poem index

About this poet

Born in New York City in 1950, Arthur Sze is a second-generation Chinese American. Educated at the University of California, Berkeley, Sze is the author of nine books of poetry, including Compass Rose (Copper Canyon Press, 2014);The Ginkgo Light (Copper Canyon Press, 2009); Quipu (Copper Canyon Press, 2005); The Redshifting Web: Poems 1970-1998 (Copper Canyon Press, 1998); and Archipelago (Copper Canyon Press, 1995). His other collections include River River (Lost Roads Publishers, 1987); Dazzled (Floating Island Publications, 1982); Two Ravens (Tooth of Time Books, 1976; revised, 1984); and The Willow Wind (Tooth of Time Books, 1972; revised, 1981).

He is also a celebrated translator from the Chinese, and released The Silk Dragon: Translations from the Chinese (Copper Canyon Press) in 2001.

About his work, Jackson Mac Low has said, "The word 'compassion' is much overused—'clarity' less so—but Arthur Sze is truly a poet of clarity and compassion."

Speaking about Sze's contributions to the art of poetry Naomi Shihab Nye has said, "Arthur Sze's work has long been a nourishing tonic for the mind—presences of the natural world, wide consciousness, and time, combine in exquisitely shaped and weighted lines and stanzas to create a poetry of deep attunement and lyrical precision. Sze's ongoing generous exchange with Asian poets and devotion to translation in collections such as The Silk Dragon, enriches the canon of world poetry immeasurably."

His honors include an American Book Award, a Lannan Literary Award for Poetry, a Lila Wallace-Reader's Digest Writers' Award, a Western States Book Award for Translation, three grants from the Witter Bynner Foundation for Poetry, and fellowships from the George A. and Eliza Gardner Howard Foundation, the Guggenheim Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Arts. In 2013, he was awarded the Jackson Poetry Prize from Poets & Writers magazine.

He has served as Visiting Hurst Professor at Washington University, a Doenges Visiting Artist at Mary Baldwin College and has conducted residencies at Brown University, Bard College, and Naropa University. Sze was elected Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets in 2012, and is a professor emeritus at the Institute of American Indian Arts. He is the first poet laureate of Santa Fe, New Mexico, where he lives.


Selected Bibliography

Compass Rose (Copper Canyon Press, 2014)
The Ginkgo Light (Copper Canyon Press, 2009)
Quipu (Copper Canyon Press, 2005)
The Redshifting Web: Poems 1970-1998 (Copper Canyon Press, 1998)
Archipelago (Copper Canyon Press, 1995)
River River (Lost Roads Publishers, 1987)
Dazzled (Floating Island Publications, 1982)
Two Ravens (Tooth of Time Books, 1976; revised, 1984)
The Willow Wind (Tooth of Time Books, 1972; revised, 1981)

The Shapes of Leaves

Arthur Sze, 1950
Ginkgo, cottonwood, pin oak, sweet gum, tulip tree:
our emotions resemble leaves and alive
to their shapes we are nourished.

Have you felt the expanse and contours of grief
along the edges of a big Norway maple?
Have you winced at the orange flare

searing the curves of a curling dogwood?
I have seen from the air logged islands,
each with a network of branching gravel roads,

and felt a moment of pure anger, aspen gold.
I have seen sandhill cranes moving in an open field,
a single white whooping crane in the flock.

And I have traveled along the contours 
of leaves that have no name. Here
where the air is wet and the light is cool, 

I feel what others are thinking and do not speak,
I know pleasure in the veins of a sugar maple,
I am living at the edge of a new leaf.

From The Redshifting Web: Poems 1970-1998, published by Copper Canyon Press, 1998. Copyright © 1998 by Arthur Sze. All rights reserved. Reprinted by permission of Copper Canyon Press, P.O. Box 271, Port Townsend, WA 98368.

Arthur Sze

Arthur Sze

Born in New York City in 1950, Arthur Sze is a second-generation

by this poet

poem
Slanting light casts onto a stucco wall
the shadows of upwardly zigzagging plum branches.

I can see the thinning of branches to the very twig.
I have to sift what you say, what she thinks,

what he believes is genetic strength, what
they agree is inevitable. I have to sift this

quirky and lashing stillness of
poem
Here a snail on a wet leaf shivers and dreams of spring.
Here a green iris in December.
Here the topaz light of the sky.
Here one stops hearing a twig break and listens for deer.
Here the art of the ventriloquist.
Here the obsession of a kleptomaniac to steal red
poem
Redwinged blackbirds in the cattail pond—
today I kicked and flipped a wing 
in the sand and saw it was a sheared 
off flicker's. Yesterday's rain has left 
			
snow on Tesuque Peak, and the river 
will widen then dwindle. We step 
into a house and notice antlers mounted 
on the wall behind us; a ten-day-old