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About this poet

Gerald Stern was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on February 22, 1925. His recent books of poetry include Divine Nothingness: Poems (W. W. Norton, 2014); In Beauty Bright: Poems (W. W. Norton, 2012); Early Collected Poems: 1965-1992 (W. W. Norton, 2010), Save the Last Dance: Poems (2008); Everything Is Burning (2005); American Sonnets (2002); Last Blue: Poems (2000); This Time: New and Selected Poems (1998), which won the National Book Award; Odd Mercy (1995); and Bread Without Sugar (1992), winner of the Paterson Poetry Prize.

His other books include Stealing History (Trinity University Press, 2012); Leaving Another Kingdom: Selected Poems (1990); Two Long Poems (1990); Lovesick (1987); Paradise Poems (1984); The Red Coal (1981), which received the Melville Caine Award from the Poetry Society of America; Lucky Life, the 1977 Lamont Poetry Selection of the Academy of American Poets, which was nominated for a National Book Critics Circle Award; and Rejoicings (1973).

About his work, the poet Toi Derricotte has said, "Gerald Stern has made an immense contribution to American poetry. His poems are not only great poems, memorable ones, but ones that get into your heart and stay there. Their lyrical ecstasies take you up for that moment so that your vision is changed, you are changed. The voice is intimate, someone unafraid to be imperfect. Gerald Stern’s poems sing in praise of the natural world, and in outrage of whatever is antihuman."

His honors include the Paris Review's Bernard F. Conners Award, the Bess Hokin Award from Poetry, the Ruth Lilly Prize, four National Endowment for the Arts grants, the Pennsylvania Governor's Award for Excellence in the Arts, the Jerome J. Shestack Poetry Prize from American Poetry Review, and fellowships from the Academy of American Poets, the Guggenheim Foundation, and the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts. In 2005, Stern was selected to receive the Wallace Stevens Award for mastery in the art of poetry.

Stern was elected a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets in 2006. For many years a teacher at the University of Iowa Writers' Workshop, Stern now lives in Lambertville, New Jersey.

The Dancing

Gerald Stern, 1925

In all these rotten shops, in all this broken furniture
and wrinkled ties and baseball trophies and coffee pots
I have never seen a post-war Philco 
with the automatic eye
nor heard Ravel's "Bolero" the way I did
in 1945 in that tiny living room
on Beechwood Boulevard, nor danced as I did
then, my knives all flashing, my hair all streaming,
my mother red with laughter, my father cupping
his left hand under his armpit, doing the dance
of old Ukraine, the sound of his skin half drum,
half fart, the world at last a meadow,
the three of us whirling and singing, the three of us
screaming and falling, as if we were dying,
as if we could never stop—in 1945—
in Pittsburgh, beautiful filthy Pittsburgh, home
of the evil Mellons, 5,000 miles away
from the other dancing—in Poland and Germany—
oh God of mercy, oh wild God.

From Paradise Poems by Gerald Stern, published by the University of Pittsburgh Press. Copyright © 1982,1983,1984 by Gerald Stern. Used with permission.

From Paradise Poems by Gerald Stern, published by the University of Pittsburgh Press. Copyright © 1982,1983,1984 by Gerald Stern. Used with permission.

Gerald Stern

Gerald Stern

Gerald Stern was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in 1925. His recent poetry collections include Divine Nothingness: Poems (W. W. Norton, 2014); In Beauty Bright: Poems (W. W. Norton, 2012); Early Collected Poems: 1965-1992 (W. W. Norton, 2010), and Save the Last Dance: Poems (2008).

by this poet

poem
Since there was no mother for the peach tree we did it 
all alone, which made the two of us closer
though closeness brought its loneliness, and it would
have been better I think sometimes to be sterile
from the start just to avoid the pain 
which in my life this far has lasted seventy
years for I am in love with
poem
I was forcing a wasp to the top of a window
where there was some sky and there were tiger lilies
outside just to love him or maybe only
simply a kiss for he was hurrying home
to fight a broom and I was trying to open
a door with one hand while the other was swinging
tomatoes, and you could even smell the corn
poem
The mayor, in order to marry us, borrowed
a necktie from a lawyer which, on him,
looked stupid and kept his eye on a red pigeon
which somehow got in to coo her disappointment,
if only for the record, though one of the two 
witnesses who kicked the red got only what
she deserved and that was that, except that the