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About this poet

The oldest of seven children from a working-class background, Paul Mariani was born in New York City on February 29, 1940 and grew up there and on Long Island. He earned his bachelor's degree from Manhattan College, a Master's from Colgate University, and a Ph.D. from the City University of New York.

He is the author of seven poetry collections: Epitaphs for the Journey (Cascade Books, 2012), Deaths & Transfigurations (Paraclete Press, 2005), The Great Wheel (W. W. Norton, 1996), Salvage Operations: New & Selected Poems (1990), Prime Mover (1985), Crossing Cocytus (1982), and Timing Devices (1979).

He has published numerous books of prose, including Thirty Days: On Retreat with the Exercises of St. Ignatius (Viking, 2002), and God and the Imagination: On Poets, Poetry, and the Ineffable (University of Georgia Press, 2002). Other books include A Useable Past: Essays, 1973-1983 (1984), William Carlos Williams: The Poet and His Critics (1975), and A Commentary on the Complete Poems of Gerard Manley Hopkins (1970), as well as four biographies: The Broken Tower: A Life of Hart Crane (1999); Lost Puritan: A Life of Robert Lowell (1994), both named New York Times Notable Books of the year; Dream Song: The Life of John Berryman (1990); and William Carlos Williams: A New World Naked (1981), which won the New Jersey Writers Award, was short-listed for an American Book Award, and was also named a New York Times Notable Book of the year. His latest biography, Gerard Manley Hopkins: A Life (Viking) appeared in 2008.

His honors include fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the National Endowment for the Humanities. In 2009 he received the John Ciardi Award for Lifetime Achievement in Poetry. He was Distinguished University Professor at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, where he taught from 1968 until 2000, and currently holds a Chair in Poetry at Boston College. Mariani and his wife, Eileen, have three grown sons and live in western Massachusetts.

The Republic

Paul Mariani, 1940

for David Ignatow

Midnight. For the past three hours 
I've raked over Plato's Republic 
with my students, all of them John 
Jay cops, and now some of us 
have come to Rooney's to unwind. 
Boilermakers. Double shots and triples. 
Fitzgerald's still in his undercover 
clothes and giveaway white socks, and two 
lieutenants--Seluzzi in the sharkskin suit 
& D'Ambruzzo in the leather--have just 
invited me to catch their fancy (and illegal) 
digs somewhere up in Harlem, when 
this cop begins to tell his story:

how he and his partner trailed 
this pusher for six weeks before 
they trapped him in a burnt-out 
tenement somewhere down in SoHo, 
one coming at him up the stairwell, 
the other up the fire escape 
and through a busted window. But by 
the time they've grabbed him 
he's standing over an open window 
and he's clean. The partner races down 
into the courtyard and begins going 
through the garbage until he finds 
what it is he's after: a white bag 
hanging from a junk mimosa like 
the Christmas gift it is, and which now 
he plants back on the suspect.
Cross-examined by a lawyer who does his best 
to rattle them, he and his partner 
stick by their story, and the charges stick.
Fitzgerald shrugs. Business as usual. 
But the cop goes on. Better to let 
the guy go free than under oath 
to have to lie like that.
And suddenly you can hear the heavy 
suck of air before Seluzzi, who 
half an hour before was boasting 
about being on the take, staggers 
to his feet, outraged at what he's heard, 
and insists on taking the bastard 
downtown so they can book him.

Which naturally brings to an end 
the discussion we've been having, 
and soon each of us is heading 
for an exit, embarrassed by the awkward 
light the cop has thrown on things. 
Which makes it clearer now to me why 
the State would offer someone like Socrates 
a shot of hemlock. And even clearer 
why Socrates would want to drink it.

From The Great Wheel, published by W. W. Norton & Company, 1996. Copyright © 1996 by Paul Mariani. Reprinted by permission of the author. All rights reserved.

From The Great Wheel, published by W. W. Norton & Company, 1996. Copyright © 1996 by Paul Mariani. Reprinted by permission of the author. All rights reserved.

Paul Mariani

Paul Mariani

The oldest of seven children from a working-class background, Paul Mariani was

by this poet

poem
Just after my wife's miscarriage (her second 
in four months), I was sitting in an empty 
classroom exchanging notes with my friend, 
a budding Joyce scholar with steelrimmed 
glasses, when, lapsed Irish Catholic that he was, 
he surprised me by asking what I thought now 
of God's ways toward man. It was spring
poem
After so much time you think 
you'd have it netted 
in the mesh of language. But again 
it reconfigures, slick as Proteus.

You're in the kitchen talking 
with your ex-Navy brother, his two kids
snaking over his tattooed arms, as he goes on 
& on about being out of work again.

For an hour now you've
poem
Beyond the moon, beyond planet blue 
and planet red, each day further 
from the sun she floats out toward

the empty dark of X. Having done 
what she was sent out years before 
to do, she gave up sending even

the faintest signals back to earth, 
to bend instead her shattered wings 
across her breast for warmth