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About this poet

Alfred Corn was born in Bainbridge, Georgia, in 1943. He grew up in Valdosta, Georgia, and received his B.A. in French literature from Emory University in 1965. He was awarded an M.A. in French literature from Columbia University in 1967, his degree work including a year spent in Paris on a Fulbright Fellowship and two years of teaching in the French Department at Columbia College.

His first book of poems, All Roads at Once, appeared in 1976, followed by A Call in the Midst of the Crowd (1978), The Various Light (1980), Notes from a Child of Paradise (1984), The West Door (1988), and Autobiographies (1992). His seventh book of poems, titled Present, appeared in 1997, along with the novel Part of His Story. Stake: Selected Poems, 1972-1992, appeared in 1999, followed by Contradictions in 2002, which was a finalist for the Oklahoma Book Award. Most recently, he published Tables (Press 53, 2013).

In a review of Present in the Boston Review, Thomas M. Disch said "Happily Corn's poetry is more than the sum of his rare gifts, for underpinning these is a poetic persona as distinctively affable (though less raffish) as those of Merrill or James Schuyler or (when he's in flaneur mode) Frank O'Hara. It is not the regnant mode among poetry academics at the moment, but since at least the time of Byron and Wordsworth it has been the kind of poetry that most commends itself to readers of poetry. "

Corn has also published a collection of critical essays titled The Metamorphoses of Metaphor (1989), a study of prosody, The Poem's Heartbeat (1997), and a work of art criticism, Aaron Rose Photographs (Abrams, 2001). He is also the author of Atlas: Selected Essays, 1989-2007 (University of Michigan Press, 2008). A frequent contributor to The New York Times Book Review and The Nation, he also writes art criticism for Art in America and ARTnews magazines.

Corn has received fellowships and prizes from the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters, the Academy of American Poets, and the Levinson Prize from Poetry magazine.

He has taught at the City University of New York, Yale, Connecticut College, the University of Cincinnati, U.C.L.A., Ohio State University, Oklahoma State University, and the University of Tulsa. He held the Amy Clampitt Residency in Lenox, Massachusetts, for 2004-2005, and is teaching a course at the Poetry School in London for 2005-2006.


Multimedia

From the Image Archive

The Three Times

Alfred Corn, 1943
The first will no doubt begin with morning's
Stainless-steel manners and possibilities
Out of number. Sunlight scold too much?
So a tense gets thinned out with solvents,
Preternaturally bright with the will
To swap laziness or pleasure for paper money. 
The future may appear as a winter day, colors
Of the façades like frozen jellies and sherbets,
Palaces of frost in crystalline order; 
Then fall into shards at the approach of fact,
A needle of starlight aimed at your heart. 

This one has all the force and danger of
Randomness: image drips into daydream
As waters gather to sea level and go
With the tide. Clouds. Chain lightning.
The waves move in like destroyers. And—
And only subside when, for example,
I stop to prove a cup off-center
In its saucer. A door closes, footsteps;
The night outside warm and silent
As an underground parking lot; askew stacks
Of books and papers; raw material;
Clues to a life. Because it's the time
Of pain—always the same—and pleasures:
Taste, touch, work, walking, music—not one
Of these trivial and all incomplete.

The last was always a famous storehouse;
Or you sit down before an amphitheater
Of tiered keyboards, repertory of stops;
To choose diapason. bourdon, vox humana—
A stone wall, the shadow of a leaf,
The gate I saw and then the grass 
Running in place before the wind. 
The place of the mind moved on, just 
Failing to be everywhere at once; 
And reconstructed an autumn afternoon 
From the highest window, when the buildings 
Forcing up against an imposed sky, 
Fused into background, embraced the park, 
Rested. The last baseball players 
Swarmed around a tiny diamond template; 
Man and his games a perfected miniature—
Like the past you almost don't believe in. 
Yet it's there, behind perhaps a blue veil; 
Sturdy; calm; unless put out of countenance 
By drab standards of exactitude. 
The last word was never, was always 
About to be written; so that none of us 
Could know whether hope, become action, 
Exposed to the elements—a bronze monument, 
Negligible among the surrounding towers,
But somehow truly central—would corrode, 
Crumble, dissolve; or weather into 
A fact of nature, continue to be. 

From Stake: Selected Poems 1972-1992 by Alfred Corn (Counterpoint, 1999). Copyright © 1999 Alfred Corn. Used with permission of the author.

From Stake: Selected Poems 1972-1992 by Alfred Corn (Counterpoint, 1999). Copyright © 1999 Alfred Corn. Used with permission of the author.

Alfred Corn

Alfred Corn

Alfred Corn was born in Bainbridge, Georgia, in 1943. He grew up

by this poet

poem
     The lake at nightfall is less a lake,
but more, with reflection added, so
this giant inkblot lies on its side,
a bristling zone of black pine and fir
at the dark fold of the revealed world.
 
     Interpret this fallen symmetry, 
scan this water and these water lights, 
and follow a golden scribble toward
poem
Met Museum, 1965, the first
I'll see, his Young Woman Sleeping.
Stage right, bright-threaded carpet flung over the table
where a plate of apples, crumpled napkin
and drained wineglass abut the recapped pitcher.
Propped by one hand, her leaning drowse,
behind which, a door opens on the dream, dim, bare
but
poem
Pilot at the helm of a hidden
headland it steers free
from convergence with the freighter
when fog and storm clouds gather


Sparking communiqué no full stop ends
its broadcast performed in a three-sixty sweep
the cycle burning up five solar seconds


Midnight eye that blinks away
invisibility a high beam