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April 19, 2007Regina Peruggi Room, Marymount Manhattan CollegeFrom the Academy Audio Archive

About this poet

Tom Sleigh was born in Mount Pleasant, Texas. He attended the California Institute of the Arts and Evergreen State College, and earned an MA from Johns Hopkins University. Sleigh is the author of nine books of poetry; his most recent collections include Army Cats (Graywolf Press, 2011), winner of the John Updike Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and Space Walk (Houghton Mifflin, 2007), winner of the Kingsley Tufts Award. His new book, Station Zed, will be published by Graywolf Press in 2015. He has also published a translation of Euripides's Herakles and a book of essays, Interview With a Ghost (Graywolf Press, 2006).

Widely anthologized, his poems and prose have appeared in The New YorkerVirginia Quarterly ReviewPoetryAmerican Poetry ReviewYale Review, ThreepennyThe Village Voice, and other literary magazines, as well as The Best of the Best American Poetry (Scribner, 2013), The Best American Poetry, The Best American Travel Writing, and The Pushcart Anthology

About Sleigh's work, the poet Philip Levine wrote in Ploughshares: "Sleigh's reviewers use words such as 'adept,' 'elegant,' and 'classical.' Reading his new book, I find all those terms beside the point, even though not one is inaccurate. I am struck by the human dramas that are enacted in these poems, the deep encounters that often shatter the participants and occasionally restore them. What delights me most is seeing a poet of his accomplishments and his large and well-earned reputation suddenly veer into a new arena of both our daily and our mythical lives. For the writer, such daring may be its own reward; for the reader, it is thrilling to overhear a writer pushing into greatness."

Seamus Heaney has said of Sleigh’s poems: "Tom Sleigh’s poetry is hard-earned and well founded. I great admire the way it refuses to cut emotional corners and yet achieves a sense of lyric absolution."

Sleigh has received the Shelley Prize from the Poetry Society of America, an Academy Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, an Individual Writer's Award from the Lila Wallace/Reader's Digest Fund, and fellowships from the American Academy in Berlin, the Guggenheim Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Arts, among many others. He is a Distinguished Professor in the MFA program at Hunter College and lives in Brooklyn.

A Selected Bibliography

Poetry

Station Zed (Graywolf Press, 2015)
Army Cats (Graywolf Press, 2011)
Space Walk (Houghton Mifflin, 2007)
Far Side of the Earth (Houghton Mifflin, 2003)
The Dreamhouse (University of Chicago Press, 1999)
The Chain (University of Chicago Press, 1996)
Waking (University of Chicago Press, 1990)
After One (Houghton Mifflin, 1983)

Prose

Interview With a Ghost (Graywolf Press, 2006)

Translation

Herakles by Euripides (Oxford University Press, 2000)

Round

Tom Sleigh
Somebody's alone in his head, somebody's a kid, 
somebody's arm's getting twisted—a sandwich flies apart, 

tomatoes torn, white bread flung, then smeared with shit 
and handed back to eat—I dog dare you, I double dog dare you...

Somebody's watching little shit friends watch little shit him 
climb to the crown of a broken-down cherry tree 

and throw cherries at him: now somebody's pushing 
somebody into a sprinkler, everyone's laughing, everyone's shouting

in that frenzy when a buddy's gonna get hurt, 
gonna get mad, gonna swing and swing from the top of the sky—

somebody's falling through trees shedding leaves, 
October light you can see through, 

somebody can't read the menu, can't find his glasses, 
can't remember most mornings his best friends' names—

somebody's racing just ahead of what it means to be "it,"
porch lights coming on, trees jumping out at him, 

and that nameless smell, smell of the highschool lunchroom 
mingled with formaldehyde when somebody does dissections, 

frog legs strangely human under the fine-edged scalpel, 
keeps making somebody waken, not certain anymore 

of what window, which door, voices fading to a spectral 
whine in somebody's ears, eyes calm, clear, the starpoint steeple 

piercing somebody's brain moving alone through mist, darkness, rain,
somebody's eye's, somebody's mouth cooling, hardening to bronze. 

Copyright © by Tom Sleigh. First appeared in Ploughshares. Reprinted with permission of the author.

Copyright © by Tom Sleigh. First appeared in Ploughshares. Reprinted with permission of the author.

Tom Sleigh

Tom Sleigh

Tom Sleigh is the author of nine books of poetry, a translation of Euripides' Herakles, and a book of essays. 

by this poet

poem

(Note: a space station generates gravity by revolving one way and then another. When it reverses direction to revolve the other way, there are several moments when gravity is suspended.)

My mother and I and the dog were floating
Weightless in the kitchen. Silverware
Hovered above the table. Napkins
poem
1
The omen I didn't know I was waiting for
pulled into the station the same instant as the train.
It was just a teenage boy busking on the platform,
cello cutting through garble, Bach's repetitions

hard-edged as a scalpel probing an open wound. 
But then I kept thinking how a sound wave 
travels the path of
poem
Out of the stone ark that carried them this far
in their two by two progress up to here,
they've outlived everyone
and everything they've known—

he in his fishscales up to his waist, she
in her grunge hairdo of stone:
and on each face no guilt for surviving,
no stony comprehension

of all they've left behind,