I received this book from New York on Sept. 11, 2001, the day of the terrorist attacks. That in mind, it is impossible to review the book without making the same connections I made as I read the poems within. Fox is not a book about war or terrorism or physical manifestations of destruction, but the poems carry that same spiritual pull toward overcoming, and also that sense of hurt. I often say that poets are agents of karma, their job being to make connections between essentially different things. In Fox, I felt a connection in every line of every poem to events they preceded by a year or more. Consider these lines from Adrienne Rich's poem "Veteran's Day":
Trying to think about
something else --- what? --- when
the story broke. . .
Under the small plane's fast shadow an autumn
afternoon bends sharply
--- swathes of golden membrane, occult blood
Again and again I found myself reading unrelated facts into these poems. I soon realized it was because the poems in this book contain something universal, a common reality revealed in the finite experiences of the one. This is something Rich has accomplished profoundly well throughout her career (a career that began with her first book, A Change of World, being chosen by W.H. Auden for the Yale Younger Poets Series), and it continues now as strong as ever, as in these lines from "Victory":
If you have a sister I am not she
nor your mother nor you my daughter
nor are we lovers or any kind of couple
except in the intensive care
of poetry . . .
Rich captures a sort of desperation, a passion more vivid than despair but more urgent than desire. It seeps into the reader through eyes and fingertips. Then the reader, too, becomes desperate in that way only captivating writing can entice. If every line forced for me a connection to the events of Sept. 11, 2001, it has to be because every line rages with this desperation.
Rich has put together a wonderful book. Seeing the beautiful structure of "Architecture" (included in Best American Poetry 2001) or grasping the prophetic feel of "Ends of the Earth," one gets drawn deeply into the poems in Fox the same way one gets drawn into the relationship crises of friends. It can be a struggle at times and a pleasure at others, but one always learns something along the way and hopes to live long enough to see a conclusion. Fox is a book worth seeing through, and one even a critic must read a second time purely for the pleasure of the words.