Poets

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

Elizabeth Willis

Elizabeth Willis is the author of several poetry collections, most recently, Alive: New and Selected Poems (New York Review of Books, 2015). Her other books include Address (Wesleyan University Press, 2011), Meteoric Flowers (Wesleyan University Press, 2006), and Second Law (Avenue B, 1993). Willis is also a literary critic, having edited the collection of essays, Radical Vernacular: Lorine Niedecker and the Poetics of Place (University of Iowa Press, 2008). She was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship in 2012, and is currently a Professor of Poetry at the Iowa Writers' Workshop. 

By This Poet

2

The Steam Engine

I came back to the meadow an unsuspecting hart, trying to wake up from a long night of walking. I was looking for a subtext, a heavy horsy bee doing battle with its inclination. What’s your angle? A little evanescent on the rim, it’s only a willow, beaked and shining, a toothy margin holding up banks. Have we overstayed our party in the heavenly city or are we spilling through its gates trying not to get trampled? On the berm I filled a basket with crashing birds. In the dream you pointed sideways with your thumb where the cars were flying.

Ephemeral Stream


This is the way water 
thinks about the desert.
The way the thought of water 
gives you something 
to stumble on. A ghost river.
A sentence trailing off
toward lower ground.
A finger pointing
at the rest of the show.

I wanted to read it. 
I wanted to write a poem 
and call it "Ephemeral Stream"
because you made of this 
imaginary creek
a hole so deep 
it looked like a green eye 
taking in the storm, 
a poem interrupted 
by forgiveness.

It's not over yet.
A dream can spend 
all night fighting off 
the morning. Let me
start again. A stream 
may be a branch or a beck, 
a crick or kill or lick,
a syke, a runnel. It pours 
through a corridor. The door 
is open. The keys
are on the dashboard.