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
For This - Adrienne Rich
Fox - Adrienne Rich
In the Evening - Adrienne Rich
On Edges - Adrienne Rich

Books by Adrienne Rich

Awards

1950

Yale Younger Poets Award for A Change of World

Prize website
1952

Guggenheim Fellowship

Prize website
1960

National Institute of Arts and Letters Award

Prize website
1970

Shelley Memorial Award

Prize website
1974

National Book Award for Poetry (a split award) for Diving into the Wreck

Prize website
1979

Honorary Doctorate Smith College

1986

Inaugural Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize

Prize website
1989

Honorary doctorate from Harvard University

1989

National Poetry Association Award for Distinguished Service to the Art of Poetry

1990

Bill Whitehead Award for Lifetime Achievement (for gay or lesbian writing)

Prize website
1991

Common Wealth Award of Distinguished Service

Prize website
1991

Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences

Prize website
1992

Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize

Prize website
1992

Poets' Prize for Atlas of the Difficult World

1992

Frost Medal

Prize website
1992

Academy of American Poets Fellowship

Prize website
1994

MacArthur Fellowship

Close