Famous Poets and Poems - Read and Enjoy Poetry

One sees this epic theme developing fully in the middle section of but articulated in a form conventionallyassociated with intimate romance materials. "Twenty-One Love Poems" ismodeled upon the traditional sonnet sequence, though Rich. substitutes fortechnical sonnets poems varying between thirteen and twenty lines. They outlinethe story of a love affair, moving from union to estrangement, with the focusfirmly upon the meditative "I" of the poet. This sequence is, as ittraditionally has been, the love poetry of a conscious mind, for love is adisciplined and intelligent art. It goes without saying that thelovers are women, and in her treatment of this subject lies the revolutionarynature of Rich's sequence. The world of the love affair is not"closeted," not closed off in romance; it is an epic world whichshadows forth the destruction of an old order and the founding of a new. Herbold destruction of generic expectations is part of her apocalyptic theme; onlyin a completely new world, it suggests, can sonnets be used seriously for epicmaterial.

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The "Love Poems" are extraordinary not simply because they declare onewoman's love for another woman, but because they transcend sex. The poems are not narrowedby the focus on lesbian love but expanded. By abjuring her willful quest for "a voiceno longer personal" and dealing with extremely personal subject matter and her ownvoice, Adrienne Rich paradoxically achieves what Carruth terms "generalized insightof humane value."

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"Twenty-one Love Poems" especially challenges dominant cultural values anddiscourse while it exemplifies the internally dialogic, self-reflexive motion of Rich'spoems. These short poems concern a relationship between two women which prospers but laterdisintegrates, a love made possible and impossible by the forces "within us andagainst us, against us and within us." In breaking silences about lesbian sexuality,"(The Floating Poem, Unnumbered)" not only resists being coopted into theheterosexual cultural system it challenges but also resists being systematized even withinthe structure of "Twenty-one Love Poems." By dialogically resonating or"floating" as a detached signifier of desire throughout the entire collection,the poem keeps the collection from being facilely subsumed into a heterosexual system orbeing received as a mere trope of that system. Yet, again, the twenty-one poems rely onthe readers' recognizing the ideologies associated with heterosexuality and conventionalways of reading against which these love poems position themselves.