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About this poet

Ellen Bass was born in Philadelphia in 1947 and grew up in New Jersey. She received a BA from Goucher College and an MA in creative writing from Boston University, where she studied with Anne Sexton. She later said that Anne Sexton “encouraged me to write more, to expand, to go deeper and wider. She breathed life back into the process. Without her, I might have given up.”

She is the author of eight poetry collections, the most recent of which is Like a Beggar (Copper Canyon Press, 2014), which The New York Times notes “pulses with sex, humor and compassion.” Her other books include The Human Line (Copper Canyon Press, 2007), Mules of Love (BOA Editions, 2002), and I’m Not Your Laughing Daughter (University of Massachusetts Press, 1973). She also worked with Florence Howe to edit the feminist poetry anthology No More Masks! An Anthology of Poems by Women (Doubleday, 1973).

In addition to her poetry, Ellen Bass has written several works of nonfiction, including Free Your Mind: The Book for Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual Youth—and Their Allies (Harper Perennial, 1996), which she cowrote with Kate Kaufman, and The Courage to Heal: A Guide for Women Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse (Perennial Library, 1988), which she cowrote with Laura Davis and which has been translated into ten languages.

Bass was elected a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets in 2017. She is the recipient of fellowships from the California Arts Council and the National Endowment for the Arts, as well as the Lambda Literary Award for Poetry, the Pablo Neruda Prize for Poetry, and two Pushcart Prizes. She teaches in the low-residency MFA program at Pacific University and lives in Santa Cruz, California.


Selected Bibliography

Poetry
Like a Beggar (Copper Canyon Press, 2014)
The Human Line (Copper Canyon Press, 2007)
Mules of Love (BOA Editions, 2002)
Our Stunning Harvest: Poems (New Society Publishers, 1984)
Of Separateness & Merging (Autumn Press, 1977)
I’m Not Your Laughing Daughter (University of Massachusetts Press, 1973)

Prose
Free Your Mind: The Book for Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual Youth—and Their Allies (Harper Perennial, 1996)
The Courage to Heal: A Guide for Women Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse (Perennial Library, 1988)

Blame

All around the cavernous room of the Cal-Expo off-track betting,
TVs blare simulcast as the crowd in jeans and sloppy sweatshirts
treks to the betting windows, trampling an autumn’s worth of losing tickets.
The old man doesn’t miss the emerald grass and red geraniums,
the women with big hats at Churchill Downs. He never tasted a mint julep
as the mahogany horses stepped out like carved statues.
And he doesn’t mind the smell of stale beer or the damp cold
that seeps through his jacket and stiffens his already stiff hands.
He’s spent weeks lying on his bed in the board and care
waiting for this moment when Zenyatta, the mare who never lost a race,
called in The Times “the coolest horse in the world,”
goes for twenty out of twenty. So the only question is who to place,
who to show, to make a trifecta that will bring back the days
when he skipped out on grinding afternoons at the dry cleaner’s,
sweating at the mangle, saturated with solvent fumes,
as he bagged woollen coats and linen dresses and the jockeys’ silks—
gleaming pinks, buttercup yellows, and aquamarines.
When they picked up their colors, they slipped him tips on who was hot,
and he’d escape to the track at Aqueduct to see those myths of muscle,
flanks quivering, flashing their tails. And now and then he’d score,
gather up the family and head to Chinatown for lobster with black bean-sauce.
Once he even took them to Lancaster to see the Amish in their buggies,
their aprons and little white hats. But you could write the story
of all the paychecks fed like hay to the horses.
And he’ll lose this one, too. In the final stretch,
Blame, a homebred chestnut colt in the lead.
Mike Smith up on Zenyatta closing hard, going to the whip.

Originally published in The New Yorker. Copyright © 2014 by Ellen Bass. Used with the permission of the poet.

Originally published in The New Yorker. Copyright © 2014 by Ellen Bass. Used with the permission of the poet.

Ellen Bass

Ellen Bass

Ellen Bass is the author of Like a Beggar (Copper Canyon Press, 2014). She currently serves on the Board of Chancellors of the Academy of American Poets.

by this poet

poem

You stand at the counter, pouring boiling water
over the French roast, oily perfume rising in smoke.
And when I enter, you don’t look up.
You’re hurrying to pack your lunch, snapping
the lids on little plastic boxes while you call your mother
to tell her you’ll take her to the doctor.

poem

Finally, morning. This loneliness
feels more ordinary in the light, more like my face
in the mirror. My daughter in the ER again.
Something she ate? Some freshener

someone spritzed in the air?
They’re trying to kill me, she says,
as though it’s a joke. Lucretius
got

poem
The women in my family
strip the succulent
flesh from broiled chicken,
scrape the drumstick clean;
bite off the cartilage chew the gristle, 
crush the porous swellings
at the ends of each slender baton.
With strong molars
they split the tibia, sucking out
the dense marrow. 
They use up love, they swallow 
every