Her father encouraged her to write and taught her how to write poetry.
In 1951, Rich graduated from university and, that same year, won the much esteemed Yale Younger Poet’s Prize for her first collection of poems: ‘A Change of World’.
In 1953 she married Alfred Conrad, a Harvard economist.
In 1966 she moved to New York. In 1970 she left her husband. He died, by suicide, that year. While her earlier poems are formal, her later work was more distinctive and individual, reflecting her political and feminist concerns. She won the National Book Award in 1974 for her collection “Diving into the Wreck” She has received numerous other awards for her poetry. She has had a deep and profound influence on the women’s movement in America over the past 50 years. She explores the nature of power, particularly male power, in many of her poems. She writes with a political purpose in many of her poems. She has written extensively on the relationship between language, power and sexuality. As a result of her poetry, essays, campaigning and lecturing, Adrienne Rich has had a huge influence on the women’s movement in America for the last half century.
In 1971 Adrienne Rich penned the extraordinary poem “Trying to Talk with A Man” about the attempt of a woman and man to salvage their relationship by taking the extreme measure of isolating themselves in the desert:
that’s why we came here.
Sometimes I feel an underground river
forcing its way between deformed cliffs
an acute angle of understanding
moving itself like a locus of the sun
into this condemned scenery.
What we’ve had to give up to get here –
whole LP collections, films we starred in
playing in the neighborhoods, bakery windows
full of dry, chocolate-filled Jewish cookies,
the language of love-letters, of suicide notes,
afternoons on the riverbank
pretending to be children
Coming out to this desert
we meant to change the face of
driving among dull green succulents
walking at noon in the ghost town
surrounded by a silence
that sounds like the silence of the place
except that it came with us
and is familiar
and everything we were saying until now
was an effort to blot it out –
coming out here we are up against it
Out here I feel more helpless
with you than without you
You mention the danger
and list the equipment
we talk of people caring for each other
in emergencies – laceration, thirst –
but you look at me like an emergency
Your dry heat feels like power
your eyes are stars of a different magnitude
they reflect lights that spell out: EXIT
when you get up and pace the floor
talking of the danger
as if it were not ourselves
as if we were testing anything else.
I haven’t studied the poem as yet. It is on the Leaving Cert for this year. There could be the possibility that one of her poems will come up in the exam due to her recent passing. She is a very popular poet in the schools in Ireland.
Update: I’ve just read interpretation of poem here. It is the hardest poem I’ve come across thus far. Without the notes I would have been at a complete loss to comprehend it. I must check to see if it’s only on the higher level Leaving Cert Paper. It has to be as it is such a challenging poem.
Adrienne Rich has ventured into very darkest terrains to try to bring across, not only the grave difficulties of her own marriage, but a political message about marriage and how men are the ones in control.