I enjoyed so much reading the little chapbook, Poetry, and Commitment, by Adrienne Rich, that I had to let it sit for a few days and then read it again! If you’ve been hanging around here long enough, you’ve heard me say it before: Adrienne Rich is my favorite poet.
So when she was awarded the 2006 National Book Foundation’s Medal for Distinguishing Contribution to American Letters, I was beside myself with joy. This little chapbook contains Mark Doty’s award ceremony introduction of Rich and Rich’s address, sort of.
I say sort of because Poetry and Commitment were first delivered as the plenary lecture at the 2006 Conference on Poetry and Politics at Stirling University, Scotland. What Rich read at the National Book Awards was a version of the original.
Norton was good enough to publish the original. Rich’s first book of poetry, “A Change of World,” was published in 1951 and won the Yale Younger Poets Series award.
At that time, she strove to be quite conventional and received praise from W.H. Auden for her very Auden-like work. But in her third book, Snapshots of a Daughter-in-Law in 1963, she begins to discover what would become her true voice.
At the same time, she also began to realize that what she was taught poetry was supposed to be and not what she thought poetry should be.
By the end of the 1960s and with the publication in 1971 of her sixth book, The Will to Change, she had hit her stride, and there has been no looking back since. If you have the opportunity to read her books in order of publication, it is a pleasure to watch her poetry and voice develop.
Poetry and Commitment is a mini-manifesto of what she thinks poetry can and should do. For Rich, poetry must be engaged with the world. Poetry is action, and the poet must be committed to the act of poetry itself and the poem’s action in the world.
This poetry can help us envision a different and better future, one “whose moral architecture is founded not on ownership and dispossession, the subjection of women, torture and bribes, outcast and tribe, but on the continuous redefining of freedom.”
I think what resonates with me most about Rich’s poetry and prose, and she has several books of essays too, is her compassion. She truly cares and she writes her poetry as she lives her life, with commitment.