Born in Kansas, on December 11, 1932, Keith Waldrop served in the United States military and in 1954, he met his wife, the poet and translator Rosmarie Waldrop while stationed in Kitzingen, Germany. He studied at Aix-Marseille and Michigan universities, earning a PhD in comparative literature in 1964. His first book of poetry, A Windmill Near Calvary (University of Michigan, 1968), was nominated for a National Book Award.
Waldrop is the author of numerous collections of poetry, most recently Selected Poems (Omnidawn, 2016); Several Gravities (Siglio, 2009), a collection of collages; Transcendental Studies (University of California Press, 2009), a trilogy of collage poems which won the National Book Award for Poetry; and a translation of Charles Baudelaire’s Paris Spleen (Wesleyan, 2009). His other work includes The Real Subject: Queries and Conjectures of Jacob Delafon: With Sample Poems (Omnidawn, 2004). Other collections of poetry include The House Seen from Nowhere (Litmus, 2002); Well Well Reality (Omnidawn, 1998), a collaboration with Rosmarie Waldrop; Semiramis, If I Remember (Avec Books, 2001); The Silhouette of the Bridge (Avec Books, 1997), which won the Americas Award for Poetry; and The Locality Principle (Avec Books, 1995). He has also translated several contemporary French poets, such as Anne-Marie Albiach, Claude Royet-Journoud, Dominique Fourcade, Jean Grosjean, and Paol Keineg. In 2006, he completed a translation of Baudelaire’s Les Fleurs du Mal (Wesleyan University Press).
According to Waldrop, collage is a major mode of composition for him. He explains the process as: “a way to explore, not necessarily the thing I am tearing up, but the thing I am contriving to build out of torn pieces. To the extent that there is a purpose to what I do, its end is the ‘enjoyment of a composition’—a concern, as A. N. Whitehead notes, common to aesthetics and logic.”
About his work, the poet Michael Palmer has said,
As we would expect from Keith Waldrop, it is suffused with a particular humanity and an appreciation for the absurd, even the grotesque, in daily life. The rhythmic apposition of prose and poetry brings to mind the freedom, alertness, and quality of distillation in Basho’s classic travel sketches. With his quietly precise sense of modulation and his unerring gaze, Waldrop remains one of the vital and requisite, semi-secret presences in American letters.
Waldrop has received an award from the Fund for Poetry, fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Berlin Artists Program of the DAAD. In 2000, he received a Medal from the French government with the rank of Chevalier in the Order of Arts and Letters for his lifetime contribution to French literature.
Waldrop lived in Providence, Rhode Island, where he taught at Brown University and served as a coeditor of Burning Deck Press with Rosmarie Waldrop since 1968, until his death on July 27, 2023.