America's enduring poet of conscience reflects on the proven and potential role of poetry in contemporary politics and life.
`` You must write, and read, as if your life depended on it. '' Rich ( An Atlas of the Difficult World ) seems to do as she says, and that's partly why her work is so powerful. This collection of her essays, notebook excerpts and letters shares the poet's thinking and her passion. Rich writes not only about poetry as a literary entity but about our need for it as a force for personal truth and political action. She is not prescriptive. Instead, she urges democracy in poetry, a broadening of possibilities, and suggests poetry--``a social art''--as a means of larger change, ``pulling us toward each other.'' The pieces here do some of that pulling. Rich discusses the place of poetry in shopping malls; the livelihoods of poets; their education; Muriel Rukeyser as a neglected master; Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson as progenitors and ``extremists'' of American poetry; and the influence of Wallace Stevens on her own work. But regardless of topic, Rich continually affirms poetry as a way of reawakening ``desire and need'' long suppressed or forgotten by many. Her conviction also reawakens, offering hope toughened by experience. (Oct.)