B. 1929 D. 2012
If you think you can grasp me, think again - Adrienne Rich, from 'Delta'
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About Adrienne Rich
Adrienne Rich (1929 – 2012) was one of the USA’s foremost poets, and her poetry’s intelligent and outspoken political commitment makes her one of the most provocative. She was awarded, among others, the Bollingen Prize and the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize, the National Book Award and the Wallace Stevens Award for “outstanding and proven mastery in the art of poetry”; she also held an Academy of American Poets Fellowship and a MacArthur Fellowship. However, she refused the National Medal for the Arts in a stand against the policies of the Presidency that tried to award it to her.
Her concerns were questions of language and history, the denial and claiming of power, the action of poetic imagination in change. This can be seen in her own poetic career, as an early period of polite dissent blooms into a powerful voice that strives to unpick the mythologies and mystifications that allow unjust systems of power to continue. This voice is most famously exemplified in ‘Diving Into the Wreck’, where the speaker, made androgynous in diving gear, goes underwater to hunt “the wreck and not the story of the wreck / the thing itself and not the myth”, and identifies with those drowned and silenced as much as the diver who finds them and can, must, report back to the world above.
This does not, however, make Rich a one-note poet. ‘Blue Rock’, for example, celebrates the permanence of “a blue rock from Chile” in the face of evanescence, and when Rich writes in ‘Delta’, “If you think you can grasp me, think again”, she moves elegantly away from any attempt to pin down her life and work. The full rhyme that ends that poem closes off the possibility of argument with her. While she rarely pinned down her poems with imposed forms, she was very aware of the rhetorical force of formal effects; ‘Terza Rima’, for example, is not constrained by Dante’s poetic form, diverging from it with half-rhymes, rearranged rhymes, stretched or shortened metres – although never too far to lose the relation.
Her reading voice is lucid, forceful and never strident. The assurance that this gives to her reading works in tandem with the rhetorical shaping of her poems, both aspects enhancing together the power and persuasion of her poetry, committed to the idea that poetry can and does make something happen.
Her recording was made on 14 August 2002 at The Audio Workshop, London and was produced by Richard Carrington.
Poems by Adrienne Rich
I Dream I’m the Death of Orpheus - Adrienne Rich
Featured in the Archive
Books by Adrienne Rich
Yale Younger Poets Award for A Change of WorldPrize website
Guggenheim FellowshipPrize website
National Institute of Arts and Letters AwardPrize website
Shelley Memorial AwardPrize website
National Book Award for Poetry (a split award) for Diving into the WreckPrize website
Honorary Doctorate Smith College
Inaugural Ruth Lilly Poetry PrizePrize website
Honorary doctorate from Harvard University
National Poetry Association Award for Distinguished Service to the Art of Poetry
Bill Whitehead Award for Lifetime Achievement (for gay or lesbian writing)Prize website
Common Wealth Award of Distinguished ServicePrize website
Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and SciencesPrize website
Lenore Marshall Poetry PrizePrize website
Poets' Prize for Atlas of the Difficult World
Frost MedalPrize website
Academy of American Poets FellowshipPrize website