Adrienne Rich

Adrienne Rich



I am only passingly familiar with the poetry of Adrienne Rich, as most of the poetry I read these days is either old or translated from some other language or both. I am, to put it mildly, not in sympathy with most modern English-language poetry.


However, what I have read of her work did seem to have something, and she occupied a very rare place in American culture- that of the influential poet. Not influential to the average American, of course, that would be asking too much under current circumstances. But among the minority of people in this country who care about things such as poetry at all, Adrienne Rich was an important figure. Her words carried weight.

English poet Percy Bysshe Shelley once described poets as being the unacknowledged legislators behind the scenes of world history. He was thinking about another time and another place. The only unacknowledged legislators in modern America are corporate lobbyists, and poets are just voices talking to themselves in empty rooms.


Adrienne Rich was more than that. Her words had impact, and that alone is something rare and precious. She was like an ambassador from a more civilized world, a world where words can be used for more fundamental purposes than marketing and deception. When I read her poems, I can see why they moved people even though they are not in the styles or modes I personally enjoy. But what's really important to me is just that she existed, a reminder that poetry can actually have impact, that it has done so before, that it could do so again.