This article examines Adrienne Rich’s teaching materials, writings on education, and participation in the Search for Education, Elevation, and Knowledge educational opportunity program in order to argue that poetry and pedagogy were interrelated means through which Rich sought to redistribute institutional power and resources. Although Rich’s poetry and essays have been widely praised for their contributions to feminism, little attention has been paid to the way she changed her life course, moving from Columbia to City College, to participate in one of the most visionary, controversial, and challenging educational experiments in the history of twentieth-century American higher education. Teaching students who were historically excluded from higher education catalyzed a major shift in Rich’s work: a move away from teaching traditional literary history toward the poetics of everyday life, and a related move away from hierarchical models of teaching and learning to a more collective, activist pedagogy, inspired by movements for women’s liberation, anti-imperialism, and black liberation and self-determination. The literary pedagogy that emerges from these classrooms explores how lives are shaped by metaphors, comparisons, erasures, elisions, and gaps, and how the elliptical, unsaid, implied, and occluded might be deployed, instead, to build a better present.

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