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Adrienne Rich: Poet

Updated on November 30, 2014

A Poet . . . in Love with the Hope of Telling Utter Truth

Adrienne Rich crystallized in her writing and life the complexities of awakening consciousness in modern women.


ON POETRY: Poetry is above all a concentration of the power of language, which is the power of our ultimate relationship to everything in the universe.

ON WOMEN'S ISSUES: The connections between and among women are the most feared, the most problematic, and the most potentially transforming force on the planet.

ON POLITICS: If you are trying to transform a brutalized society into one where people can live in dignity and hope, you begin with the empowering of the most powerless. You build from the ground up.

The Fact of a Doorframe: Poems 1950-2001
The Fact of a Doorframe: Poems 1950-2001

The Fact of a Doorframe is the ideal introduction to Rich's opus, from her formative lyricism in A Change of Word (1951), to the groundbreaking poems of Diving into the Wreck (1973), to the searching voice of Fox (2001). (amazon)


Moving in Winter

by Adrienne Rich

Their life, collapsed like unplayed cards,

is carried piecemeal through the snow;

Headboard and footboard now, the bed

where she has lain desiring him

where overhead his sleep will build

its canopy to smother her once more;

their table, by four elbows worn

evening after evening while the wax runs down;

mirrors grey with reflecting them,

bureaus coffining from the cold

things that can shuffle in a drawer,

carpets rolled up around those echoes

which, shaken out, take wing and breed

new altercations, the old silences.


Major life events and books

1929: born May 16, Baltimore, Maryland

1951: graduated from Radcliffe

1951: book: A Change of world; selected for Yale Series of Younger Poets prize for this

1953: married Alfred H. Conrad, a Harvard University economist; they had 3 sons

1956: book, The Diamond Cutters

1963: book, Snapshots of a Daughter-in-Law

1966: book, Necessities of Life

1969: book, Leaflets

1969: estranged from her husband

1971: book, The Will to Change

1973: book, Diving into the Wreck, won The National Book Award (1974)

1976: Rich came out as a lesbian

1976: book: Of Woman Born (essays)

1977: book, Twenty-one Love Poems

1978: book, The Dream of a Common Language

1979: book, On Lies, Secrets, and Silence (essays)

1981: book, A Wild Patience Has Taken Me This Far

1985: book, The Fact of a Doorframe

1986: book, Your Native Land, Your Life

1986: book, Blood, Bread and Poetry

1986: professor of English and feminist studies at Stanford University until 1992

1989: book, Time's Power

1991: book, An Atlas of the Difficult World: Poems 1988-1991

1993: book, Collected Early Poems: 1950-1970

1993: book, What Is Found There (essays)

1995: book, Dark Fields of the Republic: Poems 1991-1995

1999: book, Midnight Salvage: Poems 1995-1998

2001: book, Fox: Poems 1998-2000

2004: book, The School Among the Ruins: Poems 2000-2004 (Book Critics Circle Award)

Diving Into The Wreck: Poems 1971-1972
Diving Into The Wreck: Poems 1971-1972

Diving into the Wreck is one of those rare books that force you to decide not just what you think of it, but what you think about yourself. It is a book that takes risks, and forces the reader to take them also. . . . You feel about her best images, her best myths, that nobody else writes quite like this. (Margaret Atwood - New York Times Book Review ) [won National Book Award]


Poetry Unsettles . . .


Still, as a poet, I choose to sieve up old, sunken words, heave them, dripping with silt, turn them over, and bring them into the air of the present. Where every public decision has to be justified in the scales of corporate profits, poetry unsettles these apparently self-evident propositions--not through ideology, but by its very presence and ways of being, its embodiment of states of longing and desire.

--Adrienne Rich, from Preface, What Is Found There: Notebooks on Poetry & Politics

Brief Bio

Rich's father was Arnold Rich, a professor of medicine. Helen, her mother, a pianist and composer. In Rich's words her childhood was "white and middle-class" and also "full of books." She was encouraged to read and write by her father. In the home library, Rich was exposed to the likes of Blake, Keats, and Tennyson from an early age.

She married Alfred H. Conrad, a Harvard economist. They lived in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Her first son David was born in 1955. Two more sons were born in 1957 (Paul) and 1959 (Jacob). Rich channeled the frustrations and weariness of being a mother into her writing. She struggled with the busy-ness of motherhood and finding time to write.

By 1966, Rich's poems reflected a transformation from housewife to being an active feminist. The formal structure of her earlier poems was replaced by a bold, assertive language that tackled deeply personal issues and expressed dissent over social and political injustices. Rich's poems were becoming, if they not already were, an agent of change.

In the late 1960s Rich and family moved to New York City. She taught at Swarthmore College and in an open admissions program, City College of New York. Rich also proved to be a more than competent researcher and historical writer with the publishing of Of Woman Born: Motherhood as Experience and Institution (1976).

Rich continued to evolve as a writer evidenced by her later lyrical and sensual poems which expressed erotic love and lovemaking between women.

The Dream of a Common Language: Poems 1974-1977
The Dream of a Common Language: Poems 1974-1977

The Dream of a Common Language explores the contours of a woman's heart and mind in language for everybody-language whose plainness, laughter, questions and nobility everyone can respond to. . . . No one is writing better or more needed verse than this. (Boston Evening Globe )


What Kind of Times Are These (Adrienne Rich reads)

All her life she has been in love with the hope of telling utter truth, and her command of language from the first has been startlingly powerful.

~ W.S. Merwin ~

Your Native Land, Your Life
Your Native Land, Your Life

Rich's characteristic outspokenness is here, but metamorphosed into compassion. These poems display the battle scars of trying to complete unfinished business, take the woman, poet, daughter, "Jew in solitude" out of the closet. Rich has passed beyond harangue and found another kind of political voice, very seasoned and moving.



- Bollingen Prize

- Lannan Lifetime Achievement Award

- Academy of American Poets Fellowship

- Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize

- Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize

- National Book Award (1974)

- MacArthur Fellowship

- Chancellor (former)of the Academy of American Poets

- Wallace Stevens Award (for mastery in the art of poetry)

- National Medal of Arts (refused, political reasons)

- Robert Frost Silver Medal, Lifetime Achievement in Poetry

- Book Critics Circle Award (2004)

- Wm Whithead Award, Gay & Lesbian Pub. Triangle, Life-time Achiev in Letters

An Atlas of the Difficult World: Poems 1988-1991
An Atlas of the Difficult World: Poems 1988-1991

Like Atlas, who bears Earth on his shoulders, Rich bears--and wields--an enormous political consciousness. These poems find her struggling to say what is honest and true, resisting easy answers, having the ambition to risk everything; these are the energies for which her readers return. (amazon)


Aunt Jennifer's Tigers

by Adrienne Rich

Aunt Jennifer's tigers prance across a screen,

Bright topaz denizens of a world of green.

They do not fear the men beneath the tree;

They pace in sleek chivalric certainty.

Aunt Jennifer's finger fluttering through her wool

Find even the ivory needle hard to pull.

The massive weight of Uncle's wedding band

Sits heavily upon Aunt Jennifer's hand.

When Aunt is dead, her terrified hands will lie

Still ringed with ordeals she was mastered by.

The tigers in the panel that she made

Will go on prancing, proud and unafraid.

There is no one whose poetry has spoken more eloquently for the oppressed and marginalized in America, no one who has more compassionately charted the course of individual suffering across the horrifying and impersonal growth of recent history . . . and continue to be essential writings in the ongoing feminist struggle in [the United States] and throughout the world.

~ David St. John ~

In Those Years (Adrienne Rich reads)

Fox: Poems 1998-2000 (Norton Paperback)
Fox: Poems 1998-2000 (Norton Paperback)

Rich's recent style developed slowly throughout the 1990s comes to full fruition here, conveying her familiar attentions to social injustice and intense introspection with and a sometimes harsh, fragmented, versatile line whose sources include George Open and Anglo-Saxon accentual verse. (Publisher's Weekly)


Themes in Adrienne Rich's Poetry

ALIENATION <> Loss <> PUBLIC vs. PRIVATE LIFE <> Personal & Political Beliefs

SELF DETERMINATION for WOMEN <> Accomplishments of Women

Hope & Disappointment of American Dream <> CONTEMPORARY MOTHERHOOD

REJECTION of PATRIARCHAL CULTURE <> Lesbian Sexuality & Relationships

Time & Growing Older <> POETRY & POETS

REJECTION of PATRIARCHAL CULTURE <> Lesbian Sexuality & Relationships


Burning Oneself Out

by Adrienne Rich

We can look into the stove tonight

as into a mirror, yes,

the serrated log, the yellow-blue gaseous core

the crimson-flittered grey ash, yes.

I know inside my eyelids

and underneath my skin

Time takes hold of us like a draft

upward, drawing at the heats

in the belly, in the brain

You told me of setting your hand

into the print of a long-dead Indian

and for a moment, I knew that hand,

that print, that rock,

the sun producing powerful dreams

A word can do this

or, as tonight, the mirror of the fire

of my mind, burning as if it could go on

burning itself, burning down

feeding on everything

till there is nothing in life

that has not fed that fire

The School Among the Ruins: Poems 2000-2004
The School Among the Ruins: Poems 2000-2004

Forthright, precise, witty, and keenly attuned to complacency, reluctance, and fear, Rich fights back with exhilaratingly choreographed poems about inane, high-pitched public cell-phone conversations, television's numbing soundtrack, the crude oversimplification and commercialization of public discourse. (Booklist) [won Book Critics Circle Award]


But to be a female human being

trying to fulfill traditional female functions in a traditional way is in direct conflict with the subversive function of the imagination.

~ Adrienne Rich ~

Amends - poem by Adrienne Rich

Telephone Ringing in the Labyrinth: Poems 2004-2006
Telephone Ringing in the Labyrinth: Poems 2004-2006

Here are blues refrains, improvisations, and the sound of birdsong. Mixed in with poems about prison life, about torture, about Wallace Stevens, it forms a potent volume. (Sunday Star Ledger )



by Adrienne Rich

Living in the earth-deposits of our history

Today a backhoe divulged out of a crumbling flank of earth

one bottle amber perfect a hundred-year-old

cure for fever or melancholy a tonic

for living on this earth in the winters of this climate.

Today I was reading about Marie Curie:

she must have known she suffered from radiation sickness

her body bombarded for years by the element

she had purified

It seems she denied to the end

the source of the cataracts on her eyes

the cracked and suppurating skin of her finger-ends

till she could no longer hold a test-tube or a pencil

She died a famous woman denying

her wounds


her wounds came from the same source as her power.

Poetry is above all a concentration of the power of language, which is the power of our ultimate relationship to everything in the universe.

~ Adrienne Rich ~

Comments Welcome!

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    • profile image


      3 years ago

      Your answer lifts the ineegliltnce of the debate.

    • sweetstickyrainbo profile image


      7 years ago

      dying in denial!

    • james g pete profile image

      james g pete 

      7 years ago

      If I should need poems and essays by Rich, as anyone may well need, I know now the place to come. Thanks for your contribution.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Thank-you for lensing this interesting and engaging read about a new topic for me!


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