© Image by Lilian Kemp

Adrienne Rich

(1929 - 2012)

"If you think you can grasp me, think again" (Adrienne Rich, from 'Delta')

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These poems come from a special recording for the Poetry Archive:

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Select bibliography

  • Snapshots of a Daughter-in-Law, W. W. Norton & Company 1963
  • Necessities of Life, W. W. Norton & Company 1966
  • Leaflets, W. W. Norton & Company 1969
  • The Will to Change, W. W. Norton & Company 1971
  • Diving into the Wreck, W. W. Norton & Company 1973
  • The Dream of a Common Language, W. W. Norton & Company 1978
  • Your Native Land, Your Life, W. W. Norton & Company 1986
  • Time's Power, W. W. Norton & Company 1989
  • An Atlas of the Difficult World, W. W. Norton & Company 1991
  • Dark Fields of the Republic, W. W. Norton & Company 1995
  • Collected Early Poems, 1950-1970, W. W. Norton & Company 1996
  • Midnight Salvage, W. W. Norton & Company 1999
  • Fox, W. W. Norton & Company 2001
  • A Wild Patience Has Taken Me This Far, W. W. Norton 2001
  • The Fact of a Doorframe: Poems 1950-2001, W. W. Norton & Company 2002
  • Companion Spider University Press of New England, 2002
  • What Is Found There: Notebooks on Poetry and Politics (essays), W. W. Norton & Company 2003
  • The School Among the Ruins: Poems 2000-2004, W. W. Norton & Company 2004
  • Adrienne Rich Reading from her Poems, The Poetry Archive 2005
  • Telephone Ringing in the Labyrinth, W W Norton 2007
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.


2003 Bollingen Prize Fox

1997 Wallace Stevens Award for outstanding and proven mastery in the art of poetry

1999 Lannan Lifetime Achievement Award

1992 Academy of American Poets Fellowship

1986 Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize

1992 Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize

1956 National Book Award The Diamond-Cutters

1994 Macarthur Fellowship

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