Adrienne Rich—American Poet is Dead at 82

Cover: The Fact of a Doorframe: selected poems, 1950-2001, Adrienne Rich. Published 2002 by W.W. Norton in New York.

Anthologist and poet Rita Dove included three poems from Adrienne Rich’s The Fact of a Doorframe: selected poems, 1950-2001 in the Penguin Anthology of 20th Century American Poetry.

Adrienne Rich, influential poet and writer, is dead at 82. Rich’s distinguished career spanned more than half a century: A Change of World, was published in 1951 when she was a student at Radcliffe College. The poet W. H. Auden selected her work for the Yale Series of Younger Poets Award, and he wrote the introduction to the published collection.

Rich’s last years were spent in Santa Cruz, California; she was a visiting professor at San José State and Stanford University. The Poetry Foundation has published Rich’s obituary on their website.

Illustration for Telephone Ringing in the Labyrinth by Susan Bee.

Rich’s 2007 collection Telephone Ringing in the Labyrinth was her twenty-fourth book of poetry. This illustration by Susan Bee is in Rich’s collection of art.

In 1976, Rich began her lifelong partnership with Jamaican-born novelist and editor Michelle Cliff. In the same year, Rich published Of Woman Born: Motherhood as Experience and Institution, and stated that, for her, lesbianism was a political as well as a personal issue, writing, “The suppressed lesbian I had been carrying in me since adolescence began to stretch her limbs.”

In 1987, at the age of 58, Rich received a lifetime achievement award from Brandeis University. The NY Times took the occasion to publish a summary of Rich’s career, including details of her life. Reporter Nan Robertson interviewed Rich at her publisher’s office, and began her report with this quote:

”I loved the sound, the music of poetry from the very beginning,” Adrienne Rich said. ”It seemed a way of finding out about life. Things could be said in poems that could be said in no other way.”

The NY Times article continued:

Ms. Rich looks and acts much as Sylvia Plath described her in 1958: ”All vibrant short black hair, great sparkling black eyes […] honest, frank, forthright and even opinionated.” She has an elfin smile and an eager air. But then there are the corrective shoes, the clear plastic cane propped against her chair – evidence of many years of suffering with rheumatoid arthritis.

Rich died from complications of rheumatoid arthritis—this painful and crippling disease complicated her life for many years. While the disease itself is not life threatening, the powerful drugs that ease the symptoms and make living possible take a toll on the liver and heart.

Planetarium is one of the poems selected by Dove for the Penguin Anthology. The poem is a tribute to the German astronomer Caroline Hershel (1750-1848). Hershel, who lived 98 years, is credited with discovering the periodic comet 35P—Hershel-Rigollet, which takes 155 years to orbit the sun (it will be back in view from Earth in 2092).

Caroline Herschel's telescope, Wikipedia


A woman in shape of a monster
a monster in the shape of a woman
the skies are full of them

a woman ‘in the snow
among the Clocks and instruments
or measuring the ground with poles’

in her 98 years to discover
8 comets
–From Planetarium, printed in The Penguin Anthology

Also selected for the Penguin Anthology is Rich’s famous love poem, XIII:

The rules break like a thermometer,
Quicksilver spills across the charted systems,
we’re out in a country that has no language
no laws, we’re chasing the raven and the wren
through gorges unexplored since dawn
whatever we do together is pure invention
–From Twenty-One Love Poems, printed in The Penguin Anthology

Poem XIII ends with these words:

but a woman’s voice singing old songs
with new words, with a quiet bass, a flute
plucked and fingered by women outside the law.

RIP, Adrienne Rich (1929-2012); poet.

Week 12-2012: The Penguin Anthology of 20th Century American Poetry, Rita Dove, Editor (2012).

About carto

Retired software engineer who grew up in Montana, went to Montana State College in Bozeman, and moved to California to work at Stanford Research Institute (SRI). Carto's Logbook is about photography, travel and adventure; Mt. Maurice Times is tall tales mostly biographical; Carto's Library is about books I've read and liked.
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