the sense of building a voice, communally, was the thing rather than individuals trying to compete against each other to be the best, the winner. That sense of poetry as a communal art feels crucial to me. It's certainly something that has prevailed in other movements, as well. It was present in the antiwar movement, it was present certainly in the black liberation struggle of the 1960s, it's certainly present in the community activities and the community building of other groups in this country. So for poetry to operate as a community-building and community-enhancing project—rather than something for the glory of the poet—would be a tremendous opening up.
Q: Did it bother you earlier in your career when your critics dismissed your political poetry as angry, or bitter, or merely political?
Rich: Well, yeah, it bothered me when I was younger a lot. It bothers me a lot less now.
When I was putting together the manuscript of my third book, which was called Snapshots of a Daughter-in-Law and which contains what I think of as my first overtly feminist poem, called "Snapshots of a Daughter-in-Law," some friends of mine looked at the manuscript and said, "Now don't give it this title. People will think it's some sort of female diatribe or complaint." I wanted that title, and I wanted that poem. And it was true: Critics said that book was too personal, too bitter (I don't think the word "shrill" was being used then). But I knew this was material that would have to find a place in my poetry, in my work, that it was probably central to it—as indeed it came to be.
Recently, I was sent a clipping from the Irish Times in which the Irish poet, Derek Mayhon, refers to me as "cold, dishonest, and wicked." He deplores the "victimology" of my ideas, which he says have seduced younger women poets. When I read that, I was sort of astounded, because we are in 1993. But then I thought, what this man is afraid of is the growing feminism in Ireland and the growing energy and strength of Irish women poets. It's easier for him to criticize a North American woman poet than to address what's going on in his own country—that might be very threatening to him as a male and in a country where poetry has been so predominantly a male turf. Anyway, those kinds of attacks have come all along, and you do expect them.
Q: It's just a standard put-down for you now, isn't it?
Rich: I don't really see it directed at me. I see it directed at a larger phenomenon. It's not just about me and my work. It's about movements of which I am a part. It's about a whole social structure that is threatened or feeling itself threatened.
Q: Are you saying it's an attack on the women's movement or the lesbian movement?
Rich: Well, yes. I suppose if you attack one writer, you think then others will have less temerity. But there are such wonderful younger women writers coming along who are creating out of their anger, their fury, their sense of the world. Nothing's going to stop that.
Q: There does seem to be a lot of energy left in the women's-liberation movement, and the lesbian and gay-rights movement, two movements you've been closely associated with. Do you share that assessment?
Rich: Partly because of economic conditions, and partly because of work that has gone on in the women's movement and the lesbian-gay movement, we're realizing there can be no single-issue campaigns. We're realizing we can work in one area or another but we need to be constantly conscious of ourselves as part of a network with others. I see the women's movement as a much more multicultural movement than it has ever been, which I think is a tremendous strength. It's also a question of providing for the needs—just basically that—providing shelters for battered women, providing the rape-crisis hot line, and providing food and shelter a lot of the time.
We're talking about something really large: How does change come about at the end of this century, at this particular time that we're finding ourselves in? I still believe very strongly that there isn't going to be any kind of movement joined, any mass movement, that does not involve leadership by women—I don't mean only leadership by women or leadership by only women but leadership by women. This is the only way that I see major change approaching. And I think one of the things that we're seen [sic] over the last few years in some of the spectacles that have been served up on television such as the Anita Hill hearings is the way the system has revealed itself as a white man's system.
Q: You say somewhere that it was not until 1970 that you saw yourself fully as a feminist.
Rich: I think it was then that I first used the word about myself. It's odd because there's so much discussion now about whether young women want to be labeled feminist or not. And I remember thinking I didn't want to be labeled as a feminist. Feminists were these funny creatures like Susan B. Anthony, you know. She was a laughingstock when I was growing up. Or Carrie Nation. They were caricatured.
Q: Why the current resistance?
Rich: Names, labels get kind of lodged in a certain point of time and appear to contain only a certain content, and they lose their fluidity, they lose their openness, and then the new generation comes along and wants to register its own experience in its own way. That doesn't really bother me that much. I myself have gotten tired of the word feminism and am going back to the old phrase, women's liberation.
Q: Why is that?
Rich: Women's liberation is a very beautiful phrase; feminism sounds a little purse-mouthed. It's also become sort of meaningless. If we use the phrase women's liberation, the question immediately arises, "Liberation from what? Liberation for what?" Liberation is a very serious word, as far as I'm concerned.
Q: You make great claims for women's liberation as a democratizing force.
Rich: I see it as potentially the ultimate democratizing force. It is fundamentally anti-hierarchical, and that involves justice on so many levels because of the way women interpenetrate every-where. And the places we don't interpenetrate—the higher levels of power—are bent on retaining power, retaining hierarchy, and the exclusion of many kinds of peoples.
Q: What do you make of the current attacks on feminism, which seem to be on two tracks right now: that it is a cult of victimization, and the other, that women's studies is peripheral or unrigorous intellectually?
Rich: Women's studies and feminism have always been attacked. I think it was in 1970 that I remember seeing an article in Harper's called "Requiem for the Women's Movement," when the women's movement was just beginning to show its face. Its death is being constantly announced. But it's an unquenchable and unkillable movement that has come and gone or come and submerged throughout the world in many different places in many different times. At this point, I think we live in an era of such global communications that that cannot happen again.
Q: Sometimes in your description of the United States the task of changing our society seems so awesome, so daunting. One of the recurring metaphors in your book What Is Found There is that the United States is in depression, mental depression, a clinical depression, a depressive state. What do you mean by that?
Rich: I was writing that in 1990, and I was trying to look at what I saw around me: a shared mood, a shared emotional crisis, that people—battered by a more-than-ever indifferent and arrogant distribution of resources—felt themselves to blame for the fact that they couldn't manage, that they couldn't survive, that they couldn't support their families, that they couldn't keep a job, the enormous proliferation of weaponry …
Q: You have an arresting image when you write that "war is the electroshock treatment" for this depression.
Rich: Which was part of the purpose of the Persian Gulf war—to distract from the domestic anger and despair. And to some extent it worked. But it was very ephemeral. It's not that I feel that the depression is only psychological, but we do have to take note of the psychological effects of an economic system. Capitalism, as we know it, leads to this kind of despair and self-blame, stagnation of the will. It's really important to look at that, and move through it.
Q: One of the manifestations of that depressiveness is the proliferation of pop therapies. You seem to take those on and lash out at them in What Is Found There. What bothers you so much about them?
Rich: It's not that I don't believe in introspection, in the recovery of buried memory, in the things that therapy is supposed to do, but—and I saw this most vividly in the women's movement—therapy, twelve-step groups, support groups so-called, seemed to be the only kind of organization going on in small groups, in communities; they seemed to be the only thing that people were doing. I compared this to the early consciousness-raising of the women's liberation movement where, yes, women met in groups to speak about their experience as women but with the purpose of going out and taking action. It was not enough simply to put everything in the pot and let it sizzle. The solutions in these therapy groups are purely personal. It's not that I haven't seen activists who became ineffectual because of the failure to attend to their feelings. I'm not saying write all that off. But therapy, self-help became the great American pastime. It also became an industry.
Q: The fatuousness of the language that came along with these therapies seemed to rankle you?
Rich: Yes, because it sells us—and what we're going through—so completely short. And it keeps us in one place; it keeps us stagnating.
Q: Is that fad fading?
Rich: It's hard to say in a place like Santa Cruz. It's also been largely but not entirely a middle-class preoccupation.
Q: In your last two works, you seem to be wrestling with what it means to be a citizen of the United States.
Rich: To a certain extent in Atlas, I was trying to talk about the location, the privileges, the complexity of loving my country and hating the ways our national interest is being defined for us. In this book, What Is Found There, I've been coming out as a poet, a poet who is a citizen, a citizen who is a poet. How do those two identities come together in a country with the particular traditions and attitudes regarding poetry that ours has?
Q: This claiming of your citizenship marks a departure from universal brotherhood or sisterhood, or could be viewed as that. You talk of the Virginia Woolf lines …
Rich: "As a woman, I have no country. As a woman, I want no country. As a woman, my country is the whole world."
Q: You write that at one point you embraced that view but now in a sense you are rejecting it. How did you change your mind?
Rich: Through recoginzing that I was, among other things, a white and middle-class citizen of the United States, not only a woman. I had been to Nicaragua when the whole issue of what it means to be a citizen of a large and powerful country that is making it impossible for the people of small adjacent countries to have a decent or secure life was uppermost.
Q: But isn't that an unusual time to claim your citizenship in the United States, since you recognized yourself as part of that "raised boot" of oppression in Nicaragua and Latin America?
Rich: Well, it's not simply a joyful claiming. It has its pain. A couple of friends of mine who come from Latin America and the Caribbean have described some of the things they have gone through when they were coming off a plane to enter the United States—what it means to travel with a certain passport. Their experience is different from mine, traveling around the world with an American passport: I have never been taken off to detention; I have never been questioned; I have generally been told to go ahead in line. Small but very large experiences like that—real differences in what this piece of paper brings you—the benefits, the privileges. Overall in my life it has been a privileged passport behind which stands a lot of power that has been placed on the side of some of the worst regimes in the world. So I'm trying to make sense of that, to come to grips with it—but not to deny it and not to float beyond it and say I transcend this because I'm a woman, I'm a feminist, and I'm against imperialism.
Q: Since the Right is so much more powerful than the Left or the movements on the Left in this country, don't you fear it's more likely that the Right will ascend as things get tighter?
Rich: I certainly feel the Right's enormous power to control the media. Sometimes I ask myself if we don't need to reconceptualize ourselves in this country. We—something broadly defined as the Left, which has maybe got to have a different nomenclature altogether—really need to consider ourselves as a resistance movement. We have to see ourselves as keeping certain kinds of currents flowing below the surface—the "secret stream" that Vaclav Havel talks about. He writes in his essay "The Power of the Powerless" about the small things that people have done and do all the time—just small acts of resistance all the time—that are like signals to other people that you can resist just a little bit perhaps here, just a little bit perhaps there. This isn't something sweeping yet, but these things can interconnect—these gestures, these messages, these signals. Sometimes I feel we need to be conceptualizing ourselves more that way—as a resistance movement.
Q: At times you seem to be waging an internal battle about the value of revolutionary poetry, the value of the word versus political action. You almost seem to ask yourself whether writing poetry of witness is adequate to the task at hand or even a good use of your time.
Rich: I wouldn't say it isn't a good use of my time because it's really at the very core of who I am. I have to do this. This is really how I know and how I probe the world. I think that some of those voices come from still residual ideas about poetry not making a difference. I happen to think it makes a huge difference. Other people's poetry has made a huge difference in my life. It has changed the way I saw the world. It has changed the way I felt the world. It has changed the way I have understood another human being. So I really don't have basic doubts about that. And I'm also fortunate to be able to participate with my writing in activism. But still there are voices in my head. The other thing is that at the age I am now and the relative amount of visibility that I have, that gives you a certain kind of power, and it's really important to keep thinking about how to use that power. So I just try to keep that internal dialogue going. I would never want it to end. Having listened to so many women whose lives and the necessity of whose lives have made it very, very difficult for them to become the writers they might have become or to have fulfilled all that they wanted to fulfill as writers makes it feel like a huge privilege to have been able to do my work. So that's a responsibility.
Q: You must get reinforcement from readers. Do you have readers who come up to you and say, "You've changed my life?"
Rich: Yes, I do, and I usually say to them—which I also believe to be true—"You were changing your life and you read my book or you read that poem at a point where you could use it, and I'm really glad, but you were changing your life." Somehow when we are in the process of making some kind of self-transformation— pushing ourselves out there further, maybe taking some risk that we never believed we would take before—sometimes a poem will come to us by some sort of magnetic attraction.
Q: That reminds me of the one time I heard Audre Lorde speak. She was quite defiant to her audience when they started to clap. She really wasn't interested in applause at all. And she said, "Applause is easy. Go out and do something." I'd never seen anything like it. Most people who speak like to give a performance and bask in the glow of the applause. She really didn't want any of it.
Rich: Well, Audre had a strong sense of the energy that can be generated by poetry, that poetry is a source of power, as you know if you read an essay like "Poetry Is Not a Luxury." And she resisted being turned into some kind of mascot or token—which is something that happens in the women's movement as it does anywhere else—an artist comes along and people try to capture her and take their own latent power and hand it over to someone who is viewed as stronger, braver, more powerful. She wanted people to keep their energy and keep their power, touch it through her poetry, but then go out and use it, seriously. We used to talk about this a lot—there was this phrase, I don't know if I found it or she found it, but it was "assent without credence," where people are applauding you but they don't make what you're saying part of their life, their living. She was very, very aware of it and concerned. And she was resisting like hell being made into some token black goddess in some largely white women's gathering, as so often would be the case.
Q: Is it a question of resisting being a leader, or resisting playing the role of the leader?
Rich: I think she was ambivalent about that because she knew she was a leader, for better or worse. And she was no shrinking violet: She liked being up there, but I think she had a real conscience about it, too.
Q: Like Audre Lorde, you suggest that poetry has revolutionary power. How does poetry have such power?
Rich: It's such a portable art, for one thing; it travels. And it is made of this common medium, language. Through its very being, poetry expresses messages beyond the words it is contained in; it speaks of our desire; it reminds us of what we lack, of our need, and of our hungers. It keeps us dissatisfied. In that sense, it can be very, very subversive.
Q: You have a line, "poetry is the liquid voice that can wear through stone."
Rich: It's an ever growing current that's being fed by all these rivulets that were themselves underground. I think we're producing a magnificent body of poetry in this country today, most of which unfortunately isn't enough known about. But it's out there, and some people know about it.
Q: June Jordan has this great remark in one of her poems, "I lust for justice." You have that, too. Where does it come from?
Rich: Sometimes I think it's in all of us. It gets repressed. It gets squashed. Very often by fear. For me, I know it's been pushed down by fear at various times.
Q: Fear of what?
Rich: Fear of punishment. Fear of reprisal. Fear of not being taken seriously. Fear of being marginalized. And that's why I think it's so difficult for people on their own and in isolated situations to be as brave as they can be because it's by others' example that we learn how to do this. I really believe that justice and creativity have something intrinsically in common. The effort to make justice and the creative impulse are deeply aligned, and when you feel the necessity of a creative life, of coming to use your own creativity, I think you also become aware of what's lacking, that not everyone has this potentiality available to them, that it is being withheld from so many.
Q: Do you ever get totally depressed about the possibility of change in this country?
Rich: I find the conditions of life in this country often very, very depressing. The work that I choose to do is very much in part to not get lost and paralyzed. The activism I choose to do, the kind of writing I choose to do has a lot to do with that, with going to the point where I feel there is some energy. And there is a lot of energy in this country—but it's diffused, it's scattered, it's localized. And it's not in the mainstream media; you can get totally zonked there. What is so notably absent from there is the very thing that poetry embodies, which is passion, which is desire, real desire—I'm not talking about sex and violence. And what I feel among my friends who are activists, who are making things happen, however locally and on however limited a scale—there is an energy there.
We're in this for the long haul. That just cannot be said too often. I mean, there's not going to be some miracle in the year 2001. It seems to me our thinking is much less naive than when I started out—about what it's going to take to make real human possibility happen, to make a democracy that will really be for us all.
Q: You write in What Is Found There, "You're tired of these lists; so am I"—these lists being sexism, racism, homophobia, etc. Do you ever get so tired that you just don't want to do politics for a while?
Rich: No, I'm not tired of the issues; I'm tired of the lists—the litany. We're forced to keep naming these abstractions, but the realities behind them are not abstract. The writer's job is to keep the concreteness behind the abstractions visible and alive. How can I be tired of the issues? The issues are our lives.
Source: Matthew Rothschild, "Interview with Adrienne Rich," in Progressive, Vol. 58, January 1994, pp. 31-35.
Chafe, William H., The Road to Equality: American Women since 1962, Vol. 10 of Young Oxford History of Women in the United States, Oxford University Press, 1994.
Friedan, Betty, The Feminine Mystique, Norton, 1963, pp. 37, 62.
———, "Television and the Feminine Mystique," in It Changed My Life: Writings on the Women's Movement, Random House, 1976, pp. 48, 56.
Hole, Judith, and Ellen Levine, Rebirth of Feminism, Quadrangle Books, 1971, p. 170.
Jong, Erica, "Visionary Anger," in Adrienne Rich's Poetry, edited by Barbara Charlesworth Gelpi and Albert Gelpi, Norton, 1975, p. 174; originally published in Ms., July 1973, pp. 31-33.
Langdell, Cheri Colby, Adrienne Rich: The Moment of Change, Praeger, 2004, pp. 118-19.
Martin, Wendy, "From Patriarchy to the Female Principle: A Chronological Reading of Adrienne Rich's Poems," in Adrienne Rich's Poetry, edited by Barbara Charlesworth Gelpi and Albert Gelpi, Norton, 1975, p. 185.
McDaniel, Judith, Reconstituting the World: The Poetry and Vision of Adrienne Rich, Spinsters, Ink, 1978, pp. 15-16.
Papachristou, Judith, Women Together: A History in Documents of the Women's Movement in the United States, Knopf, 1976, p. 220.
Rich, Adrienne, "Diving into the Wreck," in Diving into the Wreck: Poems, 1971-1972, Norton, 1973, pp. 22-24.
Freedman, Estelle, No Turning Back: The History of Feminism and the Future of Women, Ballantine, 2002.
In a global historical context, Freedman examines how patriarchy and gender segregation first emerged and the history of women's resistance to it. Taking an interdisciplinary approach, she discusses subjects including politics, economics, race, and violence in relation to feminism.
Keyes, Claire, The Aesthetics of Power: The Poetry of Adrienne Rich, University of Georgia Press, 1986.
In a brief excerpt in this work regarding "Diving into the Wreck," Keyes analyzes the poem as a heroic quest, emphasizing the idea of androgyny.
Schneir, Miriam, ed., Feminism: The Essential Historical Writings, Vintage, 1994.
This is a collection of more than forty historical feminist writings, covering a period from the American Revolution to the early twentieth century. The collection includes excerpts from books, essays, speeches, letters, poetry, and fiction.
Templeton, Alice, The Dream and the Dialogue: Adrienne Rich's Feminist Poetics, University of Tennessee Press, 1994.
Templeton discusses the poems in Diving into the Wreck in terms of Rich's growing feminist vision. She notes that in "Diving into the Wreck," Rich pays more attention to the process of exploring the wreck than the nature of the wreck itself.