poem index

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, Evergreen State College, and earned an M.A. from Johns Hopkins University. His most recent collections include Space Walk (Houghton Mifflin, 2007), winner of the Kingsley Tufts Award, and Far Side of the Earth (2003), named an Honor Book by the Massachusetts Society for the Book.

He is the author of After One, winner of the Houghton Mifflin New Poetry Series Prize, 1983; Waking (1990), a New York Times Book Review Notable Book, and a finalist for the Lamont Poetry Prize; The Chain (l996), nominated for the Lenore Marshall Prize; and The Dreamhouse (1999), a selection of the Academy of American Poet’s Poetry Book Club and a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Award. He has also published a translation of Euripides's Herakles (Oxford University Press, 2000), and a book of essays, Interview With a Ghost (Graywolf Press, 2006).

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."

Among his many awards are an Academy Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letter, the Shelley Award from the Poetry Society of America, an Individual Writer's Award from the Lila Wallace Fund, and grants from the Guggenheim and Ingram Merill Foundations, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown where he is a Writing Committee member. He teaches in the MFA Program in Creative Writing at Hunter College and lives in Brooklyn, NY.

A Selected Bibliography

Poetry

After One (Houghton Mifflin Company, 1983)
Waking (University Of Chicago Press, 1990)
The Chain (University Of Chicago Press, 1996)
The Dreamhouse (University Of Chicago Press, 1999)
Far Side of the Earth (Mariner Books, 2005)
Space Walk (Houghton Mifflin, 2007)

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.

Tom Sleigh

Tom Sleigh

Tom Sleigh was born in Mount Pleasant, Texas. He attended the California

by this poet

poem
I had a blueprint
of history
in my head —

it was a history of the martyrs
of love, the fools
of tyrants, the tyrants
themselves weeping
at the fate of their own soldiers —

a sentimental blueprint,
lacking depth —
a ruled axis X and Y
whose illusions
were bearable . . .
then unbearable . . .

In that blueprint
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
Because the burn's unstable, burning too hot
in the liquid hydrogen suction line
and so causing vortices in the rocket fuel 

flaming hotter and hotter as the "big boy"
blasts off, crawling painfully slowly 
up the blank sky, then, when he blinks 

exploding white hot against his wincing
retina, the fireball's