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The Heath Anthology of American Literature, Fifth Edition
Paul Lauter, General Editor

Adrienne Rich
(b. 1929)

The daughter of Helen Jones and Arnold Rich, a professor of pathology at Johns Hopkins University, Adrienne Rich grew up in Baltimore. Her father, an exacting tutor, required that his daughter master complex poetic meters and rhyme schemes. Her mother, who had been a concert pianist before marriage, conveyed to her child a love of the lyrical as well as the rhythmic.

Educated at Radcliffe College, Rich graduated Phi Beta Kappa and shortly after won distinction when her first book of poems, A Change of World, won the Yale Younger Poets award and was published with a laudatory preface by W.H. Auden. After traveling and writing in Europe on a Guggenheim Fellowship, Rich married Alfred Conrad, an economics professor at Harvard. As a wife and the mother of three sons during the 1950s, Rich was expected to conform to a life of domestic femininity, which meant that she had little time for serious writing. Her Snapshots of a Daughter-in-Law conveys the anger and confusion she felt during those years of confinement. In her 1963 book of verse, Rich smashes the icons of domesticity: the coffee pot and raked gardens.

The conflict and distress experienced by creative, intellectual women in a culture that too often devalues female experience is a recurring theme in Rich’s poetry. In the fifty years of her career, her poems and her essays chronicle the evolution of feminist consciousness and illuminate the phases of her personal growth from self-analysis and individual accomplishment to lesbian/feminist activism and the collective shaping of a feminist vision of community that is perhaps strangely rooted in the Puritan ideal of the city on a hill. The personal and political converge in her belief that politics is “not something ‘out there’ but something ‘in here’ and of the essense of [her] condition.”

Adrienne Rich is a poet whose work has influenced the lives of many of her readers. She acknowledges that it is a profound responsibility and privilege to be a poet whose work is read by so many. As a radical feminist, Rich has written poetry that is politically charged, refusing to accept the criticism that art and activism are antithetical. Her poems combine lyricism and tightly constructed lines characterized by the use of elegant assonance, consonance, slant rhyme, and onomatopoeia, with quotations and slogans from antiwar and feminist statements.

Influenced by the open styles of Pound, Williams, and Levertov, and the confessional mode of Lowell, Plath, Sexton, and Berryman, Rich has created a poetic voice that is distinctive and powerful. Her unusual combination of artistic excellence and committed activism has been internationally praised, and she has won numerous awards including the 1974 National Book Award, the 1986 Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize, the 1997 Tanning Prize, the 1999 Lannan Foundation’s Lifetime Achievement Award, as well as two Guggenheim fellowships and a MacArthur fellowship. As a poet who has committed herself to writing poetry that will change lives, Rich has observed in Lies, Secrets, and Silences, her collected essays, “Poetry is, among other things, a criticism of language. Poetry is above all a concentration of the power of language, which is the power of our ultimate relationship to everything in the universe.”

Wendy Martin
Claremont Graduate University

In the Heath Anthology
From a Survivor (1973)
Diving into the Wreck (1973)
Not Somewhere Else, but Here (1974)
Power (1978)
Coast to Coast (1981)
Frame (1981)

Other Works
A Change of World (1951)
Snapshots of a Daughter-in-Law (1963)
Necessities of Life (1966)
Leaflets (1969)
The Will to Change (1971)
Adrienne Rich's Poetry (1975)
Of Woman Born: Motherhood as Experience and Institution (1976)
The Dream of a Common Language (1978)
On Lies, Secrets, and Silence: Selected Prose, 1966-1978 (1979)
A Wild Patience Has Taken Me This Far (1981)
Sources (1983)
The Fact of a Doorframe: Poems Selected and New 1950-1984 (1984)
Blood, Bread, and Poetry: Selected Prose 1979-1986 (1986)
Your Native Land, Your Life (1986)
Time's Power: Poems 1985-1988 (1989)
Women and Honor: Some Notes on Lying (1990)
An Atlas of the Difficult World: Poems 1988-1991 (1991)
What Is Found There?: Notebooks on Poetry and Politics (1993)
Collected Early Poems, 1950-1970 (1995)
Dark Fields of the Republic: Poems, 1991-1995 (1995)

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‘I happen to think poetry makes a huge difference.’
An interview conducted by Matthew Rothschild and published in The Progressive, January 1994.

Adrienne Rich on poetry, politics, and personal revelation
An article by Michael Klein from the Boston Phoenix June, 1999.

Modern American Poetry
Criticism on several of Rich's works, a biography, bibliography, and links.

The Academy of American Poets
This web exhibit presents a biography, list of works, selected poetry online, and links.

Secondary Sources

Paula Bennett, My Life, a Loaded Gun: Female Creativity and Feminist Poetics, 1986

Jane Roberta Cooper, Reading Adrienne Rich, 1984

Margaret Dickie, Stein, Bishop & Rich: Lyrics of Love, War & Place, 1997

Wendy Martin, An American Triptych: Anne Bradstreet, Emily Dickinson and Adrienne Rich, 1984

Krista Ratcliffe, Anglo-American Feminist Challenges to the Rhetorical Traditions: Virginia Woolf, Mary Daly, and Adrienne Rich, 1995

Sabine Sielke, Fashioning the Female subject: The Intertextual Networking of Dickinson, Moore, and Rich, 1997

Alice Templeton, The Dream and the Dialogue: Adrienne Rich's Feminist Poetics, 1994