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Philip Booth


Born in Hanover, New Hampshire, on October 8, 1925, Philip Booth spent much of his childhood in Castine, Maine, in a house that had been in his mother's family for generations. This biographical detail proves strikingly relevant to Booth's poetry, which constructs the consciousness and day-to-day life of New Englanders. Moreover, the landscape of New England, particularly the coast of Maine, often occupies a place of primary importance in Booth's poems—serving as a metaphor for the poet's emotional or psychological state.

After returning from Air Force service in World War II, Booth studied with Robert Frost as a freshman at Dartmouth College and, upon obtaining his M.A. in English from Columbia University, returned to Dartmouth to teach English. After a year at Dartmouth, Booth left his hometown to join the faculty at Wellesley College and, eventually, left New England for Syracuse University, where he was one of the founders of the graduate program in creative writing.

His first book of poems, Letters from a Distant Land (1957), was the 1956 Lamont Poetry Selection of the Academy of American Poets, judged by Louise Bogan, John Holmes, Rolfe Humphries, May Sarton, and Richard Wilbur "for the discovery and encouragement of new poetic genius."

Over the course of his career, he published nine other collections of poetry, including Lifelines: Selected Poems, 1950-1999 (Viking Press, 1999), which received the 2001 Poets' Prize, Pairs (1994), Relations: Selected Poems 1950-1985 (1986), Available Light (1976), and Weathers and Edges (1966).

About his work, the poet Stephen Dunn has said, "While other poets of his generation have been struggling not to duplicate themselves, Philip Booth has managed to extend and deepen the subject matter that always compelled him: how one lives and finds oneself among others, and otherness." A former student of Booth's at Syracuse University, Dunn wrote in an e-mail message after the death of his teacher, "Booth's quest was to deepen as opposed to range widely, and in that sense he was a poet of consciousness, even when his subject seemed to be the dailiness of Castine or the vagaries of sailing."

Booth's honors include Guggenheim, Rockefeller, and National Endowment for the Arts fellowships, and the Theodore Roethke Prize. In 1983 he was elected a Fellow of The Academy of American Poets.

Philip Booth died in Hanover, New Hampshire, on July 2, 2007 from complications of Alzheimer's disease.


Letter from a Distant Land (1957)
The Islanders (1961)
Weathers and Edges (1966)
Margins (1970)
Available Light (1976)
Before Sleep (1980)
Relations: Selected Poems 1950-1985 (1986)
Selves (1990)
Pairs (1994)
Lifelines: Selected Poems, 1950-1999 (1999)


Trying to Say It: Outlooks and Insights on How Poems Happen (1996)

Philip Booth

By This Poet



Beside you,
lying down at dark,
my waking fits your sleep.

Your turning
flares the slow-banked fire
between our mingled feet,

and there,
curved close and warm
against the nape of love,

held there,
who holds your dreaming
shape, I match my breathing

to your breath;
and sightless, keep my hand
on your heart's breast, keep

on your sleep to prove
there is no dark, nor death.

How to See Deer

Forget roadside crossings.
Go nowhere with guns.
Go elsewhere your own way,

lonely and wanting. Or
stay and be early:
next to deep woods

inhabit old orchards.
All clearings promise.
Sunrise is good,

and fog before sun.
Expect nothing always;
find your luck slowly.

Wait out the windfall.
Take your good time
to learn to read ferns;

make like a turtle:
downhill toward slow water.
Instructed by heron,

drink the pure silence.
Be compassed by wind.
If you quiver like aspen

trust your quick nature:
let your ear teach you
which way to listen.

You've come to assume
protective color; now
colors reform to

new shapes in your eye.
You've learned by now
to wait without waiting;

as if it were dusk
look into light falling:
in deep relief

things even out. Be
careless of nothing. See
what you see.

Saying It

Saying it. Trying
to say it. Not
to answer to

logic, but leaving
our very lives open
to how we have

to hear ourselves
say what we mean.
Not merely to

know, all told,
our far neighbors;
or here, beside

us now, the stranger
we sleep next to.
Not to get it said

and be done, but to
say the feeling, its
present shape, to

let words lend it
dimension: to name
the pain to confirm

how it may be borne:
through what in
ourselves we dream

to give voice to,
to find some word for
how we bear our lives.

Daily, as we are daily
wed, we say the world
is a wedding for which,

as we are constantly
finding, the ceremony
has not yet been found.

What wine? What bread?
What language sung?
We wake, at night, to

imagine, and again wake
at dawn to begin: to let
the intervals speak

for themselves, to
listen to how they
feel, to give pause

to what we're about:
to relate ourselves,
over and over; in

time beyond time
to speak some measure
of how we hear the music:

today if ever to
say the joy of trying
to say the joy.

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