Rich, Adrienne (Cecile)

views updated

RICH, Adrienne (Cecile)

Nationality: American. Born: Baltimore, Maryland, 16 May 1929. Education: Roland Park Country School, Baltimore, 1938–47; Radcliffe College, Cambridge, Massachusetts, A.B. (cum laude) 1951 (Phi Beta Kappa). Family: Married Alfred H. Conrad in 1953 (died 1970); three sons. Career: Lived in the Netherlands, 1961–62. Taught at the YM-YWHA Poetry Center Workshop, New York, 1966–67; visiting poet, Swarthmore College, Pennsylvania, 1966–68; adjunct professor, Graduate Writing Division, Columbia University, New York, 1967–69; lecturer, 1968–70, instructor, 1970–71, assistant professor of English, 1971–72, and professor, 1974–75, City College of New York; Fannie Hurst Visiting Professor, Brandeis University, Waltham, Massachusetts, 1972–73; professor of English, Douglass College, New Brunswick, New Jersey, 1976–78; A.D. White Professor-at-Large, Cornell University, Ithaca, New York, 1981–85; visiting professor, San José State University, California, 1985–86; professor of English and feminist studies, Stanford University, California, 1986–93. Since 1992 national director, the National Writers' Voice Project. Clark Lecturer and distinguished visiting professor, Scripps College, Claremont, California, 1983; Burgess Lecturer, Pacific Oaks College, Pasadena, California, 1986. Columnist, American Poetry Review, Philadelphia, 1972–73; co-editor, Sinister Wisdom, 1980–84; member of editorial collective, Bridges: A Journal for Jewish Feminists and Our Friends, 1989–93. Awards: Yale Series of Younger Poets award, 1951; Guggenheim fellowship, 1952, 1961; Ridgely Torrence memorial award, 1955; American Academy award, 1961; Amy Lowell traveling scholarship, 1962; Bollingen Foundation grant, for translation, 1962; Bess Hokin prize, 1963, and Eunice Tietjens memorial prize, 1968 (Poetry, Chicago); National Translation Center grant, 1968; National Endowment for the Arts grant, 1970; Shelley memorial award, 1971; Ingram Merrill Foundation grant, 1973; National Book award, 1974; Donnelly fellowship, Bryn Mawr College, Pennsylvania, 1975; Fund for Human Dignity award, 1981; Ruth Lilly prize, 1986; Brandeis University Creative Arts Medal, 1987; Elmer Holmes Bobst award, 1989; Commonwealth award in literature, 1991; Frost Silver medal of the Poetry Society of America, 1992; Los Angeles Times Book award in poetry, 1992; Lenore Marshall/ Nation award, 1992; William Whitehead award, 1992; Lambda Book award, 1992; The Poets' prize, 1993; Fred Cody award, 1994; Harriet Monroe prize, 1994; Academy of American Poets fellowship, 1992; MacArthur fellowship, 1994–99; Dorothea Tanning award, Academy of American Poets, 1996. D.Litt.: Wheaton College, Norton, Massachusetts, 1967; Smith College, Northampton, Massachusetts, 1979; Brandeis University, 1987; City College of New York, 1990; Harvard University, 1990; Swarthmore College, 1992. Address: c/o W.W. Norton, 500 Fifth Avenue, New York, New York 10110, U.S.A.



A Change of World. New Haven, Connecticut, Yale University Press, 1951.

(Poems). Oxford, Fantasy Press, 1952.

The Diamond Cutters and Other Poems. New York, Harper, 1955.

Snapshots of a Daughter-in-Law: Poems 1954–1962. New York, Harper, 1963; London, Chatto and Windus, 1970.

Necessities of Life: Poems 1962–1965. New York, Norton, 1966.

Selected Poems. London, Chatto and Windus, 1967.

Leaflets: Poems 1965–1968. New York, Norton, 1969; London, Chatto and Windus, 1972.

The Will to Change: Poems 1968–1970. New York, Norton, 1971;London, Chatto and Windus, 1973.

Diving into the Wreck: Poems 1971–1972. New York, Norton, 1973.

Poems Selected and New 19S0–1974. New York, Norton, 1975.

Twenty-One Love Poems. Emeryville, California, Effie's Press, 1976.

The Dream of a Common Language: Poems 1974–1977. New York, Norton, 1978.

A Wild Patience Has Taken Me This Far: Poems 1978–1981. New York, Norton, 1981.

Sources. Woodside, California, Heyeck Press, 1983.

The Fact of a Doorframe: Poems Selected and New 1950–1984. New York, Norton, 1984.

Your Native Land, Your Life. New York, Norton, 1986.

Time's Power: Poems 1985–1988. New York, Norton, 1989.

An Atlas of the Difficult World: Poems 1988–91. New York, Norton, 1991.

Collected Early Poems, 1950–1970. New York, Norton, 1993.

Dark Fields of the Republic Poems, 1991–1995. New York, Norton, 1995.

Selected Poems, 1950–1995. Knockeven, Ireland, Salmon, 1996.

Midnight Salvage: Poems, 1995–1998. New York, Norton, 1999.

Recordings: Today's Poets 4, with others, Folkways; Adrienne Rich Reading at Stanford, Stanford, 1973; A Sign I Was Not Alone, with others, Out and Out, 1978; Planetarium: A Retrospective, Watershed, 1986; Tracking the Contradictions: Poems 1981–1985, Watershed, 1987.


Ariadne. Privately printed, 1939.

Not I, But Death. Privately printed, 1941.


Of Woman Born: Motherhood as Experience and Institution. New York, Norton, 1976; London, Virago, 1977.

Women and Honor: Some Notes on Lying. Pittsburgh, Motheroot, 1977; London, Onlywomen Press, 1979.

On Lies, Secrets, and Silence: Selected Prose 1966–1978. New YorkNorton, 1979; London, Virago, 1980.

Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence. Denver, Antelope Press, 1980; London, Onlywomen Press, 1981.

Blood, Bread, and Poetry: Selected Prose 1979–1985. New York, Norton, 1986; London, Virago, 1987.

What Is Found There: Notebooks on Poetry and Politics. New York, Norton, 1993; London, Virago, 1995.

Editor, with David Lehman, The Best American Poetry 1996. New York, Scribner, 1996.

Translator, with William Stafford and Aijaz Ahmad, Poems by Ghalib. New York, Hudson Review, 1969.

Translator, Reflections by Mark Insingel. New York, Red Dust, 1973.


Manuscript Collection: Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe College, Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Critical Studies: Adrienne Rich's Poetry edited by Barbara Charlesworth Gelpi and Albert Gelpi, New York, Norton, 1975; American Triptych: Anne Bradstreet, Emily Dickinson, Adrienne Rich by Wendy Martin, Chapel Hill, University of North Carolina Press, 1984; The Transforming Power of Language: The Poetry of Adrienne Rich by Myriam Díaz-Diocaretz, Utrecht, HES, 1984; Reading Adrienne Rich: Reviews and Re-visions 1951–1981 edited by Jane Roberta Cooper, Ann Arbor, University of Michigan Press, 1984; Translating Poetic Discourse: Questions on Feminist Strategies in Adrienne Rich by Díaz-Diocaretz, Amsterdam, Benjamins, 1985; A New Tradition? The Poetry of Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton, and Adrienne Rich by Janice Markey, Frankfurt, Lang, 1985; The Aesthetics of Power: The Poetry of Adrienne Rich by Claire Keyes, Athens, University of Georgia Press, 1986; "Adrienne Rich: North America East" by Terrence DesPres, in Praises and Dispraises, New York, Viking, 1988; "'Driving to the Limits of the City of Words': The Poetry of Adrienne Rich" by Willard Spiegelman, in The Didactic Muse, Princeton, New Jersey, Princeton University Press, 1989; The Dream and the Dialogue: Adrienne Rich's Feminist Poetics by Alice Templeton, Knoxville, University of Tennessee Press, 1994; Lyric Trials—Lyric and Rhetoric in Contemporary Poetry: Seamus Heaney, Adrienne Rich, A.R. Ammons, John Ashbery (dissertation) by Kevin Vincent McGuirk, University of Western Ontario, 1993; "A House of Difference': Constructions of the Lesbian Poet in Audre Lorde, Adrienne Rich, and Paula Gunn Allen (dissertation) by Sagari Dhairyam, University of Illinois, Urbana, 1993; Skirting the Subject: Pursuing Language in the Works of Adrienne Rich, Susan Griffin, and Beverly Dahlen (dissertation) by Alan Shima, Uppsala University, 1993; "Another Look at Genre: Diving into the Wreck of Ethics with Rich and Irigaray" by Elizabeth Hirsh, in Feminist Measures: Soundings in Poetry and Theory, edited by Lynn Keller and Cristanne Miller, Ann Arbor, University of Michigan Press, 1994; "Wrestling with the Mother and the Father: "His' and "Her" in Adrienne Rich" by Betty S. Flowers, in Private Voices, Public Lives: Women Speak on the Literary Life, edited by Nancy Owen Nelson, Denton, University of North Texas Press, 1995; "Planets on the Table: From Wallace Stevens and Elizabeth Bishop to Adrienne Rich and June Jordan" by Jacqueline Vaught Brogan, in The Wallace Stevens Journal (Potsdam, New York), 19(2), fall 1995; Political Poetics: Revisionist Form in Adrienne Rich, John Ashbery, Charles Wright, and Jorie Graham (dissertation) by Phyllis Jean Franzek, University of Southern California, 1995; "Women and Poetry" by Carol Muske, in Michigan Quarterly Review (Ann Arbor, Michigan), 35(4), fall 1996; "Body As Metaphor in the Poetry of Adrienne Rich" by Jane Caris, in Pleiades (Warrensburg, Missouri), 16(2), spring 1996; Women's Stories of the Looking Glass: Autobiographical Reflections and Self-Representations in the Poetry of Sylvia Plath, Adrienne Rich, and Audre Lorde by Carmen Birkle, Munich, Germany, Fink, 1996; "Framing Water: Historical Knowledge in Elizabeth Bishop and Adrienne Rich" by Roger Gilbert, in Twentieth Century Literature (Hempstead, New York), 43(2), summer 1997; Stein, Bishop, and Rich: Lyrics of Love, War, and Place by Margaret Dickie, Chapel Hill, University of North Carolina Press, 1997; "A Politics of Asking Women's Questions'? Adrienne Rich's Later Career (dissertation) by Sylvia Babette Henneberg, University of Georgia, 1997; "'Where Are We Moored?': Adrienne Rich, Women's Mourning, and the Limits of Lament" by Maeera Shreiber, in Dwelling in Possibility: Women Poets and Critics on Poetry, edited by Shreiber and Yopie Prins, Ithaca, New York, Cornell University Press, 1997; Fashioning the Female Subject: The Intertextual Networking of Dickinson, Moore, and Rich by Sabine Sielke, Ann Arbor, University of Michigan Press, 1997; Toward an Ethics of Location: Witnessing Community in Adrienne Rich's Poetry (dissertation) by Joshua Samuel Jacobs, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, 1997; Adrienne Rich: Passion, Politics and the Body by Liz Yorke, London, Sage, 1997; "Reply to Adrienne Rich" by Diane Wakoski, in The Critical Response to Robert Lowell, edited by Steven Gould Axelrod, Westport, Connecticut, Greenwood, 1999.

*  *  *

Adrienne Rich's earliest volume, A Change of World, introduces two themes that have persisted throughout her career: the pyrrhic victories of human accomplishment in the battle against time and the plight of being a woman. Many poems describe the patience and accommodation every woman must learn if she is to remain in a relationship with a man, who by nature is distant and detached, in an "estranged intensity /Where his mind forages alone" ("An Unsaid Word"). The Diamond Cutters and Other Poems reiterates how patience, resignation, and isolation are a woman's fate: "We had to take the world as it was given," she writes, for "[we] live in other people's houses" ("The Middle-Aged"). The title poem in Snapshots of a Daughter-in-Law treats the woman's "blight" in a mythic, historical, and literary context. In fact, Rich insists, the traditional and proper roles of good wife and housekeeper are a woman's funeral preparations: "Soon we'll be off. I'll pack us into parcels /stuff us in barrels, shroud us in newspapers" ("Passing On"). The perverse dependency upon men for sustenance and the isolation from other women that accompanies this lead women to self-hatred. The only real alternatives are depression or suicide: "A thinking woman sleeps with monsters /The beak that grabs her, she becomes."

Necessities of Life concentrates primarily upon erotic experience. The poet is in search of both a comfortable relationship with her own body and a relationship with a woman that will give her the childlike (and even womblike) security she has lost. To her lover she says, "Sometimes at night /you are my mother /… and I crawl against you, fighting /for shelter, making you /my cave" ("Like This Together"). In Leaflets Rich's political rage surfaces. As poet and woman, she calls for sisterhood, a new politics, and a new language. Her resistance is active: "I'd rather /taste blood, yours or mine, flowing /from a sudden slash, than cut all day /with blunt scissors on dotted lines /like the teacher told." The Will to Change deals with the problems of retaining the "oppressor's language" ("The Burning of Paper instead of Children"). It is essential to return to feeling, Rich argues, and she connects erotic sexuality, poetry, and political action: "When will we lie clear headed in our flesh again?" she asks, for whenever "a feeling enters the body /[it] is political." Finally, admitting that "we have come to an edge of history when men … have become dangerous to children and other living things, themselves included," she commits herself to total sexual-political warfare.

Diving into the Wreck admits Rich's total antipathy toward men. "I hate you," she says to her male adversary and continues, "The only real love I have ever felt /was for children and other women." "Phenomenology of Anger" is a militantly feminist poem that rages against repressed human energy, which men handle in war and murder but which women escape only in "Madness, Suicide, Death." "The Stranger" goes beyond sexual warfare as Rich, the poet who is a prisoner of language, becomes androgynous. Perhaps love and nurturing will be restorative. She writes, "I am the androgyne /I am the living mind you fail to describe /in your dead language," and, as "mermaid" and "merman," she concludes, "We circle silently /about the wreck /we dive into the hold."

In Your Native Land, Your Life, Rich raises a confident and elegant political voice. She accepts her "verbal privilege" as a poet to incite her audience to action against the injustices endured by every minority—from American Indian and black to Jew and lesbian. As the title suggests, she reflects on her own experiences in order to raise larger moral issues. Many poems are intimate revelations of her experiences as a Jew, woman, and daughter ("the eldest daughter raised as a son, taught to study but not to pray"). "Sources" raises key questions about identity, choices, and helplessness: "With whom do you believe your lot is cast? /From where does your strength come? / I think somehow, somewhere /every poem of mine must raise those questions /… There is a whom, a where / that is not chosen that is given and sometimes falsely given /in the beginning we grasp whatever we can to survive." At times she worries that she is becoming self-consciously political and wonders if "everything we write /will be used against us /or against those we love." Ultimately, however, through the common pain of human relationships and survival in time, there may be a transcendent "purification." She would connect herself with the world's pain, even though "the body's pain and the pain on the streets /are not the same but you can learn /from the edges that blur /you who love clear edges /more than anything watch the edges that blur."

In Time's Power Rich again recalls her childhood loneliness and a life mixed "with laughter /raucousing the grief" and suggests that in the end "all we read is life. Death is invisible /… Only the living decide death's color" ("Living Memory"). She has been like a visitor to a foreign land, in an alien universe: "So why am I out here, trying /to read your name in the illegible air? / —vowel washed from a stone, /solitude of no absence, /forbidden face-to-face /… /trying to hang these wraiths /of syllables, breath /without echo, why?" Other poems recall the wounds of a painful mother-daughter relationship and Rich's special sensitivity to women's, especially lesbians', experiences as victims of a hostile, punitive culture. Several historical poems are particularly interesting, including "Letters in the Family" and "Harper's Ferry."

Rich shoulders the burdens of the world in An Atlas of the Difficult World. In many poems she clearly transcends the role of feminist poet, now deeply concerned with how, in any number of disenfranchised groups, various elements—history, culture, and individuals—create and impose evil upon the innocent. Her subjects range from the victims of a concentration camp to a woman beaten by her husband in a trailer to two lesbians brutally attacked while vacationing. Gays and lesbians become emblematic of the many in society scarred by injustice and indignity.

The title poem, in thirteen parts, is a devastating image of the individual lost in the American "Sea of Indifference, glazed with salt." She says of this society, "I don't want to know /wreckage, dreck and waste," but as she admits, "these are the materials" of "our fissured, cracked terrain." America is "a cemetery of the poor /who died for democracy." Among her heroes—always the more modest members of society—are Leo Frank, hung in l9l5 solely because he was a Jew; the father of Anne Sullivan (Helen Keller's teacher), forced to come to America during the Irish potato famine; Latino migrant workers in California; the imprisoned George Jackson.

The volume also returns to familiar themes of feminist rage: "You were a woman walked on a leash. /And they dropped you in the end" ("Olivia"); the difficulties of childhood ("That Mouth"); age ("She"); Jewish female identity ("Eastern War Time"); and death ("Final Notations"). Some of Rich's descriptive passages, particularly of nature, are unusually beautiful. She writes of the black-eyed Susan, the flower that during "Late summers, early autumns /… binds /the map of this country together," that here is "the girasol, orange gold- /petalled /with her black eye /[which] laces the /roadsides from Vermont to /California /… her tubers the /jerusalem artichoke /that has fed the Indians, fed the hobos, could feed us all." The poet asks, "Is there anything in the soil … that makes for /a plant so generous?" It is what is called "humanity"—politically, socially, and ecologically—that is responsible for natural and individual "waste": "The watcher's eye put out, hands of the /builder severed, brain of the maker starved /those who could bind, join, reweave, cohere, replenish /now at risk in this segregate republic." The concept of "waste" haunts the volume.

In Dark Fields of the Republic Rich transforms her nostalgia for past, personal dreams into a broad compassion for all humanity in its naive or grandiose aspirations. In the poem "In Those Years" she speaks of how she once sought personal connection, "a personal life /and yes, that was the only life we could bear witness to." Now, however, her focus is the imperative of universal responsibility and, concomitantly, universal love: "The great dark birds of history screamed and plunged /into our personal weather /… where we stood, saying I." In more simplified but deeply impassioned language, the poet clearly emphasizes the beauty of personal differences:

Once we were dissimilar
yet separate   that's beauty   that's what you catch.

Particularly interesting are "Revolution in Permanence," about Ethel Rosenberg; "Food Packages: "1947," on Rich's familiar theme of post-Holocaust German-Jewish identity; and "Six Narratives," about how "the big dream strained and shifted" in a love relationship.

Midnight Salvage once again establishes Rich as one of the most distinguished poets of our time. While the specifics of political and gender issues punctuate the volume, Rich transcends these to concern herself with the most basic issues of humanity. The volume begins with an epigraph from George Oppen: "I don't know how to measure happiness. The issue is happiness …"

At the turn of the millennium Rich writes with a passion and assurance as though to clarify the agenda of her life. This is a poetry of exquisite lyricism filled with the poet's sense of time and self-criticism. In the title poem, in eight sections, she writes that she "could not play by the rules," that she "never expected hope would form itself /completely in my time." Nevertheless, she will still "submit to whatever poetry is" and "accept no limits." "Midnight Salvage" recapitulates old themes: "When I ate and drank liberation once I walked /arm-in-arm with someone who said she had something to teach me." Other poems return to the Holocaust: "there is the village where no villager survived" ("Char"); to war, time, and aging: "In the heart of pain where mind is broken /and consumed by body, I sit like you /on the rocky shore" ("1941"); to people of her youth, from a paraplegic Vic Greenberg to Billie Holiday and Charlie Parker ("The Night Has a Thousand Eyes").

Rich asks of herself, "How did you get here anyway?," reaffirming her commitment to the reader: "With all my fear I'm here with you, trying what it /means, to stand fast; what it means to move." In the extraordinary prose section "A Long Conversation" that concludes the volume, she writes of her human heritage:

I come from the kind of family where loss means not just grief but utter ruin—adults and children dispersed into prostitution, orphanages, juvenile prisons, emigration—never to meet again. I wanted to show those lives—designated insignificant—as beauty, as terror. They were significant to me and what they had endured terrified me. I knew such a life could have been my own. I also knew they had saved me from it.—I tried to show all this and as well to make an art as impersonal as it demanded—I have no theories. I don't know what I am being forgiven. I am my art. I make it from my body and the bodies that produced mine. I am still trying to find the pictorial language for this anger and fear rotating on an axle of love.

—Lois Gordon