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Susan Stewart

1952–

Susan Stewart was born on March 15, 1952. She received a BA in English and anthropology from Dickinson College, an MA in poetics from Johns Hopkins University, and a PhD in folklore from the University of Pennsylvania.

Stewart is the author of several poetry collections, including Cinder: New and Selected Poems (Graywolf Press, 2017); Columbarium (University of Chicago Press, 2003), which received the National Book Critics Circle Award; The Forest (University of Chicago Press, 1995), which received the Literary Award of the Philadelphia Atheneum; The Hive (University of Georgia Press, 1987); and Yellow Stars and Ice (Princeton University Press, 1981).

Her collected essays on art, The Open Studio: Essays in Art and Aesthetics, was published by the University of Chicago Press in 2004. Her other books of criticism include The Poet's Freedom: A Notebook on Making  (University of Chicago Press, 2011); Poetry and the Fate of the Senses (University of Chicago Press, 2002), which received both the 2002 Christian Gauss Award for Literary Criticism from Phi Beta Kappa and the 2004 Truman Capote Award in Literary Criticism; as well as Crimes of Writing: Problems in the Containment of Representation (Oxford University Press, 1991); Nonsense (Johns Hopkins University Press, 1989); and On Longing: Narratives of the Miniature, the Gigantic, the Souvenir, the Collection (Duke University Press, 1984).

She also cotranslated Euripides' Andromache with Wesley Smith, and the poetry and selected prose of the Scuola Romana painter Scipione with Brunella Antomarini, and collaborated with composer James Primosch on a song cycle commissioned by the Chicago Symphony.

About her work, the poet and critic Allen Grossman writes, "Stewart has built a poetic syntax capable of conveying an utterly singular account of consciousness, by the light of which it is possible to see the structure of the human world with a new clarity and an unforseen precision, possible only in her presence and by means of her art."

Her honors include a Lila Wallace Individual Writer's Award, two grants in poetry from the National Endowment for the Arts, a Pew Fellowship for the Arts, and fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the MacArthur Foundation. She was elected a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets in 2005.

Stewart taught at Temple University in Philadelphia from 1978 to 1997. She is currently a professor of English at Princeton University where she teaches the history of poetry and aesthetics. 

 


Bibliography

Poetry
Cinder: New and Selected Poems (Graywolf Press, 2017)
Red Rover (University of Chicago Press, 2011)
Columbarium (University of Chicago Press, 2003)
The Elements (ELM Press, 2002)
The Forest (University of Chicago Press, 1995)
The Hive (University of Georgia Press, 1987)
Yellow Stars and Ice (Princeton University Press, 1981)

Prose
The Poet's Freedom (University of Chicago Press, 2011)
The Open Studio (University of Chicago Press, 2005)
Poetry and the Fate of the Senses (University of Chicago Press, 2002)
Crimes of Writing (Oxford University Press, 1991)
Nonsense (Johns Hopkins University Press, 1989)
On Longing (Duke University Press, 1984)

Susan Stewart
Photo courtesy of the American Academy in Berlin

By This Poet

9

Yellow Stars and Ice


I am as far as the deepest sky between clouds
and you are as far as the deepest root and wound, 
and I am as far as a train at evening, 
as far as a whistle you can't hear or remember. 
You are as far as an unimagined animal 
who, frightened by everything, never appears. 
I am as far as cicadas and locusts
and you are as far as the cleanest arrow 
that has sewn the wind to the light on 
the birch trees. I am as far as the sleep of rivers 
that stains the deepest sky between clouds, 
you are as far as invention, and I am as far as memory.

You are as far as a red-marbled stream 
where children cut their feet on the stones 
and cry out. And I am as far as their happy 
mothers, bleaching new linen on the grass 
and singing, "You are as far as another life, 
as far as another life are you."
And I am as far as an infinite alphabet 
made from yellow stars and ice, 
and you are as far as the nails of the dead man, 
as far as a sailor can see at midnight 
when he's drunk and the moon is an empty cup, 
and I am as far as invention and you are as far as memory.

I am as far as the corners of a room where no one 
has ever spoken, as far as the four lost corners 
of the earth. And you are as far as the voices 
of the dumb, as the broken limbs of saints 
and soldiers, as the scarlet wing of the suicidal 
blackbird, I am farther and farther away from you. 
And you are as far as a horse without a rider 
can run in six years, two months and five days.
I am as far as that rider, who rubs his eyes with
his blistered hands, who watches a ghost don his
jacket and boots and now stands naked in the road.
As far as the space between word and word, 
as the heavy sleep of the perfectly loved 
and the sirens of wars no one living can remember, 
as far as this room, where no words have been spoken, 
you are as far as invention, and I am as far as memory.

The Forest

You should lie down now and remember the forest, 
for it is disappearing--
no, the truth is it is gone now 
and so what details you can bring back 
might have a kind of life.

Not the one you had hoped for, but a life
--you should lie down now and remember the forest--
nonetheless, you might call it "in the forest,"
no the truth is, it is gone now,
starting somewhere near the beginning, that edge,

Or instead the first layer, the place you remember 
(not the one you had hoped for, but a life)
as if it were firm, underfoot, for that place is a sea, 
nonetheless, you might call it "in the forest,"
which we can never drift above, we were there or we were not,

No surface, skimming. And blank in life, too, 
or instead the first layer, the place you remember, 
as layers fold in time, black humus there, 
as if it were firm, underfoot, for that place is a sea, 
like a light left hand descending, always on the same keys.

The flecked birds of the forest sing behind and before 
no surface, skimming. And blank in life, too, 
sing without a music where there cannot be an order, 
as layers fold in time, black humus there, 
where wide swatches of light slice between gray trunks,

Where the air has a texture of drying moss, 
the flecked birds of the forest sing behind and before:
a musk from the mushrooms and scalloped molds. 
They sing without a music where there cannot be an order, 
though high in the dry leaves something does fall,

Nothing comes down to us here. 
Where the air has a texture of drying moss, 
(in that place where I was raised) the forest was tangled, 
a musk from the mushrooms and scalloped molds, 
tangled with brambles, soft-starred and moving, ferns

And the marred twines of cinquefoil, false strawberry, sumac--
nothing comes down to us here, 
stained. A low branch swinging above a brook 
in that place where I was raised, the forest was tangled, 
and a cave just the width of shoulder blades.

You can understand what I am doing when I think of the entry--
and the marred twines of cinquefoil, false strawberry, sumac--
as a kind of limit. Sometimes I imagine us walking there 
(. . .pokeberry, stained. A low branch swinging above a brook) 
in a place that is something like a forest.

But perhaps the other kind, where the ground is covered 
(you can understand what I am doing when I think of the entry) 
by pliant green needles, there below the piney fronds, 
a kind of limit. Sometimes I imagine us walking there. 
And quickening below lie the sharp brown blades,

The disfiguring blackness, then the bulbed phosphorescence of the roots. 
But perhaps the other kind, where the ground is covered, 
so strangely alike and yet singular, too, below
the pliant green needles, the piney fronds.
Once we were lost in the forest, so strangely alike and yet singular, too, 
but the truth is, it is, lost to us now.