Marie Ponsot was born in Queens, New York, on April 6, 1921. She received a BA from St. Joseph’s College for Women and an MA from Columbia University. On a trip to Paris soon after World War II, she became friends with Lawrence Ferlinghetti, the founder of City Lights Books. He published Ponsot’s first poetry collection, True Minds (City Lights Pocket Bookshop) in 1956.
While in Paris, Ponsot met the painter Claude Ponsot, whom she married. Together, they had seven children, whom she raised alone after their divorce in 1970. During this time, she also translated over thirty books from French to English.
Twenty-five years after the publication of True Minds, Ponsot published her second book, Admit Impediment (Alfred A. Knopf), in 1981. Since then, she has written several books of poetry: Collected Poems (Alfred A. Knopf, 2016); Easy (Alfred A. Knopf, 2009); Springing: New and Selected Poems (Alfred A. Knopf, 2002); The Bird Catcher (Alfred A. Knopf, 1998), which won the National Book Critics Circle Award and was a finalist for the 1999 Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize; and The Green Dark (Alfred A. Knopf, 1988).
On the importance of poetry, Ponsot said, “There’s a primitive need for language that works as an instrument of discovery and relief, that can make rich the cold places of our inner worlds with the memorable tunes and dreams poems hold for us.”
About her work, poet and critic Susan Stewart has said:
What she has written of her relation to the night sky—‘it becomes the infinite / air of imagination that stirs immense / among losses and leaves me less desolate’—could be claimed by her readers as a description of her own work, which pulls us always to forms of thought and attention that surprise and enlarge and cheer us.
In a New York Times review, Dinitia Smith writes, “A Marie Ponsot poem is like a little jeweled bracelet, carefully carved, with small, firm stones embedded in it. Her subjects are domestic life, marriage and sometimes swimming.”
Ponsot taught at Beijing United University, Columbia University, New York University, the Poetry Center of the YMHA, and Queens College. Her honors include the Delmore Schwartz Memorial Prize, a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, the 2013 Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize, and the Shaughnessy Medal of the Modern Language Association.
Ponsot served as a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets from 2010 to 2014. She lived in New York City. She died on July 5, 2019.