Sunday, March 07, 2021

Individual and social redemption in Adrienne Rich's classroom scenes in "An Atlas of the Difficult World"

In her 1990-1991 sequence "An Atlas of the Difficult World", Adrienne Rich echoes her 1986 "In a Classroom", first with "a young man" crying in a writing workshop and hoping his poems "have redemption stored / in their lines." Then the scene shifts to another classroom where "eight-year old faces are grey" and the teacher knows about the children's present hunger and the past radical image of "the Black Panthers spooning cereal." The unreadable face of "Jude" in the earlier poem is replaced with the young man's personal expressiveness and supplemented with the knowledge of a history that offers hope of a redemption that is not only individual but also social. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 7 March 2021)


In the writing workshop a young man’s tears

wet the frugal beard he’s grown to go with his poems

hoping they have redemption stored

in their lines, maybe will get him home free. In the classroom

eight-year-old faces are grey. The teacher knows which children

have not broken fast that day,

remembers the Black Panthers spooning cereal.


(Adrienne Rich, from "An Atlas of the Difficult World" I)

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