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About this poet

Alan Shapiro was born in Boston, Massachusetts, in 1952 and graduated from Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts, where he studied poetry with Galway Kinnell and J. V. Cunningham.

Shapiro has published over ten poetry collections, including Reel to Reel (University of Chicago Press, 2014); Night of the Republic (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012), a finalist for the 2013 Griffin Poetry Prize and National Book Award; and Old War (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2008), winner of the Ambassador Book Award. Shapiro’s poetry is steeped in the drama and loss of domestic life, traversing the line between the public and private spheres.

Of Shapiro’s work, poet Tom Sleigh has written, “[Shapiro’s] risk-loving swiftness of perception and his affinity for stories that up-end convention and taboo have enabled him to reclaim, for poets of my generation, areas of feeling and linguistic virtuosity that originated with William Carlos Williams, Elizabeth Bishop, J. V. Cunningham, and Ivor Winters. It is hard for me to see how an ideal anthologist of the future will be able to include their names without gratefully including his.”

A memoirist, essayist, translator, and novelist, as well as a poet, Shapiro has also authored the memoirs Vigil (University of Chicago Press, 1997) and The Last Happy Occasion (University of Chicago Press, 1996). He published his first novel, Broadway Baby (Algonquin Books), in 2012.

Shapiro has received the Kingsley Tufts Award, an Los Angeles Times Book Award in poetry, a Lila Wallace-Reader’s Digest Writers’ Award, two awards from the National Endowment of the Arts, a Guggenheim fellowship, the O. B. Hardison Jr. Poetry Prize from the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C., the Sarah Teasdale Award from Wellesley College, and an award in literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

Since 1995, Shapiro has taught at the University of North Carolina, where he currently serves as the William R. Kenan Jr. Distinguished Professor of English and Creative Writing.


Selected Bibliography

Poetry

Reel to Reel (University of Chicago Press, 2014)
Night of the Republic (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012)
Old War (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2008)
Tantalus in Love (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2006)
Song & Dance (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2004)
The Dead Alive and Busy (University of Chicago Press, 2000)
After the Digging (University of Chicago Press, 1998)
Mixed Company (University of Chicago Press, 1996)
Covenant (University of Chicago Press, 1991)
Happy Hour (University of Chicago Press, 1989)
The Courtesy (University of Chicago Press, 1983)

Fiction

Broadway Baby (Algonquin Books, 2012)

Nonfiction

Vigil (University of Chicago Press, 1997)
The Last Happy Occasion (University of Chicago Press, 1996)
In Praise of the Impure: Poetry and the Ethical Imagination: Essays, 1980­–1991 (Northwestern University Press, 1993)

Sleet

Alan Shapiro, 1952
What was it like before the doctor got there?

Till then, we were in the back seat of the warm
dark bubble of the old Buick. We were where 
we'd never not been, no matter where we were.

And when the doctor got there?

Everything outside was in a rage of wind and sleet, 
we were children, brothers, safe in the back seat, 
for once not fighting, just listening, watching the storm.

Weren't you afraid that something bad might happen?

Our father held the wheel with just two fingers 
even though the car skidded and fishtailed 
and the chains clanged raggedly over ice and asphalt.

Weren't you afraid at all?

Dad sang for someone to fly him to the moon, 
to let him play among the stars, while Mom 
held up the lighter to another Marlboro.

But when the doctor started speaking. . .

The tip of the Marlboro was a bright red star. 
Her lips pursed and she released a ring of Saturn, 
which dissolved as we caught at it, as my dad sang Mars.

When you realized what the doctor was saying. . .

They were closer to the storm in the front seat.
The high beams, weak as steam against the walled swirling, 
only illuminated what we couldn't see.

When he described it, the tumor in the brain and what it meant. . .

See, we were children. Then we weren't. Or my brother wasn't. 
He was driving now, he gripped the steering wheel
with both hands and stared hard at the panicked wipers.

What did you feel?

Just sleet, the slick road, the car going way too fast, 
no brother beside me in the back seat, no singing father, 
no mother, no ring of Saturn to catch at as it floats.

Reproduced by permission of Houghton Mifflin Company. Copyright © 2002 by Alan Shapiro. All rights reserved.

Reproduced by permission of Houghton Mifflin Company. Copyright © 2002 by Alan Shapiro. All rights reserved.

Alan Shapiro

Alan Shapiro

Shapiro has published over ten poetry collections, including Reel to Reel (University of Chicago Press, 2014); Night of the Republic (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012), a finalist for the 2013 Griffin Poetry Prize and National Book Award; and Old War (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2008), winner of the Ambassador Book Award.

by this poet

poem
It may not be
the ghostly ballet
of our avoidances
that they’ll remember,
nor the long sulks
of those last months,
nor the voices
chilly with all
the anger we
were careful mostly
not to show
in front of them,
nor anything
at all that made
our choice to live
apart seem to us
both not only
unavoidable
but good,
poem
after the downpour, in the early evening,
late sunlight glinting off the raindrops sliding
down the broad backs of the redbud leaves
beside the porch, beyond the railing, each leaf
bending and springing back and bending again
beneath the dripping,
			between existences,
ecstatic, the souls grow mischievous, they
poem
From where I watch, there are no highest leaves,
no leaves that don’t have over them more leaves 
impeding what they open up and out for, 

darkening downward as they feed on green 
diminishments, as if dark, if it still
can darken, could be itself the light 

the darker leaves beneath are hungry for.
From where