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About this poet

Alfred Corn was born in Bainbridge, Georgia, in 1943. He grew up in Valdosta, Georgia, and received his B.A. in French literature from Emory University in 1965. He was awarded an M.A. in French literature from Columbia University in 1967, his degree work including a year spent in Paris on a Fulbright Fellowship and two years of teaching in the French Department at Columbia College.

His first book of poems, All Roads at Once, appeared in 1976, followed by A Call in the Midst of the Crowd (1978), The Various Light (1980), Notes from a Child of Paradise (1984), The West Door (1988), and Autobiographies (1992). His seventh book of poems, titled Present, appeared in 1997, along with the novel Part of His Story. Stake: Selected Poems, 1972-1992, appeared in 1999, followed by Contradictions in 2002, which was a finalist for the Oklahoma Book Award. Most recently, he published Tables (Press 53, 2013).

In a review of Present in the Boston Review, Thomas M. Disch said "Happily Corn's poetry is more than the sum of his rare gifts, for underpinning these is a poetic persona as distinctively affable (though less raffish) as those of Merrill or James Schuyler or (when he's in flaneur mode) Frank O'Hara. It is not the regnant mode among poetry academics at the moment, but since at least the time of Byron and Wordsworth it has been the kind of poetry that most commends itself to readers of poetry. "

Corn has also published a collection of critical essays titled The Metamorphoses of Metaphor (1989), a study of prosody, The Poem's Heartbeat (1997), and a work of art criticism, Aaron Rose Photographs (Abrams, 2001). He is also the author of Atlas: Selected Essays, 1989-2007 (University of Michigan Press, 2008). A frequent contributor to The New York Times Book Review and The Nation, he also writes art criticism for Art in America and ARTnews magazines.

Corn has received fellowships and prizes from the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters, the Academy of American Poets, and the Levinson Prize from Poetry magazine.

He has taught at the City University of New York, Yale, Connecticut College, the University of Cincinnati, U.C.L.A., Ohio State University, Oklahoma State University, and the University of Tulsa. He held the Amy Clampitt Residency in Lenox, Massachusetts, for 2004-2005, and is teaching a course at the Poetry School in London for 2005-2006.


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From the Image Archive

The Bridge, Palm Sunday, 1973

Alfred Corn, 1943
It avails not. time nor place—distance avails not. . . 
                                   —Whitman. "Crossing Brooklyn Ferry"
 
The bridge was a huge sentence diagram, 
You and I the compound subject, moving 
Toward the verb. We stopped, breathing 
Balloonfuls of air; and noonday sun sent down 
A hard spray of light. Sensing an occasion,
I put my arm on your shoulder, my friend 
And brother. Words, today, took the form of actions. 

The object of the pilgrimage, 110 Columbia Heights,
Where Hart Crane once lived, no longer existed, 
We learned, torn down, the physical address gone. 
A second possible tribute was to read his Proem 
There on the Promenade in sight of the theme. 
That line moved you about the bedlamite whose shirt 
Balloons as he drops into the river, much like 
Crane's death, though he wasn't a "bedlamite"; 
A dreamer, maybe who called on Whitman and clasped 
His present hand, as if to build a bridge across time. . . . 

We hadn't imagined happenstance would lead us next
To join with the daydreamers lined up before 
An Easter diorama of duck eggs, hatching 
Behind plate glass. The intended sentiment featured 
Feathered skeletons racked with spasms of pecking 
Against resistant shell, struggling out of dim 
Solitary into incandescence and gravity, and quaking 
With the shock of sound and sight as though existence 
Were a nervous disease. All newborns receive the same 
Sentence—birth, death, equivalent triumphs. 
 
Two deaf-mutes walked back the same but inverse way, 
Fatigue making strangers of us and the afternoon 
Hurt, like sunburn. Overexposure is a constant 
Risk of sensation and of company. I wondered 
Why we were together—is friendship imaginary? 
And does imagination obscure or reveal its subject? 
The ties always feel strange, strung along happenstance, 
Following no diagram, incomplete, a bridge of suspense. . . .

 Sometimes completed things revisited still resonate. 
I'm thinking about Crane's poem of the Bridge, 
Grand enough to inspire disbelief and to suspend it. 
The truth may lie in imagining a connection 
With him or with you; with anyone able to overlook 
Distance, shrug off time, on the right occasion. . . . 

If I called him a brother—help me with this, Hart—
Who climbed toward light and sensation until the sky 
Broke open to reveal an acute, perfect convergence 
Before letting him fall back into error and mortality, 
Would we be joined with him and the voyagers before him? 
Would a new sentence be pronounced, a living connection 
Between island and island, for a second, be made? 

From Stake: Selected Poems 1972-1992 by Alfred Corn (Counterpoint, 1999). Copyright © 1999 Alfred Corn. Used with permission of the author.

Alfred Corn

Alfred Corn

Alfred Corn was born in Bainbridge, Georgia, in 1943. He grew up

by this poet

poem
Once a day the rocks, with little warning—
not much looked for even by the spruce 
and fir ever at attention above—
fetch up on these tidal flats and bars.
Large. crate-like rocks, wrapped in kelp; 
layer on imprinted layer,
umber to claret to olivegreen
of scalloped marbling. . . . 
Not far along the path of
poem
Pilot at the helm of a hidden
headland it steers free
from convergence with the freighter
when fog and storm clouds gather


Sparking communiqué no full stop ends
its broadcast performed in a three-sixty sweep
the cycle burning up five solar seconds


Midnight eye that blinks away
invisibility a high beam
poem
Met Museum, 1965, the first
I'll see, his Young Woman Sleeping.
Stage right, bright-threaded carpet flung over the table
where a plate of apples, crumpled napkin
and drained wineglass abut the recapped pitcher.
Propped by one hand, her leaning drowse,
behind which, a door opens on the dream, dim, bare
but