Gerald Stern was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on February 22, 1925. His recent books of poetry
include Divine Nothingness: Poems (W. W. Norton, 2014); In Beauty Bright: Poems (W. W. Norton, 2012); Early
Collected Poems: 1965-1992 (W. W. Norton, 2010), Save the Last Dance: Poems (2008); Everything Is Burning
(2005); American Sonnets (2002); Last Blue: Poems (2000); This Time: New and Selected Poems (1998),
which won the National Book Award; Odd Mercy (1995); and Bread Without Sugar (1992), winner of the Paterson
His other books include Stealing History
(Trinity University Press, 2012); Leaving Another Kingdom: Selected Poems (1990); Two Long Poems (1990);
Lovesick (1987); Paradise Poems (1984); The Red Coal (1981), which received the Melville Caine Award
from the Poetry Society of America; Lucky Life, the 1977 Lamont Poetry Selection of the Academy of American Poets,
which was nominated for a National Book Critics Circle Award; and Rejoicings (1973).
About his work, the poet Toi Derricotte has said, “Gerald Stern has made an immense contribution to American
poetry. His poems are not only great poems, memorable ones, but ones that get into your heart and stay there. Their lyrical
ecstasies take you up for that moment so that your vision is changed, you are changed. The voice is intimate, someone unafraid
to be imperfect. Gerald Stern’s poems sing in praise of the natural world, and in outrage of whatever is antihuman.”
His honors include the Paris Review‘s Bernard F. Conners
Award, the Bess Hokin Award from Poetry, the Ruth Lilly Prize, four National Endowment for the Arts grants, the Pennsylvania
Governor’s Award for Excellence in the Arts, the Jerome J. Shestack Poetry Prize from American Poetry Review,
and fellowships from the Academy of American Poets, the Guggenheim Foundation, and the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts.
In 2005, Stern was selected to receive the Wallace Stevens Award for mastery in the art of poetry.
Stern was elected a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets in 2006. For many years a teacher at the University
of Iowa Writers’ Workshop, Stern now lives in Lambertville, New Jersey.
Poems - Prompt - Bio - Reviews - Interviews - Reading
"CHEKHOV IN AMERICA,"
A Review of Gerald Stern's Lovesick by David Walker
A reviewer writing recently in the Hudson Review
charged Ger- ald Stern with sentimentality. I can see the reasons behind such a claim: Stern's work is often unfashionably
passionate in its re- sponse to everyday pleasures and terrors. His poems frequently risk banality by dancing in the territory
of apparently naked emo- tion; they are full of the sounds of moaning and singing, of ex- travagant gestures of celebration
and repentance. But in my judgment there is nothing sentimental about the poems in Love- sick, if by that term one means
a self-indulgent summoning of emotion for its own sake. What seems remarkable to me about Stern's work is how successfully
he manages to dramatize the emotional content of the poems, framing it so subtly that the seam between art and artlessness
almost disappears. In that sense he seems to me increasingly an American Chekhov. He is as generous, honest, and fearless
a poet as we have, but he is also a masterful sculptor of tone, rhetoric, and cadence.
Stern's best poems grow out of an apparently
autobiographical impulse, but they are also wonderfully open and inclusive: the persona is at once localized and representative.
Such poems have their foundation in the domestic, historical, everyday self, but they are apt at some point to break into
an urgent lyricism with breathtaking ease and grace. One of the clearest examples is "All I Have Are the Tracks":
Click here for a review
The Rumpus Interview
with Gerald Stern by Adrienne Davich
There’s a black and white photo in which the poet Stanley Kunitz lovingly holds Gerald Stern’s cheeks in both
hands. It’s 1990. They’re looking into one another, and Kunitz says, “You’re the wilderness in American poetry.”
I’ve wanted to know what America’s poet of wilderness thinks about the power of art. What is the action of art? I’ve wanted to ask him. And what responsibility, if any, does the artist have to address social issues?
Stern came of age as a poet and activist in the 1950s and 60s. He’s probably best known for Lucky Life (now part of his Early Collected),
which established him as a major voice in American poetry in 1977, and This Time:
New and Selected Poems, for which he won the National Book Award. I don’t think that book titles and awards do
much, however, to capture his presence, his vitality—how he’ll say what others won’t, or how, when you
read one of his poems, you can feel urgently as if you should give dignity and love away to some unacknowledged thing.
Stern is also a prose writer at work right now on a collection that includes a section about how various people,
including Simone de Beauvoir and Henry Miller, have written about New York. I mention this in particular because its real
subject is how the artist’s vision may give birth, in language, to a kind of raw energy, which may at best complement
calls for justice, and at worst fan bigotry. Stern writes of how Simone de Beauvoir fell in love with New York and America,
and how she offered in her writing “kindness, honesty, and full-throated opinions about American racism, sexual relations…and
self-assurance.” Henry Miller, on the other hand, offered racism, sexism, and a rejection of everything American in
his book The Air-Conditioned Nightmare. “He seems actually to hate everything,”
Stern writes, “or really not to love anything except one or two
lost souls he bumps into.”
Here’s an edited version of a conversation
I had with Stern at his home in Lambertville, New Jersey.
The Rumpus: Talk to me about political poetry.
Gerald Stern: I
don’t know what to say that hasn’t been said already. Not everyone confronts. Not everyone is summoned. It’s you who are “political,” it’s not what you say. Political means
so many things. We are political willy-nilly. Political poetry is an easy invitation to disaster. But then so is love poetry.
But we are a little more patient with bad love poetry. It might be an evil necessity that we want to get rid of—so
we can go back to the other. Oppressed persons, oppressed cultures, tend to be more political, obviously, as are those with
a rage for justice, or the crazy messianic desire. Oppressed cultures often envy those which are not, or oppressed individuals
do, and sometimes those which—and who—are not envy those which—who—are. All said before. Some
are spokesmen, spokespeople: they can’t help themselves. They can’t think of anything else. Maybe they’re
deprived, even depressed. If you don’t have a bed, or a dresser or a wall, or a book or a toy you are oppressed. An
African American in a white world. A Jew in a Christian world. A gypsy. A Native American. A Chinese American. Let’s
say, you were born deprived. What then? Some don’t identify; they just don’t. Berryman’s best poetry was
not (properly) political. Yet “The Imaginary Jew” (totally political) is his best story. It’s insane—why
does a poet have to do it? Can’t he not? I have left out what I don’t remember or don’t know. Temperament,
fear, shyness, obedience, kindness. I use to be better at this! This is the last time I’ll talk about it.
The Rumpus: I want to ask you about caves. ...
Click here for an interview
Click here for multiple readings by Stern