Sydney Lea was born on December 22, 1942, in Chestnut Hill, Pennsylvania. He graduated from Yale University with a BA, then later a PhD in comparative literature.
Lea is the author of numerous poetry collections, including I Was Thinking of Beauty (Four Way Books, 2013); Young of the Year (Four Way Books, 2011); Ghost Pain: Poems (Sarabande, 2008); and Pursuit of a Wound (University of Illinois Press, 2000), which was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. Lea has also published a novel, A Place in Mind (Scribner Publishing, 1989), and several nonfiction books. The outdoors and woodland areas of New England feature strongly in Lea’s poems, which are rooted in local life and take an unwavering look at nature and spirituality. Lea’s work, which has a markedly regional quality, also recalls the transcendental spirit of Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau.
Poet Mark Jarman writes:
The life in Sydney Lea’s poems is entirely local, whether the locale is Italy, Montana, or his home in Vermont […] The making of the soul that occurs in Sydney Lea’s poems is intimately connected with the place where the making occurs […] Sydney Lea’s poems show us that all spirituality is local spirituality. He is our preeminent poet of the soul’s making among local places and people.
In 1977, Lea cofounded, along with Jay Parini, New England Review, a literary magazine that has published many distinguished authors, such as Dorianne Laux, Mark Doty, Jorie Graham, and Louise Erdich, among many others. Lea served as editor for thirteen years.
Lea has held teaching posts at Dartmouth College, Middlebury College, Vermont College, and Wesleyan University, as well as Eotvos Lorand University in Budapest and Franklin College in Switzerland. His honors include fellowships from the Fulbright Association, the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, and the Rockefeller Foundation (Bellagio Center), as well as the 1998 Poets’ Prize.
In 2011, Lea, who has been a Vermont resident since the early 1990s, was appointed the state poet laureate. He currently lives in Newbury, Vermont.