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Recorded at the Chancellors Reading, Poets Forum 2013. NYU Skirball Center.

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 served as Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets from 2012 to 2017. 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)

Crisscross

Meandering across a field with wild asparagus,
I write with my body the characters for grass,
water, transformation, ache to be one with spring.
Biting into watermelon, spitting black seeds
onto a plate, I watch the eyes of an Armenian
accordion player, and before dropping a few
euros into his brown cap, smell sweat and fear.
I stay wary of the red horse, Relámpago, latch
the gate behind me; a thorned Russian olive
branch arcs across the path below my forehead,
and, approaching the Pojoaque River, I recall
the sign, beware pickpockets, find backhoe tracks,
water diverted into a ditch. Crisscrossing
the stream, I catch a lightning flash, the white-
capped Truchas peaks, behind, to the east, and in
the interval between lightning and thunder,
as snow accumulates on black branches, 
the chasm between what I envision and what I do.

 

Copyright © by Arthur Sze. Used with the permission of the author.

Copyright © by Arthur Sze. Used with the 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 served as a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets from 2012 to 2017.

by this poet

poem
The path was purple in the dusk.
I saw an owl, perched,
on a branch.
 
And when the owl stirred, a fine dust
fell from its wings. I was
silent then. And felt
 
the owl quaver. And at dawn, waking,
the path was green in the
poem

   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

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