Poet and essayist Adrienne Rich (1929-2012) was one of America’s foremost public intellectuals. Widely read and hugely influential, Rich’s career spanned seven decades and has hewed closely to the story of post-war American poetry itself.
From her 2001 Q & A with Magdalena Edwards, published at The Critical Flame:
Magdalena Edwards: How do you perceive the relationship between poetry and politics? Do you write “political poetry”?--Marshal Zeringue
Adrienne Rich: I have written a good deal in prose on this relationship (which I do not regard as static) particularly in my book What Is Found There: Notebooks on Poetry and Politics (1993). I was trying to confront the strange “American” belief that poetry and politics should exist in separate realms, that a politically engaged poetry must sacrifice aesthetic standards, and that the poet is socially irrelevant. I started the book at the beginning of the Gulf War and the decade of the so-called triumph of free enterprise, the so-called “end of history,” (especially revolutionary or socialist history). What I discerned in the U.S. was a convergence of poetic voices coming from many different rents in the social fabric, many cultures, many tributaries, which, together, make up the American poetry of the late twentieth century. I used a great many of these voices in the book, both poetry and prose, to suggest the power and vitality of this tradition.
I learned a great deal in writing that book, not least how without poetry’s presence in the social realm the society’s imaginative powers are diminished and shrunken; how much community and poetry have to do with each other. I’ve written on art and politics often since—notably in my forthcoming book of essays Arts of the Possible. I define “politics” in this sense as the on-going collective struggle for liberation and for the power to create—not only works of art, but also just and nonviolent social institutions. There is no way I can see that the poet can stand outside all that. How to make a poetry adequate to the crisis we’re now in, is...[read on]