Adrienne Rich: Essential American Poets

September 8, 2011

This is The Poetry Foundation’s Essential American Poets Podcast. Essential American Poets is an online audio-poetry collection. The poets in the collection were selected in 2006 by Donald Hall when he was Poet Laureate. Recordings of the poets he selected are available online at and In this edition of the podcast, we’ll hear poems by Adrienne Rich. 

Adrienne Rich was born in 1929 in Baltimore, Maryland. Her father was a distinguished pathologist, and her mother a gifted pianist. Rich attended Radcliffe college, and at 21 years old she won the prestigious Yale Younger Poets Award. She graduated in 1951, and two years later she married Harvard economist Alfred H. Conrad. In the decade to come, they had three sons together, and Rich began to struggle against the conventional role of a 1950s housewife. During this time, Rich’s poetry was noted for it’s formal control and it’s constraint. But in the 1960s and 70s, her poetry and her life evolved dramatically. Rich became increasingly engaged in anti-war protests, and the struggle for civil rights. She also became an active participant in the women’s movement. In 1970, her husband died. In 1976 she came out as a lesbian. Rich has drawn parallels between sexuality, politics and poetry. In an interview with Michael Klein, Rich said “the connections I was making with the world by coming out as having any kind of sexuality had to do with the fact that early on I was critiquing the conventional male/female identities on which so much of Western poetry has been based”.

Rich is a self-described passionate skeptic, and believes steadfastly in the power of art to challenge an unjust status quo. According to Rich, both politics and poetry require the radical imagination of the not yet, the what if. The following poems were recorded in London in 2005, and at the University of Pennsylvania in 2005.



Adrienne Rich: Dreamwood


In the old, scratched, cheap wood of the typing stand

there is a landscape, veined, which only a child can see

or the child’s older self, a poet,

a woman dreaming when she should be typing

the last report of the day. If this were a map,

she thinks, a map laid down to memorize

because she might be walking it, it shows

ridge upon ridge fading into hazed desert

here and there a sign of aquifers

and one possible watering-hole. If this were a map

it would be the map of the last age of her life,

not a map of choices but a map of variations

on the one great choice. It would be the map by which

she could see the end of touristic choices,

of distances blued and purpled by romance,

by which she would recognize that poetry

isn’t revolution but a way of knowing

why it must come. If this cheap, mass-produced

wooden stand from the Brooklyn Union Gas Co.,

mass-produced yet durable, being here now,

is what it is yet a dream-map

so obdurate, so plain,

she thinks, the material and the dream can join

and that is the poem and that is the late report.



Adrienne Rich: What Kind Of Times Are These


There's a place between two stands of trees where the grass grows uphill

and the old revolutionary road breaks off into shadows

near a meeting-house abandoned by the persecuted

who disappeared into those shadows.


I've walked there picking mushrooms at the edge of dread, but don't be fooled

this isn't a Russian poem, this is not somewhere else but here,

our country moving closer to its own truth and dread,

its own ways of making people disappear.


I won't tell you where the place is, the dark mesh of the woods

meeting the unmarked strip of light—

ghost-ridden crossroads, leafmold paradise:

I know already who wants to buy it, sell it, make it disappear.


And I won't tell you where it is, so why do I tell you

anything? Because you still listen, because in times like these

to have you listen at all, it's necessary

to talk about trees.


Adrienne Rich: Wait


In paradise every

the desert wind is rising

third thought

in hell there are no thoughts

is of earth

sand screams against your government

issued tent    

hell’s noise     in your nostrils      crawl

into your ear-shell

wrap yourself in no-thought

wait    no place for the little lyric

wedding-ring glint the reason why   

on earth

they never told you



That was Adrienne Rich, recorded in London in 2002 and at the University of Pennsylvania in 2005, and used by permission of the author and the Francis Golden Literary Agency. Recordings of “What Kinds of Times are These” and “Dreamwood” courtesy of Poetry Archive UK. And recording of “Wait” courtesy of PennSound. You’ve been listening to the Essential American Poets Podcast, produced by The Poetry Foundation in collaboration with To learn more about Adrienne Rich and other essential American poets, and to hear more poetry, go to

Recordings of poet Adrienne Rich, with an introduction to her life and work. Recorded in 2002 at the Audio Workshop in London

More Episodes from Essential American Poets
Showing 1 to 20 of 78 Podcasts
  1. Wednesday, March 14, 2012

    Lorine Niedecker: Essential American Poets

  2. Wednesday, January 25, 2012

    Gertrude Stein: Essential American Poets

  3. Wednesday, January 4, 2012

    Charles Simic: Essential American Poets

  4. Wednesday, December 14, 2011

    Alan Dugan: Essential American Poets

  5. Wednesday, November 30, 2011

    Gary Snyder: Essential American Poets

  6. Wednesday, August 24, 2011

    Richard Hugo: Essential American Poets

  7. Wednesday, August 10, 2011

    Robert Pinsky: Essential American Poets

  8. Wednesday, July 27, 2011

    Michael Palmer: Essential American Poets

  9. Wednesday, July 13, 2011

    A.R. Ammons: Essential American Poets

  10. Wednesday, June 29, 2011

    Jorie Graham: Essential American Poets

  11. Wednesday, June 15, 2011

    Robinson Jeffers: Essential American Poets

  12. Wednesday, June 1, 2011

    Carolyn Kizer: Essential American Poets

  13. Thursday, May 19, 2011

    Muriel Rukeyser: Essential American Poets

  14. Tuesday, May 3, 2011

    Robert Creeley: Essential American Poets

  15. Wednesday, April 13, 2011

    Lucille Clifton: Essential American Poets

  16. Wednesday, March 30, 2011

    Mona Van Duyn: Essential American Poets

  17. Wednesday, March 16, 2011

    Kenneth Rexroth: Essential American Poets

  18. Wednesday, March 2, 2011

    Louis Simpson: Essential American Poets

  19. Wednesday, February 16, 2011

    Wallace Stevens: Essential American Poets

  20. Wednesday, February 2, 2011

    Thylias Moss: Essential American Poets