David Orr

"No man but a blockhead," Samuel Johnson famously observed, "ever wrote, except for money." This is tough news for poets, since the writing they do is often less immediately profitable than a second-grader's math homework (the kid gets a cookie or a hug; the poet gets a rejection letter from The Kenyon Review). Poetry itself is tremendously valuable, of course, but that value is often realized many years after a poem's composition, and sometimes long after the end of its author's life.

Birth, most people would agree, is a fairly important event. And poetry, most people would agree, tends to focus on subjects of intense emotional significance. So one would think the poetry of early parenthood would be a rich and varied category, filled with reflections on physical transformation, the emergence of life, the realities of infanthood and so forth.

One would be wrong.

The memorials for the poet Adrienne Rich, who died Tuesday, will inc­­lude plenty of references to her feminism, her sometimes polemical leftism, her precocity, her difficult marriage (her husband killed himself in 1970), her subsequent partnership with the writer Michelle Cliff, and the books — beginning with 1963's Snapshots of a Daughter-in-Law — that made her internationally famous. What can get a bit lost in all this, however, are the poems themselves.