Adrienne Rich

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The Poetry of Adrienne Rich

(Society and Self, Critical Representations in Literature)

Adrienne Rich’s poetry traces the growth of a conscious woman in the second half of the twentieth century. Her first two books, A Change of World and The Diamond Cutters (1955), contain verses of finely crafted, imitative forms, strongly influenced by the modernist poets. Snapshots of a Daughter-in-Law is a transitional work in which Rich begins to express a woman’s concerns. Her form loosens as well; she begins to experiment with free verse.

The collections Necessities of Life (1966), Leaflets (1969), and The Will to Change (1971) openly reject patriarchal culture and language. Experiments with form continue as she juxtaposes poetry and prose and uses multiple voices. With Diving into the Wreck Rich’s poetry becomes clearly identified with radical feminism and lesbian separatism. A theme of the title poem is the need for women to define themselves in their own terms and create an alternative female language. The Dream of a Common Language was published after Rich came out as a lesbian and includes the explicitly sexual “Twenty-one Love Poems.”

By the time of the publication of A Wild Patience Has Taken Me This Far (1981), the influence of Rich’s poetry extended beyond art and into politics. As a woman in a patriarchal society, Rich expresses a fundamental conflict between poetry and politics, which occupies her poetic voice. The collections Your Native Land, Your Life (1986), Time’s Power (1989), and An Atlas of the Difficult World address new issues while continuing to develop Rich’s feminist concerns. The long poem “Sources” addresses Rich’s Jewish heritage and the Holocaust. “Living Memory” addresses issues of aging. In Dark Fields of the Republic, Rich continues to develop her preoccupations with the relationship of poetry and politics and grapples with issues of contemporary American society.

Most critics have characterized Adrienne Rich’s work as an artistic expression of feminist politics. Some critics feel that the politics overwhelm the lyricism of her art. It is generally accepted that she is an important and innovative voice in evolving political and artistic issues, especially feminism.

Suggested Readings

Cooper, Jane Roberta, ed. Reading Adrienne Rich: Reviews and Re-Visions, 1951-81. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1984.

Keyes, Claire. The Aesthetics of Power: The Poetry of Adrienne Rich. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1986.

Martin, Wendy. An American Triptych: Anne Bradstreet, Emily Dickinson, Adrienne Rich. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1984.

Werner, Craig Hansen. Adrienne Rich: The Poet and Her Critics. Chicago: American Library Association, 1988.

Achievements

(Poets and Poetry in America)

Adrienne Rich’s work has been at the vanguard of the women’s movement in the United States. Her poems and essays explore her own experience and seek to develop a “common language” for women to communicate their values and perceptions. She has received numerous awards, including two Guggenheim Fellowships, the National Institute of Arts and Letters Award for Poetry (1960), the Shelley Memorial Award of the Poetry Society of America (1971), and the National Book Award (1974) for Diving into the Wreck. Other recognitions include the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize (1986), the Northern California Book Award in poetry (1989), the Bill Whitehead Award (1990), Lambda Literary Awards (1991, 1995, 2001), the Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize (1992), the Academy of American Poets Fellowship (1992), the Los Angeles Times Book Prize (1992), the Frost Medal (1992), a MacArthur Fellowship, the Poets’ Prize (1993), the Fred Cody Award for lifetime achievement (1994), the Wallace Stevens Award (1996), the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Lannan Foundation (1999), the Bollingen Prize (2003), and the Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters from the National Book Foundation (2006). In 2004, The School Among the Ruins earned Rich the National Book Critics Circle Award, the Gold Medal from the Commonwealth Club of California, and the Poetry...

(The entire section is 1,497 words.)