Adrienne Rich

Start Your Free Trial

Download Adrienne Rich Study Guide

Subscribe Now

Rich, Adrienne (Vol. 3)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Rich, Adrienne 1929–

Ms. Rich is an award-winning American poet, critic, and translator. Citing the precise diction and explosive energy of her poems, critics now consider her one of our most exciting and original developing poets. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 9-12, rev. ed.)

Adrienne Rich has developed slowly and unspectacularly to become one of the best poets in America. Her Necessities of Life contains twenty-five new poems of her own, plus some remarkable translations from the Dutch. She is, first of all, a poet of detail, perfect in bringing to light the contents of the drawers of memory, the "dream photographs." There is no clutter; the details are always being used—"A million insects die every twilight, / no one even finds their corpses." Despite all our talk about the "memory-laden past" and the "future of dreams," the present is when we really deceive ourselves. And today is within Miss Rich's range; she writes about daily life unsentimentally, rationally, with no smugness, sarcasm, or false epiphanies. In her love poems she shows us what we ought to have known anyway, that a woman's attitude towards love is more clear-sighted and unromantic than a man's. Yet one must not imagine that this makes it joyless or unsensual.

Richard Tillinghast, in The Southern Review, Vol. V, No. 2, April, 1969, pp. 583-84.

Adrienne Rich, in her fifth book, Leaflets, comes to us so garlanded with honors that one tends to expect each poem to be a masterpiece. This is, of course, unfair. Yet she does manage, in the book as an entirety, to display complete mastery, absolute assurance of movement and tone. I do not find the book great, but I do find it faultless. One fashionable mode at the moment is poetry in free verse with surrealistic jumps between its lines and an ending of deliberate banality, a drop into flatness which constitutes the shock of the poem; another is free verse written with conscious flatness, whose last lines lift in sudden flight into sentimental lyricism, which the preceding lines pull back on like a kitestring. Miss Rich avoids both of these over-used methods.

Most, though not all, of the poems seem to be written to someone, friend or loved one, and the reader has a sense of overhearing an extraordinarily genuine communication. This, it is amply clear, is achieved with unfaltering art, not artlessness. The poems are nearly always focused on personal relationships; few are comments on a wider world. Even the five adaptations from Dutch, Yiddish, and Russian poets seem entirely Miss Rich's poems, in subject and sensibility.

Mona Van Duyn, "Seven Women," in Poetry (© 1970 by The Modern Poetry Association; reprinted by permission of the Editor of Poetry), March, 1970, pp. 433-34.

Adrienne Rich has given us [the] balanced tension [of a complexity of moral, sensual, and political vision] in all her books—and The Will to Change is her best evocation of the fully matured and imaginative woman alive to the wonder and terror of her mind and flesh in a bad age…. Adrienne Rich writes the complete poetry of protest. She is involved in the will to change our politic and our national temper. She is against the war, against the slums, against the quaint liberalisms, and she also knows that the individual must maintain the will to change, the will to gain soul and grace. Grace. The poems of Adrienne Rich go for grace and often show it.

James Whitehead, in Saturday Review (copyright © 1971 by Saturday Review/World, Inc.; reprinted with permission), December 18, 1971, pp. 40-1.

Adrienne Rich began as an elegant American—there is nothing more elegant than an elegant American: cf Wallace Stevens—in the early 1950s, but since then she has loosened up, gone confessional, and (though the progression should not occasion surprise) lost a good deal of her intensity. Whimsies slide into incoherences, incoherences into ingratiating beseechings, and the clamorous female emerges…. There is something firmer about the poems [in Leaflets ] that derive,...

(The entire section is 3,114 words.)