DescriptionUsing the work of Adrienne Rich as a lens, this dissertation examines three important intersections of poetry and the public in the U.S. since World War II: the postwar lyric, 1960s avant-garde and political poetry, and the intertwining of poetry and politics in second wave feminism. Framed by an evolving theory and history of public spheres, it reads Rich's poems in terms of how they address and respond to specific audiences. It considers how her early work is nurtured by and increasingly struggles with an elite postwar intellectual milieu. It then shows how her poems respond to the sixties avant garde and political communities especially the Black Mountain poets, the Black Arts Movement, and the antiwar movement. Finally, it examine how Rich situated her seventies poems materially and discursively in the emerging feminist movement and created a poetry that, rather than reflecting politics, became a form of political action and a catalyst for many of the movement's political and theoretical accomplishments. Drawing on extensive archival research, the dissertation reads selected poems as performances that engage, project, and are pressured by particular publics while it argues that Rich's seventies poems become political in ways that confound standard ideas about the relationship between poetry and politics.