poem index

sign up to receive a new poem-a-day in your inbox

Arthur Sze: Dear Poet 2015

About this poet

Born in New York City in 1950, Arthur Sze is a second-generation Chinese American. Educated at the University of California, Berkeley, Sze is the author of nine books of poetry, including Compass Rose (Copper Canyon Press, 2014);The Ginkgo Light (Copper Canyon Press, 2009); Quipu (Copper Canyon Press, 2005); The Redshifting Web: Poems 1970-1998 (Copper Canyon Press, 1998); and Archipelago (Copper Canyon Press, 1995). His other collections include River River (Lost Roads Publishers, 1987); Dazzled (Floating Island Publications, 1982); Two Ravens (Tooth of Time Books, 1976; revised, 1984); and The Willow Wind (Tooth of Time Books, 1972; revised, 1981).

He is also a celebrated translator from the Chinese, and released The Silk Dragon: Translations from the Chinese (Copper Canyon Press) in 2001.

About his work, Jackson Mac Low has said, "The word 'compassion' is much overused—'clarity' less so—but Arthur Sze is truly a poet of clarity and compassion."

Speaking about Sze's contributions to the art of poetry Naomi Shihab Nye has said, "Arthur Sze's work has long been a nourishing tonic for the mind—presences of the natural world, wide consciousness, and time, combine in exquisitely shaped and weighted lines and stanzas to create a poetry of deep attunement and lyrical precision. Sze's ongoing generous exchange with Asian poets and devotion to translation in collections such as The Silk Dragon, enriches the canon of world poetry immeasurably."

His honors include an American Book Award, a Lannan Literary Award for Poetry, a Lila Wallace-Reader's Digest Writers' Award, a Western States Book Award for Translation, three grants from the Witter Bynner Foundation for Poetry, and fellowships from the George A. and Eliza Gardner Howard Foundation, the Guggenheim Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Arts. In 2013, he was awarded the Jackson Poetry Prize from Poets & Writers magazine.

He has served as Visiting Hurst Professor at Washington University, a Doenges Visiting Artist at Mary Baldwin College and has conducted residencies at Brown University, Bard College, and Naropa University. Sze was elected to the American Academy of Arts And Sciences in 2017 and was elected Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets in 2012. He is a professor emeritus at the Institute of American Indian Arts, and was the first poet laureate of Santa Fe, New Mexico, where he lives.


Selected Bibliography

Compass Rose (Copper Canyon Press, 2014)
The Ginkgo Light (Copper Canyon Press, 2009)
Quipu (Copper Canyon Press, 2005)
The Redshifting Web: Poems 1970-1998 (Copper Canyon Press, 1998)
Archipelago (Copper Canyon Press, 1995)
River River (Lost Roads Publishers, 1987)
Dazzled (Floating Island Publications, 1982)
Two Ravens (Tooth of Time Books, 1976; revised, 1984)
The Willow Wind (Tooth of Time Books, 1972; revised, 1981)

The Chance

   The blue-black mountains are etched
   with ice. I drive south in fading light.
   The lights of my car set out before
   me, and disappear before my very eyes.
   And as I approach thirty, the distances
   are shorter than I guess? The mind
   travels at the speed of light. But for
   how many people are the passions
   ironwood, ironwood that hardens and hardens?
   Take the ex-musician, insurance salesman,
   who sells himself a policy on his own life;
   or the magician who has himself locked
   in a chest and thrown into the sea,
   only to discover he is caught in his own chains.
   I want a passion that grows and grows.
   To feel, think, act, and be defined
   by your actions, thoughts, feelings.
   As in the bones of a hand in an X-ray,
   I want the clear white light to work
   against the fuzzy blurred edges of the darkness:
   even if the darkness precedes and follows
   us, we have a chance, briefly, to shine.

From The Redshifting Web: New & Selected Poems (Copper Canyon Press, 1998) by Arthur Sze. Copyright @1998 by Arthur Sze. Used with permission of the author.

From The Redshifting Web: New & Selected Poems (Copper Canyon Press, 1998) by Arthur Sze. Copyright @1998 by Arthur Sze. Used with permission of the author.

Arthur Sze

Arthur Sze

Born in New York City in 1950, Arthur Sze is the author of nine books of poetry, including Compass Rose (Copper Canyon Press, 2014). He currently serves as a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets.

by this poet

poem

Faucets drip, and the night plunges to minus
     fifteen degrees. Today you stared at a map
of Africa on a school wall and shook your head
     at “Yugoslavia” written along the Adriatic
coast near the top—how many times
     are lines drawn and redrawn, and to what end?

This ebony

2
poem

                —walking along a ridge of white sand—
                                                      it’s cooler below the surface—

                we stop and, gazing at an expanse
                             of dunes to the west,
                                         watch a yellow

2
poem

I gaze at the Pacific and don’t expect
to ever see the heads on Easter Island,

though I guess at sunlight rippling
the yellow grasses sloping to shore;

yesterday a doe ate grass in the orchard:
it lifted its ears and stopped eating

when it sensed us watching from
a glass