Notes on the Politics of Locations: Exploration and Example in Adrienne Rich

deadline for submissions: 
September 30, 2018
full name / name of organization: 
Northeast Modern Language Association
contact email: 

50th NeMLA Convention, March 21-24, 2019

Washington, D.C.

Few writers have shown the way toward and through the intersections of cultures, languages, and peoples as consistently, thoughtfully, and receptively as Adrienne Rich. In a different world, we might have been celebrating her 90th birthday in 2019, and thinking about a couple more books beyond Tonight No Poetry Will Serve. Instead we can approach the manifold relations of her work to the conference theme as a retrospective. The session title, of course, alludes to Rich’s well-known 1984 essay, “Notes toward a Politics of Location,” which reminds us that we must prepare for these intersections by clearly and honestly recognizing ourselves, and the perspectives and histories we bring to the contact zone. That essay is one expression of a wide-ranging, reflective, and deliberate mid-career re-orientation that extended through the early 80s, in her poetry and her prose, but Rich’s career was always a record of a mind, a sensibility, and a conscience in motion. For that journey, as she famously wrote in “Diving into the Wreck,” “words are purposes, words are maps”—language both a tool and an embodiment of our intent. Some fifteen years later, in “Turning,” her speaker is asking, from a mythic rocky landscape, “What would you bring along on a trek like this? What is bringing you along?” The title sequence of An Atlas of the Difficult World surveys a number of cultural intersections in American history against a background of her own physical, transcontinental move: “these are not the roads you knew me by,” her speaker says, speaking from California in the opening poem, “but the woman driving, walking, watching for life and death, is the same.” We go on trying to locate ourselves, locate ourselves among others, among others we see clearly. In the last poem of Tonight No Poetry Will Serve, Rich reminds us, “all new learning looks at first like chaos.”

In this complex and ongoing journey both within the self and among others, we continually encounter edges, boundaries where cultures, languages, peoples meet, but as Rich says in “Contradictions: Tracking Poems”—the last words in Your Native Land, Your Life— “O you who love clear edges more than anything, watch the edges that blur.”

For this session, I’m interested in papers focused on both Rich’s poetry and her prose, where the attention to issues of intersecting cultures and languages is, not surprisingly, more explicit, and of course on combinations of the two.

Please submit a 200-300 word abstract through NeMLA's online system here:

Deadline for submissions is Sept. 30, 2018. If you have any questions, please contact Bill Waddell,