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Ed Roberson

Born in 1939 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Ed Roberson earned his BA at the University of Pittsburgh and later completed graduate work at Goddard College. His first collection of poetry, When Thy King Is a Boy (Pitt Poetry), was released in 1970, the same year that he completed his undergraduate degree.

Roberson is the author of many poetry collections, including Voices Cast Out to Talk Us In (University of Iowa Press, 1995), Just In: Word of Navigational Change: New and Selected Work (Talisman House, 1998), Atmosphere Conditions (Green Integer, 1999), City Eclogue (Atelos, 2006), The New Wing of the Labyrinth (Singing Horse Press, 2009), and To See the Earth Before the End of the World (Wesleyan University Press, 2010). Roberson's poetry has also appeared in numerous anthologies, including The Best American Poetry 2004 and Primary Trouble: An Anthology of Contemporary American Poetry, among other publications.

C.D. Wright has described Roberson's work as "lyric poetry of meticulous design and lasting emotional significance," comparing its musical qualities to the work of saxophonist Steve Lacy, jazz pianist Thelonious Monk, and composer Johann Sebastian Bach. Poet and critic Reginald Gibbons, in his review of The New Wing of the Labyrinth, celebrates Roberson as a "master of a hauntingly meditative rhythm of thought and perception."

Recipient of the Jackson Poetry Prize and the Stephen Henderson Critics Award for Achievement in Literature, Roberson has also won an LA Times Book Award, the 2008 Shelley Memorial Award from The Poetry Society of America, the 1998 National Poetry Series Award, and the Lila Wallace-Reader's Digest Writers' Award. In 2017, he received the Academy of American Poets Fellowship, which recognizes distinguished poetic achievement.

Formerly a professor of literature and creative writing at Rutgers University, Roberson now resides in Chicago, where he has taught at the University of Chicago and Columbia College Chicago. He is currently Artist-in-Residence at Northwestern University.

Selected Bibliography

Closest Pronunciation (Northwestern University Press, 2013)
To See the Earth Before the End of the World (Wesleyan University Press, 2010)
The New Wing of the Labyrinth (Singing Horse Press, 2009)
City Eclogue (Atelos, 2006)
Atmosphere Conditions (Green Integer, 1999)
Just In: Word of Navigational Change: New and Selected Work (Talisman House, 1998)
Voices Cast Out to Talk Us In (University of Iowa Press, 1995)
Etai-Eken (University of Pittsburgh Press, 1975)
When Thy King is a Boy (University of Pittsburgh Press, 1970)

By This Poet



There is nothing concrete to grasp in 
looking into the morning sky

The evidence of red-eye 
flights east a plane drawn line presents

is not a wheelbarrow solid enough 
dependency as day and night

carry   in coming and going
You don't see the poem

saying anything you can't see in it
White dashes of contrails' 

seemingly unmoving streak towards sunrise
disquiet the pale otherwise 

unpunctuated blue of dawn    
breaks it off                Here is that silence

On the Sparrow: No Blame

 When I worked in the steel mill
the ceiling crane dropped a bolt
at my feet          the way the cat
leaves his catch on the doorstep
for me        to step over it
a bolt thick as a sparrow:
the gift of it:              it didn't
easy as eggshell crack my skull.

Walking underneath the el's
same bridge superstructure
when i first arrived
in Chicago    this is what
I thought of          a falling bolt,
having to give up my cats
and not be mad if the whole 
thing falls off track aimed at me.

Buildings straight up from the street
tall slough off their "Falling Ice,"
stand-up sidewalk signs like it's nothing.
Buildings the sparrow's slam into,
fall from—    watched from the window desks—
mistaking light for the sky, land up here.
The cats probably have been
put to sleep by age by now. No blame.


                     The apparition of these faces in the crowd...)

riding the bullet train
the view passes by so fast
it is either a blur they say

or —like night lightning
strobes the raindrops
to a stop in midair

in that soundless moment—
maybe from the train you can glimpse
waiting there

one of those famous petals stopped still
in midair holding its wave to you
in place.        write us

and tell us if
this is so.