The Young Insurgent’s Commonplace-Book: Adrienne Rich’s “Snapshots of a Daughter-in-Law”

“I wish I could remember when I first read ‘Snapshots of a Daughter-in-Law.’ It could have been in 1963, when the eponymous book appeared, but if it had, it would have been a revelation (which I did not have for some years) that other women poets were grappling with the issues I was at twenty, that there might be dialogue and exchange, if not in conversations and letters, in the way a poem in a book calls another poet back to notebook and pen. Like Rich herself at twenty, my literary dialogues on and off the page were largely with men: on one hand, Auden, Lowell, Berryman, on the other, the acolytes of the ‘San Francisco Renaissance‘ talking of and reading the work of Jack Spicer and Robert Duncan to their East Coast juniors. I read Ariel in 1963, and like other women poets of my generation, I can hear Plathy echoes in poems I wrote subsequently. Rich and Plath (and Anne Sexton) had in common a strong background in and gift for metrical verse and ‘received forms’ upon which they built, elaborated, expanded: in both cases their mature work seems to me much more of an ‘extension’ of this initial achievement than, say, James Wright’s abrupt move from metrical toward open forms at roughly the same time. But Rich’s work, from at least her third book on, was and is dialogic, a pole away from Plath’s insistent interiority. To read a woman poet using and subverting the modernists’ collage/quotation/fragmentation techniques—so often employed in mockery of women—in a project of specifically womanly and mordantly feminist inquiry was a heady pleasure. Not to have read this poem at twenty, entered the dialogue then, is a persistent regret, although it was compensated by later discovery. ‘Snapshots of a Daughter-in-Law’ was Adrienne Rich’s first overtly feminist poem. …”

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