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Queer Poets on the Poems That Changed Their Lives

From the Archive: Adrienne Richs 1977 Letter

The Young Insurgents Commonplace-Book: Adrienne Richs Snapshots of a Daughter-in-Law

Adrienne Rich was born in Baltimore, Maryland on May 16, 1929. She attended Radcliffe College, graduating in 1951, and was selected byW. H. Audenfor the Yale Series of Younger Poets prize forA Change of World(Yale University Press, 1951) that same year.

In 1953, she married Harvard University economist Alfred H. Conrad. Two years later, she published her second volume of poetry,The Diamond Cutters(Harper & Brothers, 1955), of whichRandall Jarrellwrote: The poet [behind these poems] cannot help seeming to us a sort of princess in a fairy tale.

But the image of the fairytale princess would not be long-lived. After having three sons before the age of thirty, Rich gradually changed both her life and her poetry. Throughout the 1960s she wrote several collections, includingSnapshots of a Daughter-in-Law(Harper & Row, 1963) andLeaflets(W. W. Norton, 1969). The content of her work became increasingly confrontationalexploring such themes as womens role in society, racism, and the Vietnam War. The style of these poems also revealed a shift from careful metric patterns to free verse. In 1970, Rich left her husband, who committed suicide later that year.

It was in 1973, in the midst of the feminist and civil rights movements, the Vietnam War, and her own personal distress, that Rich wroteDiving into the Wreck(W. W. Norton), a collection of exploratory and often angry poems, which garnered her the National Book Award in 1974. Rich accepted the award on behalf of all women and shared it with her fellow nominees, Alice Walker andAudre Lorde.

Rich went on to publish numerous poetry collections, includingTonight No Poetry Will Serve: Poems 2007-2010(W.W. Norton & Co., 2010);The School Among the Ruins: Poems 2000-2004(W. W. Norton, 2004), which won the Book Critics Circle Award;Collected Early Poems: 1950-1970(W. W. Norton, 1993);An Atlas of the Difficult World: Poems 1988-1991(W. W. Norton, 1991), a finalist for the National Book Award; andThe Dream of a Common Language(W. W. Norton, 1978).

In addition to her poetry, Rich wrote several books of nonfiction prose, includingArts of the Possible: Essays and Conversations(W. W. Norton, 2001) andWhat is Found There: Notebooks on Poetry and Politics(W. W. Norton, 1993).

About Richs work, the poetW.S. Merwinhas said, All her life she has been in love with the hope of telling utter truth, and her command of language from the first has been startlingly powerful.

Rich received the Bollingen Prize, the Lannan Lifetime Achievement Award, theAcademy of American Poets Fellowship, the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize, theLenore Marshall Poetry Prize, the National Book Award, and a MacArthur Fellowship; she was also a formerChancellorof the Academy of American Poets.

In 1997, she refused the National Medal of Arts, stating that I could not accept such an award from President Clinton or this White House because the very meaning of art, as I understand it, is incompatible with the cynical politics of this administration. She went on to say: [Art] means nothing if it simply decorates the dinner table of the power which holds it hostage.

The same year, Rich was awarded the Academy of American PoetsWallace Stevens Awardfor outstanding and proven mastery in the art of poetry. She died on March 27, 2012, at the age of eighty-two.

Collected Poems: 19502012(W. W. Norton, 2016)

Later Poems: Selected and New 19712012(W. W. Norton, 2013)

Tonight No Poetry Will Serve: Poems 20072010(W. W. Norton, 2011)

Telephone Ringing in the Labyrinth: Poems 20042006(W. W. Norton, 2007)

The School Among the Ruins: Poems 2000-2004(W. W. Norton, 2004)

The Fact of a Doorframe: Selected Poems 19502000(W. W. Norton, 2002)

Midnight Salvage: Poems 19951998(W. W. Norton, 1999)

Dark Fields of the Republic: Poems 19911995(W. W. Norton, 1995)

Collected Early Poems: 19501970(W. W. Norton, 1993)

An Atlas of the Difficult World: Poems 19881991(W. W. Norton, 1991)

Times Power: Poems 19851988(W. W. Norton, 1989)

Your Native Land, Your Life: Poems(W. W. Norton, 1986)

The Fact of a Doorframe: Poems Selected and New 19501984(W. W. Norton, 1984)

A Wild Patience Has Taken Me This Far: Poems 19781981(W. W. Norton, 1981)

The Dream of a Common Language: Poems 19741977(W. W. Norton, 1978)

Poems: Selected and New 19501974(W. W. Norton, 1974)

Diving into the Wreck: Poems 19711972(W. W. Norton, 1973)

The Will to Change: Poems 19681970(W. W. Norton, 1971)

Necessities of Life: Poems 19621965(W. W. Norton, 1966)

Snapshots of a Daughter-in-Law(Harper & Row, 1963)

A Change of World(Yale University Press, 1951)

A Human Eye: Essays on Art in Society, 19972008(W. W. Norton, 2009)

Arts of the Possible: Essays and Conversations(W. W. Norton, 2001)

What Is Found There: Notebooks on Poetry and Politics(W. W. Norton, 1993)

Blood, Bread, and Poetry: Selected Prose, 19791985(W. W. Norton, 1986)

On Lies, Secrets, and Silence: Selected Prose, 19661978(W. W. Norton, 1979)

Of Woman Born: Motherhood as Experience and Institution(W. W. Norton, 1976)

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for years of missing each other. Yet only this odd warp

Did I ever walk the morning streets at twenty,

just washed by sun. Your traveled, generous thighs

between which my whole face has come and come

A collection of essays and ephemera about several women poets whose li…

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