poem index

sign up to receive a new poem-a-day in your inbox

About this poet

Carl Dennis was born on September 17, 1939, in St. Louis, Missouri, and attended both Oberlin College and the University of Chicago before completing his bachelor’s degree at the University of Minnesota. He earned his PhD from the University of California, Berkeley.

Dennis has published twelve books of poetry, including Another Reason (Penguin, 2014); Callings (Penguin, 2010); Practical Gods (Penguin, 2001), for which he won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry; and Meetings with Time (Penguin, 1992), among others. Dennis has also published a book of criticism, Poetry as Persuasion (University of Georgia Press, 2001).

Known for its casual, plainspoken narrative style that makes its home in the everyday life of the American middle class, Dennis’s poetry is a quiet, almost intimate, meditation on the world around him. In a review of Dennis’s poems in The Washington Post, poet Robert Pinsky wrote, “The musing mind or voice reaches its object not with a turbulent roar of rhetoric, but with the penetration of fine oil. The poems of Carl Dennis proceed to startling, sometimes even upsetting conclusions by that musing process of mind, alert and patient.”

Dennis has received several honors and distinctions, including fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts. He was the recipient of the 1989 Oscar Blumenthal Prize, the 1995 Bess Hokin Prize, the 1997 J. Howard and Barbara M. J. Wood Prize, and the 2000 Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize.

Dennis taught at the University of Buffalo from 1966 to 2001, after which time he served as the school’s artist in residence. He also taught in the MFA program in creative writing at Warren Wilson College.

He lives in Buffalo, New York.


Selected Bibliography

Another Reason (Penguin, 2014)
Callings (Penguin, 2010)
Unknown Friends (Penguin, 2007)
New and Selected Poems, 1974-2004 (Penguin, 2004)
Practical Gods (Penguin, 2001)
Ranking the Wishes (Penguin, 1997)
Meetings with Time (Penguin, 1992)
The Outskirts of Troy (William Morrow, 1988)
The Near World (William Morrow, 1985)
Signs and Wonders (Princeton University Press, 1979)
Climbing Down (Braziller, 1976)
A House of My Own (Braziller, 1974)

Thanksgiving Letter from Harry

Carl Dennis, 1939
I guess I have to begin by admitting
I'm thankful today I don't reside in a country
My country has chosen to liberate,
That Bridgeport's my home, not Baghdad.
Thankful my chances are good, when I leave
For the Super Duper, that I'll be returning.
And I'm thankful my TV set is still broken.
No point in wasting energy feeling shame
For the havoc inflicted on others in my name
When I need all the strength I can muster
To teach my eighth-grade class in the low-rent district.
There, at least, I don't feel powerless.
There my choices can make some difference.

This month I'd like to believe I've widened
My students' choice of vocation, though the odds
My history lessons on working the land
Will inspire any of them to farm
Are almost as small as the odds
One will become a monk or nun
Trained in the Buddhist practice
We studied last month in the unit on India.
The point is to get them suspecting the world
They know first hand isn't the only world.

As for the calling of soldier, if it comes up in class,
It's not because I feel obliged to include it,
As you, as a writer, may feel obliged.
A student may happen to introduce it,
As a girl did yesterday when she read her essay
About her older brother, Ramon,
Listed as "missing in action" three years ago,
And about her dad, who won't agree with her mom
And the social worker on how small the odds are
That Ramon's alive, a prisoner in the mountains.

I didn't allow the discussion that followed
More time than I allowed for the other essays.
And I wouldn't take sides: not with the group
That thought the father, having grieved enough,
Ought to move on to the life still left him;
Not with the group that was glad he hadn't made do
With the next-to-nothing the world's provided,
That instead he's invested his trust in a story
That saves the world from shameful failure.

Let me know of any recent attempts on your part
To save our fellow-citizens from themselves.
In the meantime, if you want to borrow Ramon
For a narrative of your own, remember that any scene
Where he appears under guard in a mountain village
Should be confined to the realm of longing. There
His captors may leave him when they move on.
There his wounds may be healed,
His health restored. A total recovery
Except for a lingering fog of forgetfulness
A father dreams he can burn away.

From Unknown Friends, Copyright © 2007 by Carl Dennis. Reprinted with permission of Penguin.

From Unknown Friends, Copyright © 2007 by Carl Dennis. Reprinted with permission of Penguin.

Carl Dennis

Carl Dennis

Carl Dennis was born on September 17, 1939, in St. Louis, Missouri, and attended both Oberlin College and the University of Chicago before completing his bachelor’s degree at the University of Minnesota. He earned his PhD from the University of California, Berkeley.

by this poet

poem

If a life needn’t be useful to be meaningful,
Then maybe a life of sunbathing on a beach
Can be thought of as meaningful for at least a few,
The few, say, who view the sun as a god
And consider basking a form of worship.

As for those devoted to partnership with a surfboard
poem
Today as we walk in Paris I promise to focus
More on the sights before us than on the woman
We noticed yesterday in the photograph at the print shop,
The slender brunette who looked like you
As she posed with a violin case by a horse-drawn omnibus
Near the Luxembourg Gardens. Today I won't linger long
On the
poem
Just yesterday my poem lamenting the power
Of time to sweep away all trace of the beautiful
Seemed done at last, but the light this morning
Shows it to be a sketch, evidence that my vision
Cleared as I slumbered, that my sense of beauty
Grows in the night like corn or bamboo.

Maybe a poem in praise of time