Feministpoet Adrienne Rich, whose powerful, often angry writings celebrate life, love and political causes, yesterday won the first $25,000 Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize, said to be the largest award dedicated to U.S. poets.

"I'm almost without words," said Rich, 57, a professor of English and feminist studies at Stanford University and author of a dozen volumes of poetry and two prose works.

Funded by Indianapolis philanathropist Ruth Lilly, was presented by the Chicago-based Modern Poetry Association, publisher of Poetry Magazine, and the American Council for the Arts, based in New York.

Rich, who has been at the forefront of both poetry and the women's movement for more than three decades, said that the award would provide "a lot of elbow room" she wouldn't have had otherwise.

Part of the cash windfall, she said, would be "tithed . . . to places where it could aid more than one person and make survival and writing more possible, particularly in the feminist and lesbian community."

"You're never going to earn a great deal of money," Rich said of her life as a poet. "That is not what I see it being about. I see it being one kind of work, one kind of voice in a society that needs voices against alienation, voices that may never be successful in the mainstream American way but are truly successful because they embody the spirit of a people."

Rich won her first poetry prize at 21. In 1976 she received the prestigious National Book Award. She rejected that award as an individual and accepted it instead along with two other women nominees, Alice Walker and Audre Lorde, on behalf of all women, donating the cash award to the Sisterhood of Black Single Mothers in New York.