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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)

If You Knew

What if you knew you'd be the last
to touch someone?
If you were taking tickets, for example,
at the theater, tearing them,
giving back the ragged stubs,
you might take care to touch that palm,
brush your fingertips
along the life line's crease.

When a man pulls his wheeled suitcase
too slowly through the airport, when
the car in front of me doesn't signal,
when the clerk at the pharmacy
won't say Thank you, I don't remember
they're going to die.

A friend told me she'd been with her aunt.
They'd just had lunch and the waiter,
a young gay man with plum black eyes,
joked as he served the coffee, kissed
her aunt's powdered cheek when they left.
Then they walked half a block and her aunt
dropped dead on the sidewalk.

How close does the dragon's spume
have to come? How wide does the crack
in heaven have to split?
What would people look like
if we could see them as they are,
soaked in honey, stung and swollen,
reckless, pinned against time?

From The Human Line (Copper Canyon Press, 2007). Copyright © 2007 by Ellen Bass. Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc., on behalf of Copper Canyon Press.

From The Human Line (Copper Canyon Press, 2007). Copyright © 2007 by Ellen Bass. Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc., on behalf of Copper Canyon Press.

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

It's just getting dark, fog drifting in,
damp grasses fragrant with anise and mint,
and though I call his name
until my voice cracks,
there's no faint tinkling
of tag against collar, no sleek
black silhouette with tall ears rushing
toward me through the wild radish.

As it

poem

At gate C22 in the Portland airport
a man in a broad-band leather hat kissed
a woman arriving from Orange County.
They kissed and kissed and kissed. Long after
the other passengers clicked the handles of their carry-ons
and wheeled briskly toward short-term parking,
the couple stood

poem

O breathing drum, O cask of dark
waters, O decaying star, my
barking heart, my breaking brother,
what will seep into the space
your body leaves? O huge
eighteen-muscled ears, oscillating
ossicles and cochlea, your busy canals
now hollow caves of quiet. I have said
your fur is