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About this poet

In 1939, Stephen Dunn was born in New York City. He earned a BA in history and English from Hofstra University, attended the New School Writing Workshops, and finished his MA in creative writing at Syracuse University. Dunn has worked as a professional basketball player, an advertising copywriter, and an editor, as well as a professor of creative writing.

Dunn's books of poetry include Lines of Defense (W. W. Norton, 2014); Here and Now: Poems (W. W. Norton, 2011); What Goes On: Selected and New Poems 1995-2009 (2009); Everything Else in the World (2006); Local Visitations (2003); Different Hours (2000), winner of the 2001 Pulitzer Prize winner for poetry; Loosestrife (1996); New and Selected Poems: 1974-1994 (1994); Landscape at the End of the Century (1991); Between Angels (1989); Local Time (1986), winner of the National Poetry Series; Not Dancing (1984); Work & Love (1981); A Circus of Needs (1978); Full of Lust and Good Usage (1976); and Looking For Holes In the Ceiling 1974. He is also the author of Walking Light: Memoirs and Essays on Poetry (BOA Editions, 2001), and Riffs & Reciprocities: Prose Pairs (1998).

About Dunn's work, the poet Billy Collins has written: "The art lies in hiding the art, Horace tells us, and Stephen Dunn has proven himself a master of concealment. His honesty would not be so forceful were it not for his discrete formality; his poems would not be so strikingly naked were they not so carefully dressed."

Dunn's other honors include the Academy Award for Literature, the James Wright Prize, and fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the New Jersey State Council on the Arts. He has taught poetry and creative writing and held residencies at Wartburg College, Wichita State University, Columbia University, University of Washington, Syracuse University, Southwest Minnesota State College, Princeton University, and University of Michigan.

Dunn is the Distinguished Professor of Creative Writing at Richard Stockton College and lives in Frostburg, Maryland, with his wife, the writer Barbara Hurd.

The Routine Things Around the House

Stephen Dunn, 1939

When Mother died
I thought: now I’ll have a death poem.
That was unforgivable

yet I’ve since forgiven myself
as sons are able to do
who’ve been loved by their mothers.

I stared into the coffin
knowing how long she’d live,
how many lifetimes there are

in the sweet revisions of memory.
It’s hard to know exactly
how we ease ourselves back from sadness,

but I remembered when I was twelve,
1951, before the world
unbuttoned its blouse.

I had asked my mother (I was trembling)
if I could see her breasts
and she took me into her room

without embarrassment or coyness
and I stared at them,
afraid to ask for more.

Now, years later, someone tells me
Cancers who’ve never had mother love
are doomed and I, a Cancer,

feel blessed again. What luck
to have had a mother
who showed me her breasts

when girls my age were developing
their separate countries,
what luck

she didn’t doom me
with too much or too little.
Had I asked to touch,

perhaps to suck them,
what would she have done?
Mother, dead woman

who I think permits me
to love women easily,
this poem

is dedicated to where
we stopped, to the incompleteness
that was sufficient

and to how you buttoned up,
began doing the routine things
around the house.

From Manthology: Poems on the Male Experience edited by Craig Crist-Evans, Kate Fetherston and Roger Weingarten. Reprinted with permission of the publisher. All rights reserved.

From Manthology: Poems on the Male Experience edited by Craig Crist-Evans, Kate Fetherston and Roger Weingarten. Reprinted with permission of the publisher. All rights reserved.

Stephen Dunn

Stephen Dunn

Poet Stephen Dunn is the author of over fifteen poetry collections, including Different Hours (W. W. Norton), which received the Pulitzer Prize for poetry in 2001.

by this poet

poem
            for Barbara


        There are words
I've had to save myself from,
like My Lord and Blessed Mother,
words I said and never meant,
though I admit a part of me misses
the ornamental stateliness
of High Mass, that smell

        of incense. Heaven did exist,
I discovered, but was reciprocal
and
poem
From her window marshland stretched for miles.
If not for egrets and gulls, it reminded her of the moors
behind the parsonage, how the fog often hovered
and descended as if sheltering some sweet compulsion
the age was not ready to see. On clear days the jagged
skyline of Atlantic City was visible—Atlantic City,
poem
She pressed her lips to mind.
	—a typo

How many years I must have yearned
for someone’s lips against mind.
Pheromones, newly born, were floating
between us. There was hardly any air.

She kissed me again, reaching that place
that sends messages to toes and fingertips,
then all the way to something like home.