Students, alumni and professors packed Battell Chapel Thursday for a poetry reading by acclaimed feminist poet and thinker Adrienne Rich.
After a brief introduction, in which African American Studies professor Elizabeth Alexander said Rich has “shown us the will to change,” the poet opened the reading by relating her personal connection to Yale, which she said has been her “home on many occasions.”
“I must thank Yale, as it has been a parenthesis around my life, from my first book published by Yale University Press to the Bollingen Prize [for Poetry],” Rich said.
Before she began reading from her works, Rich offered some insights on writing.
She stressed that modern poetry should “arouse and disturb us rather than soothe us. [It should] break the silences of tradition.”
Critics have cited this approach to poetry and literature as the distinguishing feature that has made Rich one of America’s most celebrated poets and the recipient of many major awards, including the Lannan Foundation Lifetime Achievement Award, the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize, the Common Wealth Award in Literature, the National Book Award, the Wallace Stevens Award and the Bollingen Prize for Poetry.
Instead of reading from her best-known works, Rich chose to read some less publicly acclaimed poetry as well as poetry from her newest book, “The School Among Ruins: Poems 2000-2004.”
Included in the reading was a poem titled, “There is no one story and one story only” which Rich said was inspired in part by “sitting in airport lounges.”
“Sometimes poems find those conversations and use them,” Rich said.
At the reception that followed in Beinecke Library, Alexander said she appreciated Rich’s choice to stray from reading only her “greatest hits.”
“Authors often read the work that is freshest,” Alexander said. “That way you know you’re giving your audience something they haven’t heard, [and] it is also fresh for themselves.”
Jan Cunningham ART ’85, who attended the reading, said she appreciates the “hard truth [Rich] deals with, her wisdom and the way she inhabits the language.”
Rich was born in 1929 in Baltimore, Md. She graduated from Radcliffe and currently resides in California.
The talk was part of the Yale Collection of American Literature Reading Series.