poem index

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)

The Soul

Ira Sadoff, 1945
The shaft of narrative peers down.
The soul's a petrified fleck of partridge this October. 
Mud-spattered, it thinks it's brush, it thinks 
it's one with the brush when God aims 

just below its feathers. It's too late to raise the soul, 
some ossified conceit we use to talk about deer 
as if we were deer, to talk about the sun, as if the cold 
autumn light mirrored our lover asleep in the tub. 

Nevertheless, I want to talk about it. Those scarred bodies 
on the hospital table, they're white chalk children use 
to deface the sidewalk. The deer fed in the gazebo, 
where the salt lick was barely safe from the fox. 

And when the wind didn't drag my scent to her,
I sat listless, half-awake, and watched her hunger 
surpass her timidity. I should have been changed. 
I should have been startled into submission 

by a very white light, I should have shed my misgivings 
as her tongue made that sticky sound on the lick
and two startled animals stared into what St. Francis
called a mystery. I should bring her back, the woman too, 

the woman who what why words fail me here. 
I should sanctify the hospital gown as it slides down
the tunnel of the catscan, to see where 
the nodules have spread into the thin, pliable tissues 

we call the innards in animals, because they dwell 
in scenery, they're setting for the poem, they provide 
a respite from the subject who's been probed and lacerated,
who's been skinned and eaten away by the story 

when I'm beguiled by the music the hooves made
on the pine floor. I can bring her back, can't I,
I'm bringing him back, the hero who was close enough 
so I could watch what was inside his face hover and scatter. 

"The Soul," from Barter by Ira Sadoff, published by the University of Illinois Press. Copyright © 2003 by Ira Sadoff. Used by permission.

Ira Sadoff

Ira Sadoff

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

by this poet

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
poem
I sniff after the sparrow and the spaniel, flitting around,
barking, digging up the dirt: how could I not be
at one with them? But I'm a spendthrift too, rummaging about

old sport coats, selecting a style, a clash of styles—
in a private moment trying to decide who I am today by trying on
something discarded,
poem

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