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Poet-to-Poet: Arthur Sze, "The Owl"

About this poet

Born in New York City in 1950, Arthur Sze is a second-generation Chinese American. Educated at the University of California, Berkeley, Sze is the author of nine books of poetry, including Compass Rose (Copper Canyon Press, 2014);The Ginkgo Light (Copper Canyon Press, 2009); Quipu (Copper Canyon Press, 2005); The Redshifting Web: Poems 1970-1998 (Copper Canyon Press, 1998); and Archipelago (Copper Canyon Press, 1995). His other collections include River River (Lost Roads Publishers, 1987); Dazzled (Floating Island Publications, 1982); Two Ravens (Tooth of Time Books, 1976; revised, 1984); and The Willow Wind (Tooth of Time Books, 1972; revised, 1981).

He is also a celebrated translator from the Chinese, and released The Silk Dragon: Translations from the Chinese (Copper Canyon Press) in 2001.

About his work, Jackson Mac Low has said, "The word 'compassion' is much overused—'clarity' less so—but Arthur Sze is truly a poet of clarity and compassion."

Speaking about Sze's contributions to the art of poetry Naomi Shihab Nye has said, "Arthur Sze's work has long been a nourishing tonic for the mind—presences of the natural world, wide consciousness, and time, combine in exquisitely shaped and weighted lines and stanzas to create a poetry of deep attunement and lyrical precision. Sze's ongoing generous exchange with Asian poets and devotion to translation in collections such as The Silk Dragon, enriches the canon of world poetry immeasurably."

His honors include an American Book Award, a Lannan Literary Award for Poetry, a Lila Wallace-Reader's Digest Writers' Award, a Western States Book Award for Translation, three grants from the Witter Bynner Foundation for Poetry, and fellowships from the George A. and Eliza Gardner Howard Foundation, the Guggenheim Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Arts. In 2013, he was awarded the Jackson Poetry Prize from Poets & Writers magazine.

He has served as Visiting Hurst Professor at Washington University, a Doenges Visiting Artist at Mary Baldwin College and has conducted residencies at Brown University, Bard College, and Naropa University. Sze was elected Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets in 2012, and is a professor emeritus at the Institute of American Indian Arts. He was the first poet laureate of Santa Fe, New Mexico, where he lives.


Selected Bibliography

Compass Rose (Copper Canyon Press, 2014)
The Ginkgo Light (Copper Canyon Press, 2009)
Quipu (Copper Canyon Press, 2005)
The Redshifting Web: Poems 1970-1998 (Copper Canyon Press, 1998)
Archipelago (Copper Canyon Press, 1995)
River River (Lost Roads Publishers, 1987)
Dazzled (Floating Island Publications, 1982)
Two Ravens (Tooth of Time Books, 1976; revised, 1984)
The Willow Wind (Tooth of Time Books, 1972; revised, 1981)

The Owl

Arthur Sze, 1950

The path was purple in the dusk.
I saw an owl, perched,
on a branch.
 
And when the owl stirred, a fine dust
fell from its wings. I was
silent then. And felt
 
the owl quaver. And at dawn, waking,
the path was green in the 
May light. 

From The Redshifting Web: Poems 1970-1998.  Copyright © 1998 by Arthur Sze. Used by permission of The Permissions Company, Inc., on behalf of Copper Canyon Press. 

From The Redshifting Web: Poems 1970-1998.  Copyright © 1998 by Arthur Sze. Used by permission of The Permissions Company, Inc., on behalf of Copper Canyon Press. 

Arthur Sze

Arthur Sze

Born in New York City in 1950, Arthur Sze is a second-generation

by this poet

poem

I gaze at the Pacific and don’t expect
to ever see the heads on Easter Island,

though I guess at sunlight rippling
the yellow grasses sloping to shore;

yesterday a doe ate grass in the orchard:
it lifted its ears and stopped eating

when it sensed us watching from
a glass

poem

Meandering across a field with wild asparagus,
I write with my body the characters for grass,
water, transformation, ache to be one with spring.
Biting into watermelon, spitting black seeds
onto a plate, I watch the eyes of an Armenian
accordion player, and before

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poem

 

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