poem index

About this poet

Tom Sleigh was born in Mount Pleasant, Texas. He attended the California Institute of the Arts, Evergreen State College, and earned an M.A. from Johns Hopkins University. His most recent collections include Space Walk (Houghton Mifflin, 2007), winner of the Kingsley Tufts Award, and Far Side of the Earth (2003), named an Honor Book by the Massachusetts Society for the Book.

He is the author of After One, winner of the Houghton Mifflin New Poetry Series Prize, 1983; Waking (1990), a New York Times Book Review Notable Book, and a finalist for the Lamont Poetry Prize; The Chain (l996), nominated for the Lenore Marshall Prize; and The Dreamhouse (1999), a selection of the Academy of American Poet’s Poetry Book Club and a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Award. He has also published a translation of Euripides's Herakles (Oxford University Press, 2000), and a book of essays, Interview With a Ghost (Graywolf Press, 2006).

About Sleigh's work, the poet Philip Levine wrote in Ploughshares: "Sleigh's reviewers use words such as 'adept,' 'elegant,' and 'classical.' Reading his new book, I find all those terms beside the point, even though not one is inaccurate. I am struck by the human dramas that are enacted in these poems, the deep encounters that often shatter the participants and occasionally restore them. What delights me most is seeing a poet of his accomplishments and his large and well-earned reputation suddenly veer into a new arena of both our daily and our mythical lives. For the writer, such daring may be its own reward; for the reader, it is thrilling to overhear a writer pushing into greatness."

Seamus Heaney has said of Sleigh’s poems: "Tom Sleigh’s poetry is hard-earned and well founded. I great admire the way it refuses to cut emotional corners and yet achieves a sense of lyric absolution."

Among his many awards are an Academy Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letter, the Shelley Award from the Poetry Society of America, an Individual Writer's Award from the Lila Wallace Fund, and grants from the Guggenheim and Ingram Merill Foundations, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown where he is a Writing Committee member. He teaches in the MFA Program in Creative Writing at Hunter College and lives in Brooklyn, NY.

A Selected Bibliography

Poetry

After One (Houghton Mifflin Company, 1983)
Waking (University Of Chicago Press, 1990)
The Chain (University Of Chicago Press, 1996)
The Dreamhouse (University Of Chicago Press, 1999)
Far Side of the Earth (Mariner Books, 2005)
Space Walk (Houghton Mifflin, 2007)

Prose

Interview With a Ghost (Graywolf Press, 2006)

Translation

Herakles by Euripides (Oxford University Press, 2000)

Blueprint

Tom Sleigh
I had a blueprint
of history
in my head —

it was a history of the martyrs
of love, the fools
of tyrants, the tyrants
themselves weeping
at the fate of their own soldiers —

a sentimental blueprint,
lacking depth —
a ruled axis X and Y
whose illusions
were bearable . . .
then unbearable . . .

In that blueprint, I wanted to speak
in a language
utterly other, in words
that mimicked
how one of Homer's warriors
plunges through breastplate
a spear past
breastbone, the spearpoint searching
through the chest
like a ray of light searching
a darkened room
for the soul
unhoused, infantile,
raging —
but my figure of speech,
my "ray of light" —
it was really a spearpoint
piercing the lung
of great-hearted Z
who feels death loosen
his knees, the menos
in his thumos
flying out of him —

the fate of his own soul
to confront me
beyond the frame:

no room, no X, no Y, no "ray of light,"
no menos, no thumos, no Z —

only sketched-in plane
after plane after plane
cantilevering upward and forever throughout space.

"Blueprint" from Space Walk. Copyright © 2007 by Tom Sleigh. Reproduced by permission of Houghton Mifflin Company.

Tom Sleigh

Tom Sleigh

Tom Sleigh was born in Mount Pleasant, Texas. He attended the California

by this poet

poem
1
The omen I didn't know I was waiting for
pulled into the station the same instant as the train.
It was just a teenage boy busking on the platform,
cello cutting through garble, Bach's repetitions

hard-edged as a scalpel probing an open wound. 
But then I kept thinking how a sound wave 
travels the path of
poem
He said, "It is terrible what happens."
           And "So, Mr. Tom,
do not forget me"—an old-fashioned ring, pop tunes,
salsa! salsa! the techno-version of Beethoven's
Fifth, Fairouz singing how love has arrived,
that's what he heard after they dropped the bombs,
his ambulance crawling through smoke while
poem

1
The cathedral being built 
around our split level house was so airy, it stretched 
so high it was like a cloud of granite 
and marble light the house rose up inside. 

At the time I didn’t notice masons laying courses 
of stone ascending, flying buttresses 
pushing