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by S.T.

ADRIENNE RICH`s Time`s Power (Norton (Viking/Penguin), 58 pages, $10.95 paper) is a selection of poems that look back to lives and hopes and necessities of the past and come to the conclusion that, while some things have changed, the underlying power structure has not, and so every voice crying in the wildernesses of the past becomes a contemporary voice. Among the personae Rich speaks through are Harriet Tubman, Hannah Senesh, and Malintzin, the Aztec woman who was given as a slave to Cortez. The selection also includes several lyrics that remind us of the power of images from our persona I past to "go on working," to "still kill." These images are transposed even to the memory of sound, as in the first poem, "Solfegietto," where Rich recalls the constraints of piano lessons, of having to learn to read "by sight" rather than "by ear and heart." Such constraints are anathema to Rich (whom some might envy for having had piano lessons at all) and become metonymical for larger power structures that impose constraints on the attainment, by everyone, of happiness, liberty, and equality. Rich will hear of nothing less, will practise nothing other than the "scales of freedom." She wants freedom and justice for all, here and now. And although poetry, as she acknowledges, "isn`t revolution," it is nevertheless "a way of knowing/why it must come." Rich continues to tell us what continues to be wrong, what hurts we endure, unnecessarily, because of hierarchical systems of power. In her loose, rather prosaic lines, she catalogues the miseries of those "horn in chains" either mental or physical. It seems to me that Rich`s real power is her ability to pinpoint the heart of a matter in the swift turn of a line. But as her craft slips more and more toward a toneless and predictable complaint, she loses the poetic energy she needs to convince us of revolutions -- and poetry`s way.

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