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American Passages: A Literary SurveyUnit IndexAmerican Passages Home
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5. Masculine Heroes   

15. Poetry of Liberation

•  Unit Overview
•  Using the Video
•  Authors
- John Ashberry
- Amiri Baraka
- Lorna Dee Cervantes
- Allen Ginsberg
- Joy Harjo
- Audre Lorde
- Sylvia Plath
- Adrienne Rich
- Gary Snyder
- James Wright
- Suggested
•  Timeline
•  Activities

Authors: Adrienne Rich (b. 1929)

Adrienne Rich
[4312] Anonymous, Adrienne Rich (c. 1975), courtesy of the Library of Congress [LC-USZ62-103575].

Adrienne Rich Activities
This link leads to artifacts, teaching tips and discussion questions for this author.
Born in Baltimore, Adrienne Rich describes her mother and grandmother as "frustrated artists," whose talents were denied expression by culture and circumstance. Perhaps their example, along with her father's encouragement, sparked her desire to become a writer at a time when women were still trying to prove themselves in a male-dominated arena. After graduating from Radcliffe in 1951, Rich was recognized for her poetry in the same year by W. H. Auden, who selected her first book, A Change of World, for the coveted Yale Younger Poets series. Rich's early poetry was influenced primarily by male writers, including Frost, Thomas, Donne, Auden, Stevens, and Yeats. For many young women, these men were the poets studied in high school and university classes, talked about in magazines and journals, and invited to speak at universities. Young women were exposed to relatively little poetry written by other women, and as such were taught implicitly that to write well meant to write as well as a male poet. For writers like Rich, Plath, and Sexton the struggle to find female role models and express female experience was beginning with their own work. Of course, there were examples of women poets mentoring one another, most notably the mentorship of Elizabeth Bishop by Marianne Moore, but this proved to be the exception rather than the rule. By the end of the 1950s and early 1960s, however, Rich's poetry had changed markedly as she began exploring women's issues and moving away from formal poetry toward a free verse that she saw as less patriarchal and more in tune with her true voice.

In the late 1960s, Rich, along with her husband, became active in radical politics, especially protests against the Vietnam War. In addition, she taught minority students in urban New York City, an experience that began her lifelong commitment to education, a subject that would return in her essays. Not surprisingly, her poetry reflected this intense interest in politics. This later verse features fragmented language, raw images, and looser form. At this time, Rich also began identifying herself and her work with the growing feminist movement; she also identified as a lesbian. This lesbian consciousness led to the development of poems such as "Transcendental Etude" and "The Floating Poem" that dealt explicitly with lesbian love and sex. In the 1970s, Rich began exploring feminism through essay writing. Her most famous collection of prose, Of Woman Born: Motherhood as Experience and Institution, combines personal accounts, research, and theory to reveal her thoughts on feminism. In the 1980s, Rich wrote a number of dialogue poems, the best-known of which is her "Twenty-One Love Poems." This series modernizes the Elizabethan sonnet sequences written by men to idealized women by directing the poems to an unnamed female lover. Other poems, penned to women like Willa Cather, Ethel Rosenberg, and the poet's grandmothers, explore further aspects of Rich's identity, including her experience as a Jewish woman.

Rich's work is known for its political radicalism and candid exploration of motherhood, feminism, lesbianism, and Jewish identity. Her role as poet, essayist, and critic has earned her an important place in contemporary feminism.

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