Mona Van Duyn Dies at 83

Posted on

Dec 02 2004

December 2, 2004 -- The poet Mona Van Duyn, 83, winner of the Pulitzer Prize, among other honors, died last night at her home in University City, Missouri. Van Duyn served as the first female Poet Laureate of the United States (1992-1993) and was a former Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets.

After Van Duyn won the Pulitzer Prize in 1991 for Near Changes, Cynthia Zarin wrote in The New Republic: "Since 1959 Mona Van Duyn has been writing poetry notable for its formal accomplishment and for its thematic ambition. The searching intelligence of the persona we have learned to know in her poems, combined with the humor, technical ease, and the blend of the abstract and the quotidian that the poet has made her own have resulted in that rare good thing: a strong, clear voice, original without eccentricity."

Mona Van Duyn was born in Waterloo, Iowa, in 1921. She is the author of ten books of poems: Selected Poems (2002); Firefall (1994); If It Be Not I: Collected Poems, 1959-1982 (1994); Near Changes (1990); Letters From a Father, and Other Poems (1982); Merciful Disguises (1973, reissued 1982); Bedtime Stories (1972); To See, To Take (1970), which received the National Book Award; A Time of Bees (1964); and Valentines to the Wide World (1959). With her husband, Jarvis Thurston, she founded Perspective, a Quarterly of Literature in 1947, and co-edited it until 1970.

Van Duyn has been awarded the Bollingen Prize, the Hart Crane Memorial Award, the Ruth Lilly Prize, the Loines Prize of the National Institute of Arts and Letters, the Harriet Monroe Memorial Prize and the Eunice Tietjens Award from Poetry, and the Shelley Memorial Prize, as well as fellowships from The Academy of American Poets, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the Guggenheim Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Arts.

"Earth Tremors Felt in Missouri"

The quake last night was nothing personal,
you told me this morning. I think one always wonders,
unless, of course, something is visible: tremors
that take us, private and willy-nilly, are usual.

But the earth said last night that what I feel,
you feel; what secretly moves you, moves me.
One small, sensuous catastrophe
makes inklings letters, spelled in a worldly tremble.

The earth, with others on it, turns in its course
as we turn toward each other, less than ourselves, gross,
mindless, more than we were. Pebbles, we swell
to planets, nearing the universal roll,
in our conceit even comprehending the sun,
whose bright ordeal leaves cool men woebegone.

Copyright © 2002 by Mona Van Duyn. Reprinted from Selected Poems by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc.

For more of her poetry and an audio recording of Van Duyn reading from "Endings", go to the Poets.org Mona Van Duyn page.

For information about her books and more poems, visit Knopf Poetry.

The Academy of American Poets is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization founded in 1934 to foster appreciation for contemporary poetry and to support American poets at all stages of their careers. For more information on the Academy and its programs, visit www.poets.org.