Ira Sadoff was born in Brooklyn, New York, on March 7, 1945, of Russian-Jewish ancestry. He earned a B.A. in industrial and labor relations from Cornell University in 1966 and an M.F.A. from the University of Oregon in 1968. In 1975, he published his first collection of poetry, Settling Down (Houghton Mifflin).
Since then, Sadoff has published several poetry collections, most recently Barter (University of Illinois, 2003), which delves into his personal past, specifically concerning love and bereavement, as well as the historical and global past, referencing Beethoven, Vietnam, and the fall of communism. Other recent collections include Grazing (1998), from which poems were awarded the American Poetry Review's Leonard Shestack Prize, the Pushcart Poetry Prize, and the George Bogin Memorial Prize from the Poetry Society of America; Emotional Traffic (David R. Godine, 1989); A Northern Calendar (1982), which charts the arrival and passage of the seasons; and Palm Reading in Winter (Houghton Mifflin, 1978.).
About Sadoff's work, the poet Gerald Stern has said, "Nowhere else in American poetry do I come across a passion, a cunning, and a joy greater than his. And a deadly accuracy. I see him as one of the supreme poets of his generation." And on awarding Sadoff the Bogin Memorial Prize, the poet Alan Shapiro said, "Beyond the energetic syntax and the astonishing range of idiom and tone, what I so admire in these poems is the just yet always unpredictable weaving together of individual and collective life, the insightful, almost seamless integration of personal experience in all its unredemptive anguish with the heterogeneous realities of American culture."
Sadoff is also the author of three works of prose, most recently History Matters: Contemporary Poetry on the Margins of American Culture (University of Iowa, 2009), which, through the work of poets like Czeslaw Milosz and Frank O'Hara, argues that poets live and write within history; An Ira Sadoff Reader (Middlebury, 1992), a collection of stories, poems and essays about contemporary poetry; and Uncoupling (Houghton Mifflin, 1982), a novel.
He is the recipient of fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation. In 1973, he was a fellow at the Squaw Valley Community of Writers, and in 1974, he was the Alan Collins Fellow in Poetry and Prose at the Bread Loaf Writer's Conference. His poetry has been widely anthologized, most recently in The Best American Poetry series, in 2008.
Sadoff has served as poetry editor of The Antioch Review, and was co-founder of The Seneca Review. He has taught at the Iowa Writers' Workshop, and in the M.F.A. programs of the University of Virginia and Warren Wilson College.
He currently teaches in the M.F.A. program at Drew University, and serves as the Arthur Jeremiah Roberts Professor of English at Colby College, in Maine.