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Rosanna Warren

1953–

On July 27, 1953, Rosanna Warren was born in Fairfield, Connecticut. She studied painting at Yale University, where she graduated in 1976, and an MA in 1980 from The Writing Seminars at Johns Hopkins University.

She is the author of Ghost in a Red Hat (W. W. Norton, 2011); Departure (2003); Stained Glass (1993), which was named the Lamont Poetry Selection by the Academy of American Poets; Each Leaf Shines Separate (1984); and Snow Day (1981).

She has also published a translation of Euripides's Suppliant Women (with Stephen Scully; Oxford, 1995), a book of literary criticism, Fables of the Self: Studies in Lyric Poetry (W.W. Norton, 2008), and has edited several books, including The Art of Translation: Voices from the Field (Northeastern, 1989).

"Rosanna Warren lives in our tarnished, everyday, ramshackle world of loss, anguish, and sacrifice," writes poet Anthony Hecht, "but she inhabits almost as vividly a realm of classic purity; and in some of her best, most moving poems she dwells in both regions at once, and within, as it seems, the same breath. It is a beautiful miracle of bilocation."

Her awards include the Pushcart Prize, the Award of Merit in Poetry and the Witter Bynner Prize from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the May Sarton Prize, the Lavan Younger Poets Award from the Academy of American Poets, the Ingram Merrill Foundation Award, the Ingram Merrill Grant for Poetry, a Lila Wallace Readers Digest Award, the Nation/"Discovery" Award, and fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the American Council of Learned Societies.

Warren served as a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets from 1999 to 2005. In the fall of 2000, she was The New York Times Resident in Literature at the American Academy in Rome.

She is a contributing editor of Seneca Review and the former poetry editor of Daedalus. She was the Emma MacLachlan Metcalf Professor of the Humanities at Boston University. She is a professor at the Committee of Social Thought at the University of Chicago and lives in Chicago, Illinois.

Rosanna Warren
Photo credit: Joel Cohen

By This Poet

3

Man in Stream

You stand in the brook, mud smearing
your forearms, a bloodied mosquito on your brow,
your yellow T-shirt dampened to your chest
as the current flees between your legs,
amber, verdigris, unraveling
today’s story, last night's travail . . .

You stare at the father beaver, eye to eye,
but he outstares you—you who trespass in his world,
who have, however unwilling, yanked out his fort,
stick by tooth-gnarled, mud-clabbered stick,
though you whistle vespers to the wood thrush
and trace flame-flicker in the grain of yellow birch.

Death outpaces us. Upended roots
of fallen trees still cling to moss-furred granite.
Lichen smolders on wood-rot, fungus trails in wisps.
I wanted a day with cracks, to let the godlight in.
The forest is always a nocturne, but it gleams,
the birch tree tosses its change from palm to palm,

and we who unmake are ourselves unmade
if we know, if only we know
how to give ourselves in this untendered light.

Muse Not Muse

(Gwen John, Painter, Rodin’s Model)

Cinnabar, Phoenician red, wild
         geranium—to be played against
         olive and smoky lime, a
mercury luster: quicksilver
         the soul, most visible
         in the empty room. Who saw

the wicker armchair open like Danae
         to the cataract of citrus
         light? Whose coat lies flung
across the frame? The Parisian garret
         window gapes ajar, the bare
         floor crackles, book

lies torqued along its spine,
        splayed. “I don’t pretend
        to know anybody well: people
are like shadows to me and I
        am a shadow.” Her job: years
        in an empty room, to wait.

The woman waits, the Master breaks his cloud-
        cover unaccountably,
        then she stands torqued
along her spine, splayed, in plaster
        rises, an immortal
        armless Muse turning

from him who turns from her. “Oh what
        inquietude: eternal
        adieu?” Raw sienna,
Payne’s gray, Naples yellow: she spins
        her color wheel, grips
        her brush. No adieu

but to twist in the Master’s ever-vanishing
        embrace, to strike his poses,
        plead, then lead
the long, fevered, scumbled hours alone.
        “Make your harmonies, make
        your harmonies.” Her brush

        her own. And when the god, exhausted, dies,
        she reigns already
        in her vacancy:
has rendered from sunset, salmon, ashen-blue,
        “Method: snowdrop in earth—
the road—the pink flower—“

“We must go on with our mysterious work.”

Fugue, Harpsichord

For Sylvia Marlowe

Out of her left hand fled
the stream, from her right the rain
puckered the surface, drop by drop, the current

splayed in a downward daze until it hit
the waterfall, churned twigs
and leaves, smashed foam over stone:

from her fingers slid
eddies, bubbles rose, the fugue
heaved up against itself, against its own

falling: digressed in curlicues
under shadowed banks, around root tangles and
beaver-gnawed sticks. She had the face

of a pike, the thrusting lower jaw and silvered
eye, pure drive. The form
fulfilled itself

through widowhood, her skin
mottled with shingles, hands crooked, a pain
I fled. Now

that tempered tumult moves
my time into her timing. Far
beyond her dying, my

tinnitus, I am still
through the thrum of voices
trying to hear.

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