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Pioneering Feminist Poet and Activist Adrienne Rich is No More

Rich

Veteran feminist poet and political activist Adrienne Rich has passed away at her home in Santa Cruz, United States

By Special Correspondent

Adrienne Rich, whose writings influenced a generation of feminist, gay rights and anti-war activists is no more. Rich died on Tuesday at her home in the US from rheumatoid arthritis complications. She was 82.

Adrienne Rich, like so many, was profoundly changed by the 1960s. She is best known for her poems and essays that attacked what she considered to be the “myths” of the American Dream. Through her writing, Rich explored topics such as women’s rights, racism, sexuality, economic justice and brutalities of war.

She is considered to be one of the few poets who can deal with political issues in her poems without letting them degenerate into social realism.

Unlike most American writers, Rich believed art and politics not only could co-exist, but must co-exist. She considered herself a socialist because “socialism represents moral value — the dignity and human rights of all citizens”.

Born in Baltimore in 1929, Rich was encouraged by her Jewish father to write poetry at an early age. She was married to economist Alfred Conrad in 1953 and they had three sons. Rich came out of the closet after leaving her husband and met her lifelong partner, the writer Michelle Cliff, in 1976. She used her experiences as a mother to write “Of Woman Born: Motherhood as Experience and Institution,” her groundbreaking feminist critique of pregnancy, childbirth and motherhood, published in 1976.

Rich has published more than a dozen volumes of poetry and five collections of nonfiction. She gained national prominence with her third poetry collection, “Snapshots of a Daughter-in-Law,” in 1963. Citing the title poem, University of Maryland professor Rudd Fleming wrote in The Washington Post that Rich “proves poetically how hard it is to be a woman — a member of the second sex.”

Her political poems included “The Burning of Paper Instead of Children,” an indictment of the Vietnam War and the damage done and a cry for language itself: “The typewriter is overheated, my mouth is burning. I cannot touch you and this is the oppressor’s language.”

One of her best-known poems, “Living in Sin,” tells of a woman’s disappointment between what she imagined love would be — “no dust upon the furniture of love” — and the dull reality, the man “with a yawn/sounded a dozen notes upon the keyboard/declared it out of tune, shrugged at the mirror/rubbed at his beard, went out for cigarettes”.

She won many top literary awards but when then-President Clinton awarded the National Medal of Arts in 1997, Rich refused to accept it, citing the administration’s “cynical politics.” “The radical disparities of wealth and power in America are widening at a devastating rate,” she wrote to the administration. “A president cannot meaningfully honor certain token artists while the people at large are so dishonored.”

In 2003, Rich and other poets refused to attend a White House symposium on poetry to protest to U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.

She taught widely, including at Columbia, Brandeis, Rutgers, Cornell and Stanford.

Related reading here and here