About Rich’s work, the poet W.S. Merwin has said, “All her life she has been in love with the hope of telling utter truth, and her command of language from the first has been startlingly powerful.”
Rich has received the Bollingen Prize, the Lannan Lifetime Achievement Award, the Academy of American Poets Fellowship, the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize, the Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize, the National Book Award, and a MacArthur Fellowship; she is also a former Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets.
In 1997, she refused the National Medal of Arts, stating that “I could not accept such an award from President Clinton or this White House because the very meaning of art, as I understand it, is incompatible with the cynical politics of this administration.” She went on to say: “[Art] means nothing if it simply decorates the dinner table of the power which holds it hostage.”
A patriot is not a weapon. A patriot is one who wrestles for the soul of her country
as she wrestles for her own being, for the soul of his country
(gazing through the great circle at Window Rock into the sheen of the Viet Nam Wall)
as he wrestles for his own being. A patriot is a citizen trying to wake
from the burnt-out dream of innocence, the nightmare
of the white general and the Black general posed in their camouflage,
to remember her true country, remember his suffering land: remember
that blessing and cursing are born as twins and separated at birth to meet again in mourning
that the internal emigrant is the most homesick of all women and of all men
that every flag that flies today is a cry of pain.
Section XI, An Atlas of the Difficult World