About this poet

Sydney Lea was born on December 22, 1942, in Chestnut Hill, Pennsylvania. He graduated from Yale University with a BA, then later a PhD in comparative literature.

Lea is the author of numerous poetry collections, including I Was Thinking of Beauty (Four Way Books, 2013), Young of the Year (Four Way Books, 2011), Ghost Pain: Poems (Sarabande, 2008), and Pursuit of a Wound (University of Illinois Press, 2000), which was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. Lea has also published a novel, A Place in Mind (Scribner Publishing, 1989), and several nonfiction books. The outdoors and woodland areas of New England feature strongly in Lea’s poems, which are rooted in local life and take an unwavering look at nature and spirituality. Lea’s work, which has a markedly regional quality, also recalls the transcendental spirit of Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau.  

Poet Mark Jarman writes: “The life in Sydney Lea’s poems is entirely local, whether the locale is Italy, Montana, or his home in Vermont … The making of the soul that occurs in Sydney Lea’s poems is intimately connected with the place where the making occurs … Sydney Lea’s poems show us that all spirituality is local spirituality. He is our preeminent poet of the soul’s making among local places and people.”

In 1977, Lea cofounded, along with Jay Parini, New England Review, a literary magazine that has published many distinguished authors, such as Dorianne Laux, Mark Doty, Jorie Graham, and Louise Erdich, among many others. Lea served as editor for thirteen years.

Lea has held teaching posts at Dartmouth College, Middlebury College, Vermont College, and Wesleyan University, as well as Eotvos Lorand University in Budapest and Franklin College in Switzerland. His honors include fellowships from the Fulbright Association, the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, and the Rockefeller Foundation (Bellagio Center), as well as the 1998 Poets’ Prize.

In 2011, Lea, who has been a Vermont resident since the early 1990s, was appointed the state poet laureate. He currently lives in Newbury, Vermont.


Selected Bibliography

Poetry

I Was Thinking of Beauty (Four Way Books, 2013)
Growing Old in Poetry: Two Poets, Two Lives, with Fleda Brown (Autumn House Press, 2013)
Six Sundays Toward a Seventh (Wipf & Stock Publishers, 2012)
Young of the Year (Four Way Books, 2011)
Ghost Pain: Poems (Sarabande, 2008)
Pursuit of a Wound (University of Illinois Press, 2000)
To the Bone: New and Selected Poems (University of Illinois Press, 1996)

Nonfiction

A North Country Life: Tales of Woodsmen, Waters, and Wildlife (Skyhorse Publishing, 2013)
A Hundred Himalayas: Essays on Life and Literature (University of Michigan Press, 2012)
A Little Wildness: Some Notes on Rambling (Story Line Press, 2005)
Hunting the Whole Way Home (University Press of New England, 1994)

Fiction

A Place in Mind (Story Line Press, 1997)

Recession

Sydney Lea, 1942
A grotesquerie for so long we all ignored it:
The mammoth plastic Santa lighting up
On the Quik-Stop's roof, presiding over pumps
That gleamed and gushed in the tarmac lot below it.
 
Out back, with pumps of their own, the muttering diesels.
And we, for the most part ordinary folks,
Took all for granted: the idling semis' smoke,
The fuel that streamed into our tanks, above all

Our livelihoods. We stepped indoors to talk
With friends, shared coffee, read the local paper,
Heavy with news of hard times now. We shiver.
Our afternoons are gone. At five o'clock

—Once we gave the matter little thought—
Our Santa Claus no longer flares with light.

Copyright © 2011 by Sydney Lea. Reprinted from Young of the Year with the permission of Four Way Books.

Copyright © 2011 by Sydney Lea. Reprinted from Young of the Year with the permission of Four Way Books.

Sydney Lea

Sydney Lea

Sydney Lea was born on December 22, 1942, in Chestnut Hill, Pennsylvania. He graduated from Yale University with a BA, then later a PhD in comparative literature.

by this poet

poem
When was the last lobotomy, I wonder? 
Too late for Carl at least, whom it’s all but hopeless 
to think of as a whipsaw of hateful passion 
that would if it could have torn up his mother and father, 
mild as they are; but that's how old villagers say 
Carl acted before he was cut. Their smiles are rueful. 
They