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Adrienne Rich

The Influential Poetics of Adrienne Rich

by Prapti Shah

 “When a woman tells the truth she is creating the possibility for more truth around her.”

Adrienne Rich, America’s most influential personality, was a beautiful amalgamation of intellect and poetics. She held up her legacy for 7 years and every piece she wrote was coated in sheer perfection. She had a strong persona right from the beginning and her poetry is a testament to the fact.

Rich was born in 1929, in the bustling town of Baltimore. She did not have literary roots so to speak, no Shakespearean passion burning in her family. Her father was a diligent pathologist and professor at John Hopkins. Her mother was a gorgeous honey-toned concert pianist. She carried her father’s intellectual genes and excelled in her academics, a bright student immersed in books in the library.

She pursued her graduation from Radcliffe College in 1951. It was said that Adrienne used to breathe poetry. Every verse that she wrote, struck a heartwarming chord with her audience. One of her earliest works, ‘A Change of World’ was a masterpiece. She received the prestigious accolade of Yale Younger Poets Award for this immaculate piece.

Adrienne wrote for a lot of genres. At times, she penned something decorous, and other times she was her radical self. She also tried her hands on rhetoric and spirituality. She poured herself out in her poetry. Some of her political and feminist content attracted attention and conflict, but Adrienne was firm and did not give ground.

Philosophers of those times suggested that Rich grew with her poetries. They witnessed a gradual shift and growth in her work, exhibiting parallelly in her personality too. There were a plethora of themes that she fused into her poetry. She wrote about identity, politics, sexuality; and touched almost every sensitive topic that needed to be discussed more.

Rich’s every work is worth reading. Exploring her literature is stepping into a magical yet brutally honest world.

Here we are, listing her top 5 works that must be read to understand her better. All of these works are precious and open to interpretations. You will gain a new perspective after reading her works.

1. A Change of World

This is the best collection of Adrienne’s poems. She is one of the important poets in the literary history of America. She won the Yale Younger Poets Award for this book. This book was read for decades together and is still revered as the best work of Rich. This is an exceptional collection that directly reflects Adrienne’s desire and opinion. Each poem is strong and delivers a strong message to the reader. It is the kind of book that will stay with you long after you have read it. The poems constantly compare oneself with society. It sheds light on the less-spoken aspects and conveys nothing but brutal truths. Start exploring Adrienne’s work from this piece and you will notice the evolution of character and essence as you move forward and consume more of her work.

2. Diving into the Wreck

Diving into the Wreck is a collection of provocative poems with a unique tone. Adrienne maintains a strong individuality when it comes to tonality and writing style in the work. The themes in this collection range from ecological destruction to commodification in Vietnam. Adrienne has successfully covered a wide range of themes to inspire her audience. The poems stay in your head and make you rethink your purpose. It is a powerful book that can change your perspective about a lot of things.

3. Of Woman Born: Motherhood as Experience and Institition

It can be said that this book is an anecdote of Adrienne’s life and her experience. She describes motherhood as an institution in the patriarchal society. Adrienne shares the 4 colors of her identity, that is, a poet, a feminist, a woman, and a mother. She blends all of these colors into one and determines it according to societal norms. It is an absolute classic and speaks volumes about us as people who make part of society. This book must be read by everyone to gain an in-depth understanding of how this world works. Her experience as a mother was tainted by society, and this book is her act of rebellion and liberation. You must devour this book till the very last page to grasp its true essence in totality.

4. On Lies, Secrets, and Silence

On Lies, Secrets, And Silence is a non-fiction work and sort of a travel diary that traces Adrienne’s evolution. She covers contrasting but overlapping topics, such as motherhood, racism, and politics. This portrays Rich’s fierceness and the fact that she holds onto her beliefs strongly. It is brilliantly written and subtly conveys strong themes. One must read this book to understand the importance of voicing out your opinion and how silence is nothing but venom.

 5. The Dream of a Common language

The Dream of a Common Language speaks about the language of women’s hearts and minds. It is well written in a crisp format and gains our attention right from page 1. This book is a sort of reflection of yourself. It will help you discover yourself all over again. It is an intimate book that will create an impact on your mind. One must read between the lines to understand the true meaning. Do not miss out on this underrated gem; it is worth all your time.

These were some of the best works by the phenomenal Adrienne Rich. You must read her to understand radicalism, an exercise that will increase your emotional quotient. Her poetry will stay with you, for years and years.

- Prapti Shah

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