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About this poet

Tom Sleigh was born in Mount Pleasant, Texas. He attended the California Institute of the Arts and Evergreen State College, and earned an MA from Johns Hopkins University.

Sleigh is the author of several books of poetry, including House of Fact, House of Ruin (Graywolf Press, 2018); Station Zed (Graywolf Press, 2015); Army Cats (Graywolf Press, 2011), winner of the John Updike Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters; Space Walk (Houghton Mifflin, 2007), winner of the Kingsley Tufts Award; and Far Side of the Earth (Houghton Mifflin, 2003), winner of an Arts and Letters Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. 

He has also published a translation of Euripides's Herakles and two books of essays, The Land between Two Rivers: Poetry in an Age of Refugees (Graywolf Press, 2018) and Interview with a Ghost (Graywolf Press, 2006).

About Sleigh's work, the poet Philip Levine wrote in Ploughshares: "Sleigh's reviewers use words such as 'adept,' 'elegant,' and 'classical.' Reading his new book, I find all those terms beside the point, even though not one is inaccurate. I am struck by the human dramas that are enacted in these poems, the deep encounters that often shatter the participants and occasionally restore them. What delights me most is seeing a poet of his accomplishments and his large and well-earned reputation suddenly veer into a new arena of both our daily and our mythical lives. For the writer, such daring may be its own reward; for the reader, it is thrilling to overhear a writer pushing into greatness."

Seamus Heaney has said of Sleigh’s poems: "Tom Sleigh’s poetry is hard-earned and well founded. I great admire the way it refuses to cut emotional corners and yet achieves a sense of lyric absolution."

Sleigh has also worked as a journalist in Syria, Lebanon, Somalia, Kenya, Iraq, and Libya. He has received the Shelley Prize from the Poetry Society of America, an Individual Writer's Award from the Lila Wallace/Reader's Digest Fund, and fellowships from the American Academy in Berlin, the Guggenheim Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Arts, among many others. He is a Distinguished Professor in the MFA program at Hunter College and lives in Brooklyn.



Selected Bibliography

Poetry
House of Fact, House of Ruin (Graywolf Press, 2018)
Station Zed (Graywolf Press, 2015)
Army Cats (Graywolf Press, 2011)
Space Walk (Houghton Mifflin, 2007)
Far Side of the Earth (Houghton Mifflin, 2003)
The Dreamhouse (University of Chicago Press, 1999)
The Chain (University of Chicago Press, 1996)
Waking (University of Chicago Press, 1990)
After One (Houghton Mifflin, 1983)

Prose
The Land between Two Rivers: Poetry in an Age of Refugees (Graywolf Press, 2018)
Interview With a Ghost (Graywolf Press, 2006)

Translation
Herakles by Euripides (Oxford University Press, 2000)

Blueprint

I had a blueprint
of history
in my head —

it was a history of the martyrs
of love, the fools
of tyrants, the tyrants
themselves weeping
at the fate of their own soldiers —

a sentimental blueprint,
lacking depth —
a ruled axis X and Y
whose illusions
were bearable . . .
then unbearable . . .

In that blueprint, I wanted to speak
in a language
utterly other, in words
that mimicked
how one of Homer's warriors
plunges through breastplate
a spear past
breastbone, the spearpoint searching
through the chest
like a ray of light searching
a darkened room
for the soul
unhoused, infantile,
raging —
but my figure of speech,
my "ray of light" —
it was really a spearpoint
piercing the lung
of great-hearted Z
who feels death loosen
his knees, the menos
in his thumos
flying out of him —

the fate of his own soul
to confront me
beyond the frame:

no room, no X, no Y, no "ray of light,"
no menos, no thumos, no Z —

only sketched-in plane
after plane after plane
cantilevering upward and forever throughout space.

"Blueprint" from Space Walk. Copyright © 2007 by Tom Sleigh. Reproduced by permission of Houghton Mifflin Company.

"Blueprint" from Space Walk. Copyright © 2007 by Tom Sleigh. Reproduced by permission of Houghton Mifflin Company.

Tom Sleigh

Tom Sleigh

Tom Sleigh is the author of nine books of poetry, a translation of Euripides' Herakles, and a book of essays. 

by this poet

poem
Somebody's alone in his head, somebody's a kid, 
somebody's arm's getting twisted—a sandwich flies apart, 

tomatoes torn, white bread flung, then smeared with shit 
and handed back to eat—I dog dare you, I double dog dare you...

Somebody's watching little shit friends watch little shit him 
climb to the
2
poem
1
The cathedral being built 
around our split level house was so airy, it stretched 
so high it was like a cloud of granite 
and marble light the house rose up inside. 

At the time I didn’t notice masons laying courses 
of stone ascending, flying buttresses 
pushing back forces that would have crushed our
poem
He said, "It is terrible what happens."
           And "So, Mr. Tom,
do not forget me"—an old-fashioned ring, pop tunes,
salsa! salsa! the techno-version of Beethoven's
Fifth, Fairouz singing how love has arrived,
that's what he heard after they dropped the bombs,
his ambulance crawling through smoke while