I studied Adrienne Rich as part of my second year literature course at Rhodes, her work part of the contemporary American poetry module. Her poetry, beautifully described by The New York Times as “distinguished by an unswerving progressive vision and a dazzling, empathic ferocity”, was met with resistance by many students, male and female. She was tossed aside by many as being a typically angry woman, her subtle and intelligent work ignored by undergrads, which is remarkably unfair given that her work has been consistently studied and debated for over 50 years.
I consider her poetry to be as beautiful as it is fearless, and her essay “Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence ” is a towering indictment of the poor treatment of women at the hands of men. The collection known as 21 Love Poems is one of her most accessible pieces, and it opens with:
You’ve kissed my hair
to wake me. I dreamed you were a poem,
I say, a poem I wanted to show someone …
and I laugh and fall dreaming again
of the desire to show you to everyone I love,
to move openly together
in the pull of gravity, which is not simple,
which carries the feathered grass a long way down
the upbreathing air.
(To read the rest of the poem and some of the critique around it, visit here)
It is definitely worth reading the entirety of the stunning New York Times obituary; it is as generous and fair a tribute the great poet deserves.