Poets

Search more than 3,000 biographies of contemporary and classic poets.

Eleanor Lerman

Eleanor Lerman was raised in the Bronx and Far Rockaway, and has lived in New York City all her life. Her first book of poetry, Armed Love (Wesleyan University Press), was published in 1973 when she was twenty-one and was nominated for a National Book Award.

While Lerman quickly became known as an exciting young poet with a direct, new voice, she also faced criticism for her overt tone. A reviewer for The New York Times stated that if poetry were rated, Armed Love would receive a "double X." Lerman published one more collection, Come the Sweet By and By (1975), and then, partly in response to the backlash against her first book, which looked frankly at sexuality and popular culture, she did not write another book of poems for 25 years.

When Sarah Gorham, president of Sarabande Books, started the press, she approached Lerman, whom she had long admired, and asked if she might have a book for Sarabande. Lerman compiled a manuscript of poems, and in 2001 Sarabande published The Mystery of Meteors, followed by Our Post-Soviet History Unfolds (2005), which was awarded the 2006 Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize from the Academy of American Poets for the year's most outstanding book of poetry. Since then, Lerman has also published The Sensual World Re-emerges (2010).

On choosing the collection for the Marshall Prize, poet Tony Hoagland wrote: "Eleanor Lerman's poems have sociological savvy, philosophical rue, historical recognition, and vernacular resilience. They sing a song that is bravely gloomy, but they sing it with a fierce and earned dignity."

Eleanor Lerman
Photo Credit: Ben Fraker

By This Poet

5

The Mystery of Meteors

I am out before dawn, marching a small dog through a meager park 
Boulevards angle away, newspapers fly around like blind white birds 
Two days in a row I have not seen the meteors
though the radio news says they are overhead 
Leonid's brimstones are barred by clouds; I cannot read 
the signs in heaven, I cannot see night rendered into fire

And yet I do believe a net of glitter is above me 
You would not think I still knew these things:
I get on the train, I buy the food, I sweep, discuss, 
consider gloves or boots, and in the summer, 
open windows, find beads to string with pearls 
You would not think that I had survived 
anything but the life you see me living now

In the darkness, the dog stops and sniffs the air 
She has been alone, she has known danger, 
and so now she watches for it always 
and I agree, with the conviction of my mistakes. 
But in the second part of my life, slowly, slowly, 
I begin to counsel bravery. Slowly, slowly, 
I begin to feel the planets turning, and I am turning 
toward the crackling shower of their sparks

These are the mysteries I could not approach when I was younger:
the boulevards, the meteors, the deep desires that split the sky
Walking down the paths of the cold park
I remember myself, the one who can wait out anything
So I caution the dog to go silently, to bear with me 
the burden of knowing what spins on and on above our heads

For this is our reward:Come Armageddon, come fire or flood, 
come love, not love, millennia of portents-- 
there is a future in which the dog and I are laughing 
Born into it, the mystery, I know we will be saved

That Sure is My Little Dog

Yes, indeed, that is my house that I am carrying around 
on my back like a bullet-proof shell and yes, that sure is
my little dog walking a hard road in hard boots. And 
just wait until you see my girl, chomping on the chains
of fate with her mouth full of jagged steel. She’s damn
ready and so am I. What else did you expect from the 
brainiacs of my generation? The survivors, the nonbelievers, 
the oddball-outs with the Cuban Missile Crisis still 
sizzling in our blood? Don’t tell me that you bought 
our act, just because our worried parents (and believe me,
we’re nothing like them) taught us how to dress for work
and to speak as if we cared about our education. And 
I guess the music fooled you: you thought we’d keep 
the party going even to the edge of the abyss. Well,
too bad. It’s all yours now. Good luck on the ramparts.
What you want to watch for is when the sky shakes
itself free of kites and flies away. Have a nice day.

Starfish

This is what life does. It lets you walk up to 
the store to buy breakfast and the paper, on a 
stiff knee. It lets you choose the way you have 
your eggs, your coffee. Then it sits a fisherman 
down beside you at the counter who say, Last night, 
the channel was full of starfish. And you wonder,
is this a message, finally, or just another day?

Life lets you take the dog for a walk down to the
pond, where whole generations of biological 
processes are boiling beneath the mud. Reeds
speak to you of the natural world: they whisper,
they sing. And herons pass by. Are you old 
enough to appreciate the moment? Too old?
There is movement beneath the water, but it 
may be nothing. There may be nothing going on.

And then life suggests that you remember the 
years you ran around, the years you developed
a shocking lifestyle, advocated careless abandon,
owned a chilly heart. Upon reflection, you are
genuinely surprised to find how quiet you have
become. And then life lets you go home to think
about all this. Which you do, for quite a long time.

Later, you wake up beside your old love, the one
who never had any conditions, the one who waited
you out. This is life’s way of letting you know that
you are lucky. (It won’t give you smart or brave,
so you’ll have to settle for lucky.) Because you 
were born at a good time. Because you were able 
to listen when people spoke to you. Because you
stopped when you should have and started again.

So life lets you have a sandwich, and pie for your
late night dessert. (Pie for the dog, as well.) And 
then life sends you back to bed, to dreamland, 
while outside, the starfish drift through the channel, 
with smiles on their starry faces as they head
out to deep water, to the far and boundless sea.

Related Poets