"Of Woman Born" Dies: The Poetic Transformation of Adrienne Rich
In Adrienne Rich's life and writing, we can trace a mini history of women in the 20th century. Her writing clarified the need for women to define themselves on their own terms.
- Cooperation With Expectations
- As Her Revolution Begins, Tragedy Strikes
- Myths Become a Metaphor in "Diving into the Wreck"
- Equality for Women and All Beings
- Rejecting an Art Medal from President Clinton
- Her poetic Historical Record is Competed
Cooperation With Expectations
Adrienne Rich was born in 1929 in Baltimore, Maryland. Her mother Cecile was a pianist from a Christian background, and her father Arnold was a well respected Pathology professor of Jewish heritage. Neither of her parents emphasized an adherence to religion, but she would explore the place this had in her identity later in life.
Adrienne Rich's first collection of poetry, prophetically entitled "A Change of World," was selected by WH Auden in 1951 for the Yale Younger Poets prize. Originally, she wrote within traditional poetic forms and stuck to the use of metered verses, which paralleled her mainstream choices as a young woman. She would marry two years later to Alfred Conrad, a respected Economist, and give birth to three sons.
As Her Revolution Begins, Tragedy Strikes
Rich's attempts to live as a mother and wife within the forms of what was acceptable to society broke down as she realized she was not satisfied through her roles as a wife and mother. She found a connection between the disillusionment that was growing within her and the world outside. This was heightened in 1966 when she and the family moved to New York city. Her firm identity as an activist and a revolutionary was established as she became involved with Vietnam War protests, the Civil Rights Movement, and immersed herself in feminist politics. This did not merge smoothly to her in regards to family life. She and Alfred separated and tragically he committed suicide.
Myths Become a Metaphor in "Diving into the Wreck"
In 1973 Rich wrote "Diving into the Wreck", a collection of poems that, which won the National Book Award for Poetry in 1974, Declining to accept it individually, Rich accepted it on behalf of all women. It was regarded by many as her masterpiece. It tells of her journey of seeking the truth about who she is, and emerges as a survivor, defeating myth:
We are, I am, you are
by cowardice or courage
the one who find our way
back to this scene
carrying a knife, a camera
a book of myths
our names do not appear.
Equality for Women and All Beings
In 1976, Rich wrote "Of Woman Born: Motherhood as Experience and Institution, one of the first widely distributed scholarly feminist writings regarding the topic of motherhood. That same year she also began what would become her lifelong relationship with Jamacian born writer Michelle Cliff. Rich acknowledged that her lesbianism was a political as well as a personal issue. As she claimed her sexual identity, she and took a role as more of a humanitarian that being strictly a feminist.
Rejecting an Art Medal from President Clinton
Rich declined the National Medal of Arts in 1997 to show protest against the threat of voting the National Endowment for the Arts into nonexistence. She wrote a letter to the Clinton administration in which she stated he said that "I could not accept such an award from President Clinton or this White House because the very meaning of art, as I understand it, is incompatible with the cynical politics of this administration... means nothing if it simply decorates the dinner table of the power which holds it hostage"
Her poetic Historical Record is Competed
Adrienne Rich died on March 27, 2012 at the age of 82 in her Santa Cruz, California home. Her son, Pablo Conrad, reported that her death resulted from long-term rheumatoid arthritis. Her friend and fellow poet WS Merwin said of her "she was a real revolutionary, whatever she said came straight out of herself."