Over the years, hers has become one of the most eloquent, provocative voices on the
does not include her work or that of the next generation of poets steeped in her example.
influential lesbian-feminist journals, and a lifetime of activism and visibility, the work
a gifted pianist and composer who had given up a possible professional musical career to
"Split at the Root" (Blood, Bread and Poetry), Rich recalls her
growing-up years as overtly dominated by the intellectual presence and demands of her
father, while covertly marked by the submerged tensions and silences arising from the
strong identification and desire for approval, yet it was adversarial in many ways. Under
his tutelage Rich first began to write poetry, conforming to his standards well past her
early successes and publications.
In 1951, Rich graduated from Radcliffe, and also won the prestigious Yale Younger Poets
wrote a preface for the book that acquired eventual notoriety for its classic tones of
describes Rich’s elegant technique, chiseled formalism, and restrained emotional content.
Stevens, and Auden himself, and received their high acclaim on the basis of that fidelity.
from these years reveal, this was an emotionally and artistically difficult period; she
late fifties and early sixties, these were issues she could not easily name to herself;
which there was as yet no wider cultural recognition, much less insight or analysis.
Rich’s third book Snapshots of a Daughter-in-Law (1963), which was eight years
the safety of enclosures and illusions must be abandoned for the claims of a risky but
feeling she had "flunked," Rich wrote Necessities of Life (1966) with a
coming into her rightful subject matter and voice was denied. Necessities, personally
and poetically, was less a retreat than a pause. Coinciding with her personal and poetic
evolution was the tremendous force of the historical moment. Rich’s earlier, inchoate
increasing articulation in the larger social/political currents gathering force throughout
issues that have consistently been addressed in Rich’s work. She was also strongly
Rich and her husband were both involved in movements for social justice, it was to the
women’s movement that Rich gave her strongest allegiance. In its investigation of sexual
politics, its linkage, as Rich phrased it, of "Vietnam and the lovers’ bed," she
located her grounding for issues of language, sexuality, oppression, and power that
infused all the movements for liberation from a male-dominated world.
Rich’s poetry has clearly recorded, imagined, and forecast her personal and political
existence within a context, and to argue against the idea that poetry existed separately
from the poet’s life. Stylistically, she began to draw on contemporary rhythms and images,
especially those derived from the cinematic techniques of jump cuts and collage. Leaflets
(1969), The Will to Change (1971), and Diving into the Wreck (1973)
demonstrate a progressive coming to power as Rich contends against the desolation
patriarchy enacts on literal and psychic landscape. Intimately connected with this
struggle for empowerment and action is the deepening of her determination "to write
"Tear Gas," she asserts "The will to change begins in the body not in the
mind/My politics is in my body." Yet this tactic has not led Rich to a poetry that is
in a way confessional. Rich’s voice is most characteristically the voice of witness,
oracle, or mythologizer, the seer with the burden of "verbal privilege" and the
weight of moral imagination, who speaks for the speechless, records for the forgotten,
invents anew at the site of erasure of women’s lives.
With each subsequent volume–Twenty-One Love Poems (1976), A Wild Patience
Has Taken Me This Far (1981), The Fact of a Doorframe: Poems Selected and New
(1984), Your Native Land, Your Life (1986), Time’s Power (1989), and most
recently An Atlas of the Difficult World (1991)–Rich has confirmed and
"revision" and to be "disloyal," she has engaged ever-wider
privilege, mate violence, and lesbian identity.
Over the years, Rich has taught at Swarthmore, Columbia, Brandeis, Rutgers, Cornell,
San Jose State and Stanford University. Since 1976, she has lived with the writer and
freedom, and for the progressive Jewish movement New Jewish Agenda. In 1981, she received
the Fund for Human Dignity Award of the National Gay Task Force. Her poetry has been
honored with the National Book Award in 1974 for Diving into the Wreck (which she
silenced), two Guggenheim Fellowships, the first Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize, the Brandeis
Achievement, and the National Poetry Association Award for Distinguished Service to the
Art of Poetry.
From The Oxford Companion to Women’s Writing in the United States.