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About this poet

Carl Dennis was born on September 17, 1939, in St. Louis, Missouri, and attended both Oberlin College and the University of Chicago before completing his bachelor’s degree at the University of Minnesota. He earned his PhD from the University of California, Berkeley.

Dennis has published twelve books of poetry, including Another Reason (Penguin, 2014); Callings (Penguin, 2010); Practical Gods (Penguin, 2001), for which he won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry; and Meetings with Time (Penguin, 1992), among others. Dennis has also published a book of criticism, Poetry as Persuasion (University of Georgia Press, 2001).

Known for its casual, plainspoken narrative style that makes its home in the everyday life of the American middle class, Dennis’s poetry is a quiet, almost intimate, meditation on the world around him. In a review of Dennis’s poems in The Washington Post, poet Robert Pinsky wrote, “The musing mind or voice reaches its object not with a turbulent roar of rhetoric, but with the penetration of fine oil. The poems of Carl Dennis proceed to startling, sometimes even upsetting conclusions by that musing process of mind, alert and patient.”

Dennis has received several honors and distinctions, including fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts. He was the recipient of the 1989 Oscar Blumenthal Prize, the 1995 Bess Hokin Prize, the 1997 J. Howard and Barbara M. J. Wood Prize, and the 2000 Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize.

Dennis taught at the University of Buffalo from 1966 to 2001, after which time he served as the school’s artist in residence. He also taught in the MFA program in creative writing at Warren Wilson College.

He lives in Buffalo, New York.


Selected Bibliography

Another Reason (Penguin, 2014)
Callings (Penguin, 2010)
Unknown Friends (Penguin, 2007)
New and Selected Poems, 1974-2004 (Penguin, 2004)
Practical Gods (Penguin, 2001)
Ranking the Wishes (Penguin, 1997)
Meetings with Time (Penguin, 1992)
The Outskirts of Troy (William Morrow, 1988)
The Near World (William Morrow, 1985)
Signs and Wonders (Princeton University Press, 1979)
Climbing Down (Braziller, 1976)
A House of My Own (Braziller, 1974)

Change

Carl Dennis, 1939

Don't be chagrined that your novel,
Which yesterday seemed done at last,
Is revealed in the light of morning
To be only your latest draft.
It could mean that your vision cleared
While you were sleeping, your sense of fitness
Grows in the night like corn or bamboo.

Don't assume you're tampering with the truth
By wanting to make your hero more likable.
He can still be someone who's liable
To fritter his life away in random pastimes.
Only now, for his sake,  you want to present him
As fighting a little harder against his temperament
So the reader, instead of looking down from on high,
Stands close enough to the action to sympathize.

As for your heroine, you can still depict her
As someone who hides, beneath her apparent warmth,
A seam of coldness.  But now you're ready to probe
What the coldness conceals: the wound, say,
That makes trust a challenge.
Where, she wonders, will her courage come from
If she's unable to find it when she looks within?

If you consider any hope of change
To be, in the end, illusion, be true to your vision.
Just don't ignore the change in yourself,
Your willingness, say, to be more patient
Exploring alternatives. Each new effort
Could prove another chapter in a single story
Slowly unfolding in which you learn
By trial and error, what the plot requires.

In the meantime, let me assure you your heroine
In this new, more generous version,
Seems to be learning something
She'll need to learn before the climax
If real change is to be at least an option.
Let me say that your hero's remorse near the end
For his lack of enterprise and direction
Is more convincing than it's ever been.

At last, instead of giving a speech already written,
He seems to be groping for words. Not sure
What he'll say until he says it, and then
Not sure if he ought to be satisfied
Or open to one more try.

Copyright © 2012 by Carl Dennis. Used with permission of the author.

Copyright © 2012 by Carl Dennis. Used with permission of the author.

Carl Dennis

Carl Dennis

Carl Dennis was born on September 17, 1939, in St. Louis, Missouri, and attended both Oberlin College and the University of Chicago before completing his bachelor’s degree at the University of Minnesota. He earned his PhD from the University of California, Berkeley.

by this poet

poem

If a life needn’t be useful to be meaningful,
Then maybe a life of sunbathing on a beach
Can be thought of as meaningful for at least a few,
The few, say, who view the sun as a god
And consider basking a form of worship.

As for those devoted to partnership with a surfboard
poem
Today as we walk in Paris I promise to focus
More on the sights before us than on the woman
We noticed yesterday in the photograph at the print shop,
The slender brunette who looked like you
As she posed with a violin case by a horse-drawn omnibus
Near the Luxembourg Gardens. Today I won't linger long
On the
poem
I guess I have to begin by admitting
I'm thankful today I don't reside in a country
My country has chosen to liberate,
That Bridgeport's my home, not Baghdad.
Thankful my chances are good, when I leave
For the Super Duper, that I'll be returning.
And I'm thankful my TV set is still broken.
No point in wasting