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About this poet

Ira Sadoff was born in Brooklyn, New York, on March 7, 1945, of Russian-Jewish ancestry. He earned a BA in industrial and labor relations from Cornell University in 1966 and an MFA from the University of Oregon in 1968. In 1975, he published his first collection of poetry, Settling Down (Houghton Mifflin).

Since then, Sadoff has published several poetry collections, most recently True Faith (BOA Editions, 2012) and Barter (University of Illinois, 2003), which delves into his personal past, specifically concerning love and bereavement, as well as the historical and global past, referencing Beethoven, Vietnam, and the fall of communism. Other recent collections include Grazing (University of Illinois Press, 1998), from which poems were awarded the American Poetry Review's Leonard Shestack Prize, the Pushcart Poetry Prize, and the George Bogin Memorial Prize from the Poetry Society of America; Emotional Traffic (David R. Godine, 1989); A Northern Calendar (David R. Godine, 1981), which charts the arrival and passage of the seasons; and Palm Reading in Winter (Houghton Mifflin, 1978).

About Sadoff's work, the poet Gerald Stern has said, "Nowhere else in American poetry do I come across a passion, a cunning, and a joy greater than his. And a deadly accuracy. I see him as one of the supreme poets of his generation." And on awarding Sadoff the Bogin Memorial Prize, the poet Alan Shapiro said, "Beyond the energetic syntax and the astonishing range of idiom and tone, what I so admire in these poems is the just yet always unpredictable weaving together of individual and collective life, the insightful, almost seamless integration of personal experience in all its unredemptive anguish with the heterogeneous realities of American culture."

Sadoff is also the author of three works of prose, most recently History Matters: Contemporary Poetry on the Margins of American Culture (University of Iowa, 2009), which, through the work of poets like Czeslaw Milosz and Frank O'Hara, argues that poets live and write within history; An Ira Sadoff Reader (Middlebury, 1992), a collection of stories, poems, and essays about contemporary poetry; and Uncoupling (Houghton Mifflin, 1982), a novel.

He is the recipient of fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation. In 1973, he was a fellow at the Squaw Valley Community of Writers, and in 1974, he was the Alan Collins Fellow in Poetry and Prose at the Bread Loaf Writer's Conference. His poetry has been widely anthologized, most recently in The Best American Poetry Series, in 2008.

Sadoff has served as poetry editor of the Antioch Review, and was cofounder of the Seneca Review. He has taught at the Iowa Writers' Workshop, and in the MFA programs of the University of Virginia and Warren Wilson College.

He currently serves as the Arthur Jeremiah Roberts Professor of English at Colby College in Waterville, Maine.


Bibliography

Poetry

True Faith (BOA Editions, 2012)
Barter (University of Illinois, 2003)
Grazing (University of Illinois Press, 1998)
Emotional Traffic (David R. Godine, 1989)
A Northern Calendar (David R. Godine, 1981)
Palm Reading in Winter (Houghton Mifflin, 1978)
Settling Down (Houghton Mifflin, 1975)

Prose

History Matters: Contemporary Poetry on the Margins of American Culture (University of Iowa, 2009)
An Ira Sadoff Reader(Middlebury, 1992)
Uncoupling (Houghton Mifflin, 1982)

Seurat

Ira Sadoff, 1945

It is a Sunday afternoon on the Grand Canal. We are watching the sailboats trying to sail along without wind. Small rowboats are making their incisions on the water, only to have the wounds seal up again soon after they pass. In the background, smoke from the factories and smoke from the steamboats merges into tiny clouds above us then disappears. Our mothers and fathers walk arm in arm along the shore clutching tightly their umbrellas and canes. We are sitting on a blanket in the foreground, but even if someone were to take a photograph, only our closest relatives would recognize us: we seem to be burying our heads between our knees.

I remember thinking you were one of the most delicate women I had ever seen. Your bones seemed small and fragile as a rabbit's. Even so, beads of perspiration begin to form on your wrist and forehead — if we were to live long enough we'd have been amazed at how many clothes we forced ourselves to wear. At this time I had never seen you without your petticoats, and if I ever gave thought to such a possibility I'd chastise myself for not offering you sufficient respect.

The sun is very hot. Why is it no one complains of the heat in France? There are women doing their needlework, men reading, a man in a bowler hat smoking a pipe. The noise of the children is absorbed by the trees. The air is full of idleness, there is the faint aroma of lilies coming from somewhere. We discuss what we want for ourselves, abstractly, it seems only right on a day like this. I have ambitions to be a painter, and you want a small family and a cottage in the country. We make everything sound so simple because we believe everything is still possible. The small tragedies of our parents have not yet made an impression on us. We should be grateful, but we're too awkward to think hard about very much.

I throw a scaling rock into the water; I have strong arms and before the rock sinks it seems to have nearly reached the other side. When we get up we have a sense of our own importance. We could not know, taking a step back, looking at the total picture, that we would occupy such a small corner of the canvas, and that even then we are no more than tiny clusters of dots, carefully placed together without touching.

Used by permission of the author. All rights reserved.

Used by permission of the author. All rights reserved.

Ira Sadoff

Ira Sadoff

Ira Sadoff was born in Brooklyn, New York, on March 7, 1945,

by this poet

poem
A mist appalls the windshield. 
So I still see trees as moral lessons, 
as I pass under them, shadowy and astute.

The glazed aspen branches hover. 
Ice heats up and cracks, road tar steams 
like some animal where the blush 

of cheek is chilled by annunciation. 
I cannot say her face was trauma driven.
I'm
poem
When I came back, he was gone.
My mother was in the bathroom
crying, my sister in her crib
restless but asleep. The sun
was shining in the bay window,
the grass had not been cut.
No one mentioned the other woman,
nights he spent in that stranger's house.

I sat at my desk and wrote him a note.
When my mother saw
poem
The rabbi doesn't say she was sly and peevish,
fragile and voracious, disheveled, voiceless and useless,
at the end of her very long rope. He never sat beside her
like a statue while radio voices called to her from God.
He doesn't say how she mamboed with her broom,
staggered, swayed, and sighed afternoons,
till