Collected Early Poems, 1950-1970

Adrienne Cecile Rich, Author W. W. Norton & Company $27.5 (435p) ISBN 978-0-393-03418-9

The latest volume from this distinguished poet ( An Atlas of the Difficult World ) contains all of the work included in Rich's first six books, and a few previously uncollected pieces as well. Her poetry of the 1950s stems from a strong, mostly male tradition, obviously and intentionally echoing the work of Frost, Williams, Dickinson and Stevens. These poems read easily and beautifully; Rich's language is cautious and well crafted, almost painfully perfect in its rhyme schemes and rhythms. She does not focus on distinctly female experience, but speaks instead of the more universal struggle of humanity in a ``disordered, fragmentary world.'' Over time, Rich's style becomes more divergent and forceful; it gathers narrative threads and experiments with irregular rhythms, line breaks and pauses. She writes of the struggle of the socially marginal in a world where there are definite limits to growth and boundaries to thought: ``I am a woman . . . feeling the fullness of her powers / at the precise moment when she must not use them.'' The poems written in the 1960s are pervaded by the poet's consciousness of the subversive nature of creativity, especially for women, a gift at risk of being suppressed or curtailed at any moment by the self, family or the male-dominated society. In the last poems of the period, Rich's voice is firm and brave, her language still searingly beautiful and individual. This important volume charts the radical transformation of one of America's most significant poets. (Jan.)