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About this poet

Brigit Pegeen Kelly was born in Palo Alto, California, in 1951.

Her first collection of poems, To The Place of Trumpets (1987), was selected by James Merrill for the Yale Series of Younger Poets. Song (BOA Editions), which followed in 1995, was the 1994 Lamont Poetry Selection of the Academy of American Poets. Her third collection, The Orchard (2004), was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in Poetry, the Los Angeles Times Book Award in Poetry, and the National Book Critics Circle Award in Poetry.

About her work, the poet Stephen Dobyns has said, "Brigit Pegeen Kelly is one of the very best poets now writing in the United States. In fact, there is no one who is any better. Not only are her poems brilliantly made, but they also give great pleasure. Rarely are those two qualities seen together in one poet."

Kelly was the 2008 recipient of the Academy of American Poets Fellowship. Her other honors include a "Discovery"/The Nation Award, the Cecil Hemley Award from the Poetry Society of America, the Theodore Roethke Prize from Poetry Northwest, and a Whiting Writers Award, as well as fellowships from the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Illinois State Council on the Arts, and the New Jersey Council on the Arts.

Her work has also appeared in several volumes of the Pushcart Prize Anthology and several volumes of The Best American Poetry.

She has taught at the University of California at Irvine, Purdue University, Warren Wilson College, and the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, as well as numerous writers' conferences in the United States and Ireland. In 2002 the University of Illinois awarded her both humanities and campus-wide awards for excellence in teaching. She died in October 2016.


Selected Bibliography

Poems: Song and the Orchard (Carcanet Press Ltd, 2008)
The Orchard (BOA Editions, 2004)
Song (BOA Editions, 1995)
To The Place of Trumpets (Yale University Press, 1987)

Black Swan

I told the boy I found him under a bush.
What was the harm? I told him he was sleeping   
And that a black swan slept beside him,
The swan’s feathers hot, the scent of the hot feathers   
And of the bush’s hot white flowers
As rank and sweet as the stewed milk of a goat.   
The bush was in a strange garden, a place   
So old it seemed to exist outside of time.   
In one spot, great stone steps leading nowhere.
In another, statues of horsemen posting giant stone horses   
Along a high wall. And here, were triangular beds   
Of flowers flush with red flowers. And there,   
Circular beds flush with white. And in every bush   
And bed flew small birds and the cries of small birds.   
I told the boy I looked for him a long time   
And when I found him I watched him sleeping,   
His arm around the swan’s moist neck,   
The swan’s head tucked fast behind the boy’s back,   
The feathered breast and the bare breast breathing as one,   
And then very swiftly and without making a sound,   
So that I would not wake the sleeping bird,   
I picked the boy up and slipped him into my belly,   
The way one might slip something stolen   
Into a purse. And brought him here….
And so it was. And so it was. A child with skin   
So white it was not like the skin of a boy at all,
But like the skin of a newborn rabbit, or like the skin   
Of a lily, pulseless and thin. And a giant bird   
With burning feathers. And beyond them both   
A pond of incredible blackness, overarched
With ancient trees and patterned with shifting shades,   
The small wind in the branches making a sound
Like the knocking of a thousand wooden bells….   
Things of such beauty. But still I might
Have forgotten, had not the boy, who stands now   
To my waist, his hair a cap of shining feathers,
Come to me today weeping because some older boys   
Had taunted him and torn his new coat,   
Had he not, when I bent my head to his head,   
Said softly, but with great anger, “I wish I had never   
Been born. I wish I were back under the bush,”   
Which made the old garden rise up again,   
Shadowed and more strange. Small birds   
Running fast and the grapple of chill coming on.   
There was the pond, half-circled with trees. And there   
The flowerless bush. But there was no swan.   
There was no black swan. And beneath   
The sound of the wind, I could hear, dark and low,   
The giant stone hooves of the horses,   
Striking and striking the hardening ground.

From The Orchard. Copyright © 2004 by Brigit Pegeen Kelly. Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc., on behalf of BOA Editions, Ltd., www.boaeditions.org.

From The Orchard. Copyright © 2004 by Brigit Pegeen Kelly. Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc., on behalf of BOA Editions, Ltd., www.boaeditions.org.

Brigit Pegeen Kelly

Brigit Pegeen Kelly

Brigit Pegeen Kelly was born in Palo Alto, California, in 1951. Her first collection of poems, To The Place of Trumpets (1987), was selected by James Merrill for the Yale Series of Younger Poets. 

by this poet

poem

I saw once, in a rose garden, a remarkable statue of the Roman she-wolf and her twins, a reproduction of an ancient statue— not the famous bronze statue, so often copied, in which the blunt head swings forward toward the viewer like a sad battering ram, but an even older statue, of provenance less clear. The wolf

poem

Now I rest my head on the satyr's carved chest,
The hollow where the heart would have been, if sandstone
Had a heart, if a headless goat man could have a heart.
His neck rises to a dull point, points upward
To something long gone, elusive, and at his feet
The small flowers swarm,
poem
My father said I could not do it,
but all night I picked the peaches.
The orchard was still, the canals ran steadily.
I was a girl then, my chest its own walled garden.
How many ladders to gather an orchard?
I had only one and a long patience with lit hands
and the looking of the stars which moved right through