Take Your Poet to Work: Adrienne Rich

What if you could take your favorite poet to work with you? Would you end up at the water cooler all day talking about Billy Collins’ Aimless Love collection? Or would you march your poet straight into the conference room to help you lead that important meeting you have today? Maybe your poet would read to you while you drive a truck across the country, or sneak a French fry off the plate when you take your tray out to serve the lunch crowd.

Take Your Poet to Work Day is coming July 16

To help you play and celebrate with us, we’re releasing poets each week in a compact, convenient format you can tuck in your pocket, tool belt, or lunchbox. Last year, we gave you Sara Teasdale, Pablo Neruda, T. S. EliotRumi, Edgar Allan Poe, and the reclusive Emily Dickinson (for folks who work at home). We even released a full collection, The Haiku Masters: Matsuo Basho, Yosa Buson, and Kobayashi Issa.

This year, we’re building on the collection, adding one new poet each Wednesday for the next six weeks. Last week, we started the celebration with Langston Hughes. Today, we bring you Adrienne Rich.

Take Your Poet to Work: Adrienne Rich

Take Your Poet to Work Day Printable - Adrienne Rich


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Adrienne Rich

The moment of change is the only poem.

Adrienne Rich was an American poet born in Baltimore, Maryland, in 1929, to a physician and concert pianist. She graduated from Radcliffe College and published A Change of World, in 1951. The collection of poems, her first, earned the Yale Younger Poets Award. Rich’s early work was marked by an adherence to structure and form, about which Randall Jarrell remarked that Rich “cannot help seeming to us a sort of princess in a fairy tale.”

Rich did not leave critics and readers with this impression for long, with notable shifts taking place in both her personal life and her work by the 60s and 70s. With three children by the time she turned 30, Rich herself later observed that “the experiences of motherhood was eventually to radicalize me.” Her writing moved away from form and meter to free verse, the content to political and feminist themes, an oftentimes angry voice infused with matters of identity, sexuality and social justice. At the same time, she reveals a tenderness in “Twenty- One Love Poems,” from The Dream of a Common Language. Rich established herself as one of the most noted poets, intellectuals and feminists of our time.

Diving into the Wreck, perhaps her most well-known work, was written amid the turmoil of the Vietnam War, the civil rights and feminist movements and dramatic upheaval in her personal life. The woman W.S. Merwin said was “in love with the hope of telling utter truth” seemed to believe that not to speak was to do more than to silence, it was to extinguish:

Whatever is unnamed, un-depicted in images, whatever is omitted from biography, censored in collections of letters, whatever is misnamed as something else, made difficult-to-come-by, whatever is buried in the memory by the collapse of meaning under an inadequate or lying language–this will become, not merely unspoken, but unspeakable.” (Adrienne Rich, On Lies, Secrets, and Silence)

Adrienne Rich died on March 27, 2012.


I wake up in your bed. I know I have been dreaming.
Much earlier, the alarm broke us from each other,
You’ve been at your desk for hours. I know what I dreamed:
our friend the poet comes into my room
where I’ve been writing for days,
drafts, carbons, poems are scattered everywhere,
and I want to show her one poem
which is the poem of my life. But I hesitate,
and wake. 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.

—From “Twenty-One Love Poems”


Living in the earth-deposits of our history

Today a backhoe divulged out of a crumbling flank of earth
one bottle amber perfect a hundred-year-old
cure for fever or melancholy a tonic
for living on this earth in the winters of this climate.

Today I was reading about Marie Curie:
she must have known she suffered from radiation sickness
her body bombarded for years by the element
she had purified
It seems she denied to the end
the source of the cataracts on her eyes
the cracked and suppurating skin of her finger-ends
till she could no longer hold a test-tube or a pencil

She died a famous woman denying
her wounds
her wounds came from the same source as her power.

Learn more about Take Your Poet to Work Day and our featured poets

Check out our Poetry at Work Day Infographic and help spread the word

Learn more about Adrienne Rich

Post and illustrations by LW Lindquist.


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  1. says

    That last quotation you’ve chosen is striking, Given what you’ve said elsewhere on this site about writing privately, even only by hand. So is it enough to name it even if you’re the only one who sees/hears it? (I mean the nonspecific, general you.)

    • says

      It may be sufficient. But maybe not. Hard to know exactly her meaning, but I sense she is not talking about a personal choice not to share one’s thoughts or feelings but rather a silencing of others for any number of reasons. If the latter is her meaning, then I’d say attending to a thing privately is the answer to a different question.


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