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Cole Swenson was born in Kentfield, California, in 1955. She received her BA degree and MA from San Francisco State University, and a PhD in Comparative Literature from the University of California, Santa Cruz.
She is the author of more than ten collections of poetry, including Gravesend (University of California Press, 2012), finalist for the LA Times Book Prize in Poetry; The Glass Age (Alice James Books, 2007); The Book of a Hundred Hands (University of Iowa Press, 2005); Goest (Alice James Books, 2004), finalist for the National Book Award; Such Rich Hour (University of Iowa Press, 2001); Oh (Apogee Press, 2000); Try (University of Iowa Press, 1999), winner of the Iowa Poetry Prize and winner of the San Francisco State Poetry Center Book Award; Noon (Sun & Moon Press, 1997), winner of the New American Writing Award; Numen (Burning Deck Press, 1995), a finalist for the PEN West Award in Poetry; and New Math (William Morrow & Co., 1988), winner of the National Poetry Series.
Her translations of contemporary French poetry include Physis (2007, by Nicolas Pesquès); Future, Former, Fugitive (2004, by Olivier Cadiot); Oxo (2004, by Pierre Alferi ); Island of the Dead (2002, Jean Frémon) which was awarded the 2004 PEN USA Award for Literary Translation; Bayart (2001, by Pascalle Monnier); Art Poetic (1999, by Olivier Cadiot).
With David St. John, she edited the anthology American Hybrid: A Norton Anthology of New Poetry (Norton, 2009).
About her work, poet Michael Palmer writes, “Cole Swensen attends fixedly to those minute nuances and wanderings of language whereby the poem builds its particular perceptual logic. The result might well be called a ‘new math,’ or perhaps a calculus of light, shedding new light on things immediately before the eye.”
Swensen was awarded a 2006 Guggenheim Fellowship.
She taught at the Iowa Writers' Workshop at the University of Iowa until 2012 when she joined the faculty of Brown University's Literary Arts Program.