"Twenty-one Love Poems" especially challenges dominant cultural values and discourse while it exemplifies the internally dialogic, self-reflexive motion of Rich's poems. These short poems concern a relationship between two women which prospers but later disintegrates, a love made possible and impossible by the forces "within us and against us, against us and within us." In breaking silences about lesbian sexuality, "(The Floating Poem, Unnumbered)" not only resists being coopted into the heterosexual cultural system it challenges but also resists being systematized even within the structure of "Twenty-one Love Poems." By dialogically resonating or "floating" as a detached signifier of desire throughout the entire collection, the poem keeps the collection from being facilely subsumed into a heterosexual system or being received as a mere trope of that system. Yet, again, the twenty-one poems rely on the readers' recognizing the ideologies associated with heterosexuality and conventional ways of reading against which these love poems position themselves.
From The Dream and the Dialogue. Copyright © 1994 by The University of Tennessee Press.