Tuesday, September 27, 2016

'Poet Warrior' Gerald Stern

If you want to understand a culture, you go to its poets.*
~ American Poet Gerald Stern

Life-long poet, lecturer, and teacher Gerald Stern, born in 1925 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, today resides in quiet Lambertville, New Jersey—still writing and reading and connecting through his words.

Described as "uncontainable"*, the prolific Stern takes up in his expansive work subjects that range over the entirety of human experience, from his Jewish childhood, to love and marriage, to loss and grief, to art, music, and dance, to emptiness and futility, to aging and memory, to suffering and death, to war and violence, and much more. He makes room on the page not only for beauty but also for pain, for the neglected, the misfit, the underdog. He writes in a voice that veers from the passionate, to the satiric and humorous, to the angry, to the lyrical, to the meditative.

Stern also is a writer of place, as in this excerpt from "96 Vandem", which appears in Stern's This Time: New and Selected Poems (W.W. Norton, 1998) and reprinted in Billy Collins's Poetry 180: A Poem a Day for American High Schools:

I am going to carry my bed into New York City tonight
complete with dangling sheets and ripped blankets;
I am going to push it across three dark highways
or coast along under 600,000 faint stars.
[. . . ]
I want to fall asleep on my own fire escape
and wake up dazed and hungry
to the sound of garbage grinding in the street below
and the smell of coffee cooking in the window above.

Stern has written more than a score of poetry books, most recently Divine Nothingness: Poems (W.W. Norton, 2014; paper, 2016). A new collection, Galaxy Love: Poems (W.W. Norton), is expected to go to press in April 2017.

The recipient of numerous prizes, Stern has been recognized with a Frost Medal, a National Book Award (for Time: New and Selected Poems), the Bobbitt National Prize for Poetry (for Early Collected Poems), the Paterson Poetry Prize (for Bread Without Sugar), and the Poetry Society of America's Melville Caine Award (for The Red Coal). Other honors include the prestigious Ruth Lilly Prize, the Rebekah Johnson National Prize for Poetry at the Library of Congress, the Jerome J. Shestack Poetry Prize, the Bess Hokin Prize, and the Wallace Stevens Award, and fellowships or grants from the Academy of American Poets, Guggenheim Foundation, National Endowment for the Arts, and Pennsylvania Council on the Arts. He also served two years, 2000-2002, as New Jersey's Poet Laureate.

Stern is an essayist as well. His essay collections include What I Can't Bear Losing and Stealing History. His Death Watch: A Meditation (Trinity University Press) is to be published in January 2017.

Here's a short video profile of Gerald Stern, at age 88 in 2013, from State of the Arts New Jersey:


* Quoted from the excellent 2008 film Gerald Stern: Still Burning at Poetry Foundation. The short documentary (19:54 minutes) was produced, directed, and edited by Norbert Lempert (REMproductions) with the Poetry Foundation. It features a number of poets who are also Stern's friends, including Ross Gay, Edward Hirsch, Stern's partner Anne Marie Macarie, and Thomas Lux. Stern, age 82  at the time of filming, reads from a number of his wonderful poems. (Additional documentary shorts by Lempert can be found at Poetry Matters Now.)

Selection of Gerald Stern Profiles Online: Academy of American Poets, Guggenheim Foundation, Pennsylvania Center for the Book, The Poetry Center at Smith CollegePoetry Foundation, Poets & WritersW.W. Norton

Selection of Gerald Stern Poems Online: Poetry Foundation (52 Poems), Academy of American Poets (14 Poems), Poems Out Loud (3 Poems; Audio Available), The Poetry Archive (4 Poems; Audio Available), PoemHunter (10 Poems), The New Yorker (12 Poems), The Poetry Center at Smith College (3 Poems)

Tony Norman, "Tony Norman: Poet Gerald Stern Remains Riveting", Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, October 13, 2015

Gerald Stern on FaceBook

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