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About this poet

In 1939, Stephen Dunn was born in New York City. He earned a BA in history and English from Hofstra University, attended the New School Writing Workshops, and finished his MA in creative writing at Syracuse University. Dunn has worked as a professional basketball player, an advertising copywriter, and an editor, as well as a professor of creative writing.

Dunn's books of poetry include Lines of Defense (W. W. Norton, 2014); Here and Now: Poems (W. W. Norton, 2011); What Goes On: Selected and New Poems 1995-2009 (2009); Everything Else in the World (2006); Local Visitations (2003); Different Hours (2000), winner of the 2001 Pulitzer Prize winner for poetry; Loosestrife (1996); New and Selected Poems: 1974-1994 (1994); Landscape at the End of the Century (1991); Between Angels (1989); Local Time (1986), winner of the National Poetry Series; Not Dancing (1984); Work & Love (1981); A Circus of Needs (1978); Full of Lust and Good Usage (1976); and Looking For Holes In the Ceiling 1974. He is also the author of Walking Light: Memoirs and Essays on Poetry (BOA Editions, 2001), and Riffs & Reciprocities: Prose Pairs (1998).

About Dunn's work, the poet Billy Collins has written: "The art lies in hiding the art, Horace tells us, and Stephen Dunn has proven himself a master of concealment. His honesty would not be so forceful were it not for his discrete formality; his poems would not be so strikingly naked were they not so carefully dressed."

Dunn's other honors include the Academy Award for Literature, the James Wright Prize, and fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the New Jersey State Council on the Arts. He has taught poetry and creative writing and held residencies at Wartburg College, Wichita State University, Columbia University, University of Washington, Syracuse University, Southwest Minnesota State College, Princeton University, and University of Michigan.

Dunn is the Distinguished Professor of Creative Writing at Richard Stockton College and lives in Frostburg, Maryland, with his wife, the writer Barbara Hurd.

Charlotte Bronte in Leeds Point

Stephen Dunn, 1939
From her window marshland stretched for miles.
If not for egrets and gulls, it reminded her of the moors
behind the parsonage, how the fog often hovered
and descended as if sheltering some sweet compulsion
the age was not ready to see. On clear days the jagged
skyline of Atlantic City was visible—Atlantic City,
where all compulsions had a home.

"Everything's too easy now," she said to her neighbor,
"nothing resisted, nothing gained." Once, at eighteen,
she dreamed of London's proud salons glowing
with brilliant fires and dazzling chandeliers.
Already her own person—passionate, assertive—
soon she'd create a governess insistent on rights equal
to those above her rank. "The dangerous picture

of a natural heart," one offended critic carped.
She'd failed, he said, to let religion reign
over the passions and, worse, she was a woman.
Now she was amazed at what women had,
doubly amazed at what they didn't.
But she hadn't come back to complain or haunt.
Her house on the bay was modest, adequate.

It need not accommodate brilliant sisters
or dissolute brothers, spirits lost or fallen.
Feminists would pay homage, praise her honesty
and courage. Rarely was she pleased. After all,
she was an artist; to speak of honesty in art,
she knew, was somewhat beside the point.
And she had married, had even learned to respect

the weakness in men, those qualities they called
their strengths. Whatever the struggle, she wanted men
included. Charlotte missed reading chapters to Emily, 
Emily reading chapters to her. As ever, though, she'd try
to convert present into presence, something unsung
sung, some uprush of desire frankly acknowledged,
even in this, her new excuse for a body.

From Local Visitations by Stephen Dunn. Copyright © 2003 by Stephen Dunn. Used by permission of W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.. All rights reserved.

Stephen Dunn

Stephen Dunn

Poet Stephen Dunn is the author of over fifteen poetry collections, including Different Hours (W. W. Norton), which received the Pulitzer Prize for poetry in 2001.

by this poet

poem
After the affair and the moving out,
after the destructive revivifying passion,
we watched her life quiet

into a new one, her lover more and more
on its periphery. She spent many nights
alone, happy for the narcosis

of the television. When she got cancer
she kept it to herself until she couldn't
keep it from
poem
            for Barbara


        There are words
I've had to save myself from,
like My Lord and Blessed Mother,
words I said and never meant,
though I admit a part of me misses
the ornamental stateliness
of High Mass, that smell

        of incense. Heaven did exist,
I discovered, but was reciprocal
and
poem

When Mother died
I thought: now I’ll have a death poem.
That was unforgivable

yet I’ve since forgiven myself
as sons are able to do
who’ve been loved by their mothers.

I stared into the coffin
knowing how long she’d live,
how many lifetimes there are

in the sweet