The poem

The poet composed "Letters Censored, Shredded, Returned to Sender or Judged Unfit" in homage to the political philosopher and cultural critic Antonio Gramsci, who was incarcerated under Mussolini's fascist regime. Like Gramsci's own writing, the poem addresses the dynamics of cultural domination and resistance. An exploration of the relationship among power, history and art -a recurring theme in the poet's work- the poem recognizes on-going cultural repression while also honoring "...Gramsci's own resistance, combining quotes from his prison letters and diaries with fragments written by various 'imaginary persons' to demonstrate an un-intimidated capacity for passionate connection."* In "Letters Censored" Rich's exploration of struggle and freedom exists on the level of style as well as content. Pushing against the boundaries of language, Rich experiments, challenges, shatters and reconstructs poetic form. *Meredith Andrea, "Too reflective, too fierce, too engaging," Stride Magazine, 2008. 

artwork and collaboration

The two intaglio prints by Nancy Grossman feature anonymous bodies under duress, appearing to depict the at once intimate and political act of torture. In the frontispiece print, a nude male figure whose arms are bound at the elbows and whose face is obscured is eerily reminiscent of the infamous photos from Abu Ghraib. In the tailpiece print, a foreshortened nude female body is exploding in a landscape. Both prints are representative of the artist's style and her concern with the materiality of pain and struggle. Faceless, naked, bound and/or butchered, Grossman's figures convey a terrifying vulnerability, a visceral sense of agony, and yet, in their solidity they remain strong and defiant even in apparent death.

The poet's lifelong commitment to poetry as a dynamic mode of expression rather than a mere formal exercise or artistic salve for humanity's wounds complements Grossman's own approach to visual art through her forty year career. Both women explore questions of pleasure, pain, physicality and how to translate the material world into an abstract medium. The bodies at the center of their work are bound by history and power, but courageously continue to resist.

USPS censorship

Publication of "Letters Censored" was celebrated at a reception for the poet and artist, on September 30, 2009, at Michael Rosenfeld Gallery, then located at 24 East 57 Street, New York City. Ironically, the Gallery's invitation itself became a "letter judged unfit to send" by the United States Postal Service. The post-card reproducing the book's frontispiece etching was deemed by the USPS to violate Title 39, Section 3010 of the U. S. Postal Regulations, written to "protect" the public from "sexually oriented advertisement." As a result, the gallery was required to mail the invitation in an envelope, with an additional sheet of blank paper to prevent the possibility of the image being seen through the envelope and offending the public. The USPS's reading of Grossman's image as sadomasochistic, erotic and/or pornographic at once misinterpreted the artwork and avoided the obvious, potentially more disturbing, implications of politically motivated torture, images of which are not expressly prohibited in these regulations. An original copy of the Rosenfeld Gallery's announcement is included with each copy.