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About this poet

Poet and critic Susan Stewart was born on March 15, 1952. She received a BA in English and anthropology from Dickinson College, an MA in poetics from Johns Hopkins University, and a PhD in folklore from the University of Pennsylvania.

She is the author of several collections of poetry, including Columbarium (University of Chicago Press, 2003) which received the National Book Critics Circle Award; The Forest (1995), which received the Literary Award of the Philadelphia Atheneum; The Hive (1987); and Yellow Stars and Ice (1981).

Her collected essays on art, The Open Studio: Essays in Art and Aesthetics, was published by the University of Chicago Press in 2004. Her other books of criticism include The Poet's Freedom: A Notebook on Making (University Of Chicago Press, 2011); Poetry and the Fate of the Senses (2002), which received both the 2002 Christian Gauss Award for Literary Criticism from Phi Beta Kappa and the 2004 Truman Capote Award in Literary Criticism; as well as Crimes of Writing: Problems in the Containment of Representation (1991); Nonsense (1989); and On Longing: Narratives of the Miniature, the Gigantic, the Souvenir, the Collection (1984).

She also co-translated Euripides' Andromache with Wesley Smith, and the poetry and selected prose of the Scuola Romana painter Scipione with Brunella Antomarini, and collaborated with composer James Primosch on a song cycle commissioned by the Chicago Symphony.

About her work, the poet and critic Allen Grossman has written, "Stewart has built a poetic syntax capable of conveying an utterly singular account of consciousness, by the light of which it is possible to see the structure of the human world with a new clarity and an unforseen precision, possible only in her presence and by means of her art."

Her honors include a Lila Wallace Individual Writer's Award, two grants in poetry from the National Endowment for the Arts, a Pew Fellowship for the Arts, and fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the MacArthur Foundation. She was elected a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets in 2005.

Stewart taught at Temple University in Philadelphia from 1978 to 1997. She is currently Professor of English at Princeton University where she teaches the history of poetry and aesthetics. 

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From the Image Archive

 

The Forest

Susan Stewart, 1952
You should lie down now and remember the forest, 
for it is disappearing--
no, the truth is it is gone now 
and so what details you can bring back 
might have a kind of life.

Not the one you had hoped for, but a life
--you should lie down now and remember the forest--
nonetheless, you might call it "in the forest,"
no the truth is, it is gone now,
starting somewhere near the beginning, that edge,

Or instead the first layer, the place you remember 
(not the one you had hoped for, but a life)
as if it were firm, underfoot, for that place is a sea, 
nonetheless, you might call it "in the forest,"
which we can never drift above, we were there or we were not,

No surface, skimming. And blank in life, too, 
or instead the first layer, the place you remember, 
as layers fold in time, black humus there, 
as if it were firm, underfoot, for that place is a sea, 
like a light left hand descending, always on the same keys.

The flecked birds of the forest sing behind and before 
no surface, skimming. And blank in life, too, 
sing without a music where there cannot be an order, 
as layers fold in time, black humus there, 
where wide swatches of light slice between gray trunks,

Where the air has a texture of drying moss, 
the flecked birds of the forest sing behind and before:
a musk from the mushrooms and scalloped molds. 
They sing without a music where there cannot be an order, 
though high in the dry leaves something does fall,

Nothing comes down to us here. 
Where the air has a texture of drying moss, 
(in that place where I was raised) the forest was tangled, 
a musk from the mushrooms and scalloped molds, 
tangled with brambles, soft-starred and moving, ferns

And the marred twines of cinquefoil, false strawberry, sumac--
nothing comes down to us here, 
stained. A low branch swinging above a brook 
in that place where I was raised, the forest was tangled, 
and a cave just the width of shoulder blades.

You can understand what I am doing when I think of the entry--
and the marred twines of cinquefoil, false strawberry, sumac--
as a kind of limit. Sometimes I imagine us walking there 
(. . .pokeberry, stained. A low branch swinging above a brook) 
in a place that is something like a forest.

But perhaps the other kind, where the ground is covered 
(you can understand what I am doing when I think of the entry) 
by pliant green needles, there below the piney fronds, 
a kind of limit. Sometimes I imagine us walking there. 
And quickening below lie the sharp brown blades,

The disfiguring blackness, then the bulbed phosphorescence of the roots. 
But perhaps the other kind, where the ground is covered, 
so strangely alike and yet singular, too, below
the pliant green needles, the piney fronds.
Once we were lost in the forest, so strangely alike and yet singular, too, 
but the truth is, it is, lost to us now.

From The Forest by Susan Stewart, published by the University of Chicago Press. Copyright © 1995 by Susan Stewart. Reprinted by permission of the author. All rights reserved.

From The Forest by Susan Stewart, published by the University of Chicago Press. Copyright © 1995 by Susan Stewart. Reprinted by permission of the author. All rights reserved.

Susan Stewart

Susan Stewart

Poet and critic Susan Stewart was born in 1952. She received a

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poem
I am as far as the deepest sky between clouds
and you are as far as the deepest root and wound, 
and I am as far as a train at evening, 
as far as a whistle you can't hear or remember. 
You are as far as an unimagined animal 
who, frightened by everything, never appears. 
I am as far as cicadas and locusts
and
poem
Alack Alas

Hammer to a copper bowl,
someone left the light on.
Touch against the thin wrist
skin, and back again, and back 
again. Can't find the vein.


Alack A Day

Stiffing a filigree leaf, ribs 
align in alternity. Drop 
me a line, I am leaving—
the har-dee-har men come soon.
And once they are