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Alan Shapiro

1952–

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 Life Pig (University of Chicago Press, 2016); 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

Life Pig (University of Chicago Press, 2016)
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)

Alan Shapiro
Photo courtesy of Algonquin Books

By This Poet

4

Sleet

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.

The Haunting

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, but just.

No, what I think
will haunt them is
precisely what
we’ve chosen to
forget: those too
infrequent (though
even toward
the end still
possible) moments
when, the children
upstairs, the dinner
cooking, one of us
would all at once
start humming an old
tune and we’d dance,
as if we did
so always, in
a swoon of gliding
all through the house,
across the kitchen,

down the hall
and back, we’d sway
together, we’d twirl,
we’d dip and cha-
cha and the children
would hear us and
be helpless not
to come running
down to burrow
in between us,
into the center
of the dance that now,
I think, will haunt them
for the very joy
itself, for joy
that was for them,
for all of us
together, something
better than joy,
and yet for you
and me, ourselves,
alone, apart,
still not enough.

Just

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 break ranks,
swerve from the rigid V's of their migration,
their iron destinies, down to the leaves
they flutter in among, rising and settling,
bodiless, but pretending to have bodies,

their weightlessness more weightless for the ruse,
their freedom freer, their as-ifs nearly not,
until the night falls like an order and 
they rise on one vast wing that darkens down
the endless flyways into other bodies.

Nothing will make you less afraid.

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