How reassuring it is to find a second appraisal, to my mind more sensitive and compelling than the first, in The New York Times (Adrienne Rich, the Poet Beyond the Anger, March 31). Here, David Orr takes pains to elaborate on the anger the first commentary posited as the central theme, and energy, of Adrienne’s work, an analysis that leads, too easily, into the prejudicial view of her poems as polemics. After all, we are not easy with angry women, no matter what form their anger may take; it sometimes seems as though words frighten the world as much as deeds. The word itself becomes limiting when discussing any work of depth.
Orr finds the root of anger in the old Norse term for anguish, reminding me of another association: courage as the anger of the heart. It is this anger, liberating and strengthening, that some of Adrienne’s poems exemplify—hardly the whole body of her work, which has many other colors and themes, as befits a great writer of noble distinction.
Orr quotes one of her poems, ending with the line I borrowed for a short story in one of my collections: “A GIFT FOR BURNING.” I find that in all my writing, it is this particular quality, in words, thoughts and deeds, which continues to fascinate me.
And it is not ironic but illuminating that the same front page of The New York Times Arts section contains an appraisal of the work of Harry Crews, who made a fetish of anger in its simpler version, asserting in “Blood and Grits,” his collection of essays, that thinking is of no use in the dread world where only action matters.