poem index

sign up to receive a new poem-a-day in your inbox

About this poet

Ira Sadoff was born in Brooklyn, New York, on March 7, 1945, of Russian-Jewish ancestry. He earned a BA in industrial and labor relations from Cornell University in 1966 and an MFA 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 True Faith (BOA Editions, 2012) and 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 (University of Illinois Press, 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 (David R. Godine, 1981), 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 cofounder of the Seneca Review. He has taught at the Iowa Writers' Workshop, and in the MFA programs of the University of Virginia and Warren Wilson College.

He currently serves as the Arthur Jeremiah Roberts Professor of English at Colby College in Waterville, Maine.


Bibliography

Poetry

True Faith (BOA Editions, 2012)
Barter (University of Illinois, 2003)
Grazing (University of Illinois Press, 1998)
Emotional Traffic (David R. Godine, 1989)
A Northern Calendar (David R. Godine, 1981)
Palm Reading in Winter (Houghton Mifflin, 1978)
Settling Down (Houghton Mifflin, 1975)

Prose

History Matters: Contemporary Poetry on the Margins of American Culture (University of Iowa, 2009)
An Ira Sadoff Reader(Middlebury, 1992)
Uncoupling (Houghton Mifflin, 1982)

On the Day of Nixon's Funeral

Ira Sadoff, 1945
It's time to put the aside the old resentments; lies,
machinations, the paranoia, bugs in telephones,
the body bags, secret bombings, his sweaty upper lip,
my cousin Arnie, too dumb to go to school,

too virtuous to confess he'd give blow jobs
for nothing at the Paramount, so he lost a leg
in Da Nang. Now it's time for amnesiacs to play
Beethoven's Eroica by Nixon's casket.

To applaud his loyalty, to grant a few mistakes,
to honor his diplomacy, him and his pal Kissinger
who bombed the lush green paddies of Cambodia.
And now for a few lyric moments as I wait patiently

for my fiftieth birthday. Wood ducks decorate the pond
near this farmhouse, and in the marsh I've spied
a meadow lark, a fox, a white-tailed hawk who soars
above the Western Mountain peaks. Oh, I'm in love

with the country all right. So I can forget my friend
Sweeney, who shot Congressman Lowenstein
because the radio in his tooth insisted on it.
I remember the march on the Pentagon in purple,

a proud member of the Vegetarian Brigade. I was drugged,
as many of us were drugged, as my parents
were drugged by a few major networks, by a ranch house
and an Oldsmobile. I once spit on Hubert Humphrey,

threw a brick through Dow Chemical's plate-glass door.
I wrote insane letters to Senators, burying them
in moral rectitude: I got a response from one:
Senator Kennedy — the dead one — whose office wrongly

argued for slow withdrawal instead of Instant Victory.
I remember Tricky Dick in Nineteen Fifty-three:
I'm eight years-old, frightened and ignorant,
lying down before my parents' first TV: my aunts

and uncles sitting in a circle, biting their nails,
whispering names of relatives awaiting trial, who,
thanks to Nixon, lost their sorry jobs. You can see why
I'd want to bury this man whose blood would not circulate,

whose face was paralyzed, who should have died
in shame and solitude, without benefit of eulogy or twenty-one
gun salutes. I want to bury him in Southern California
with the Birchers and the Libertarians. I want to look out

my window and cheer the remaining cedars
that require swampy habitats to survive. To be done
with shame and rage this April afternoon, where embryonic
fiddleheads, fuzzy and curled and pale as wings,

have risen to meet me. After all, they say he was a scrappy man,
wily and sage, who served as Lucifer, scapegoat, scoundrel,
a receptacle for acrimony and rage — one human being
whose life I have no reverence for, which is why I'm singing now.

"On the Day of Nixon's Funeral," from Grazing, published by the University of Illinois Press, 1998. Used by permission of the author. All rights reserved.

"On the Day of Nixon's Funeral," from Grazing, published by the University of Illinois Press, 1998. Used by permission of the author. All rights reserved.

Ira Sadoff

Ira Sadoff

Ira Sadoff was born in Brooklyn, New York, on March 7, 1945,

by this poet

poem
A mist appalls the windshield. 
So I still see trees as moral lessons, 
as I pass under them, shadowy and astute.

The glazed aspen branches hover. 
Ice heats up and cracks, road tar steams 
like some animal where the blush 

of cheek is chilled by annunciation. 
I cannot say her face was trauma driven.
I'm
poem
I sniff after the sparrow and the spaniel, flitting around,
barking, digging up the dirt: how could I not be
at one with them? But I'm a spendthrift too, rummaging about

old sport coats, selecting a style, a clash of styles—
in a private moment trying to decide who I am today by trying on
something discarded,
poem
The rabbi doesn't say she was sly and peevish,
fragile and voracious, disheveled, voiceless and useless,
at the end of her very long rope. He never sat beside her
like a statue while radio voices called to her from God.
He doesn't say how she mamboed with her broom,
staggered, swayed, and sighed afternoons,
till