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About this poet

Alfred Corn was born in Bainbridge, Georgia, in 1943. He grew up in Valdosta, Georgia, and received his B.A. in French literature from Emory University in 1965. He was awarded an M.A. in French literature from Columbia University in 1967, his degree work including a year spent in Paris on a Fulbright Fellowship and two years of teaching in the French Department at Columbia College.

His first book of poems, All Roads at Once, appeared in 1976, followed by A Call in the Midst of the Crowd (1978), The Various Light (1980), Notes from a Child of Paradise (1984), The West Door (1988), and Autobiographies (1992). His seventh book of poems, titled Present, appeared in 1997, along with the novel Part of His Story. Stake: Selected Poems, 1972-1992, appeared in 1999, followed by Contradictions in 2002, which was a finalist for the Oklahoma Book Award. Most recently, he published Tables (Press 53, 2013).

In a review of Present in the Boston Review, Thomas M. Disch said "Happily Corn's poetry is more than the sum of his rare gifts, for underpinning these is a poetic persona as distinctively affable (though less raffish) as those of Merrill or James Schuyler or (when he's in flaneur mode) Frank O'Hara. It is not the regnant mode among poetry academics at the moment, but since at least the time of Byron and Wordsworth it has been the kind of poetry that most commends itself to readers of poetry. "

Corn has also published a collection of critical essays titled The Metamorphoses of Metaphor (1989), a study of prosody, The Poem's Heartbeat (1997), and a work of art criticism, Aaron Rose Photographs (Abrams, 2001). He is also the author of Atlas: Selected Essays, 1989-2007 (University of Michigan Press, 2008). A frequent contributor to The New York Times Book Review and The Nation, he also writes art criticism for Art in America and ARTnews magazines.

Corn has received fellowships and prizes from the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters, the Academy of American Poets, and the Levinson Prize from Poetry magazine.

He has taught at the City University of New York, Yale, Connecticut College, the University of Cincinnati, U.C.L.A., Ohio State University, Oklahoma State University, and the University of Tulsa. He held the Amy Clampitt Residency in Lenox, Massachusetts, for 2004-2005, and is teaching a course at the Poetry School in London for 2005-2006.


Once a day the rocks, with little warning—
not much looked for even by the spruce 
and fir ever at attention above—
fetch up on these tidal flats and bars.
Large. crate-like rocks, wrapped in kelp; 
layer on imprinted layer,
umber to claret to olivegreen
of scalloped marbling. . . . 
Not far along the path of obstacles 
and stepping stones considered,
fluid skeins of bladder wrack 
lie tufted over the mussel shoals— 
the seabed black as a shag's neck, 
a half-acre coalfield, but alive. 
Recklessly multiple, myriads compact, 
the small airtight coffers (in chipped enamel) 
are starred over with bonelike barnacles 
that crackle and simmer throughout the trek, 
gravel-crepitant underfoot. 

Evening comes now not with the Evening
Star, but with a breathing fog. 
And fog is the element here, 
a new term, vast by indefinition, 
a vagrant damping of the deep tones 
of skies and bars and sea. 
Sand, mud, sand, rock; one jagged pool 
basining a water invisible
except as quick trembles 
over algal weed—itself 
half-absent, a virid gel. 

Walking means to lose the way 
in fog, the eye drawn out to a farther point,
a dark graph on the faint blue inlet watershine; 
out to where a heron stands, 
stationing its sharp silhouette 
against the fogbright dusk. 
Then, not to be approached, 
lifts off and rows upward, up, up,
a flexible embracing-forward on the air, 
rising out of view 
behind an opaque expanse of calcium flame.

The great kelp-dripping rocks, 
at random positions,
lost in thought and dematerializing 
with the gray hour,
release, indelibly, their pent-up contents. 
—Even the scattered feathers here 
are petrified, limewhite blades and stony down. 
The sky, from eastward, deepens 
with the dawning insight 
as the seas begin to rise, the flats 
slide away, the hulls bear off the ground,
and the eye alien to so self-sufficing 
a tidal system turns and takes up how to 
retrace the steps that brought it there. 

From Stake: Selected Poems 1972-1992 by Alfred Corn (Counterpoint, 1999). Copyright © 1999 Alfred Corn. Used with permission of the author.

From Stake: Selected Poems 1972-1992 by Alfred Corn (Counterpoint, 1999). Copyright © 1999 Alfred Corn. Used with permission of the author.

Alfred Corn

Alfred Corn

Alfred Corn was born in Bainbridge, Georgia, in 1943. He grew up

by this poet

The first will no doubt begin with morning's
Stainless-steel manners and possibilities
Out of number. Sunlight scold too much?
So a tense gets thinned out with solvents,
Preternaturally bright with the will
To swap laziness or pleasure for paper money. 
The future may appear as a winter day, colors
Of the
Met Museum, 1965, the first
I'll see, his Young Woman Sleeping.
Stage right, bright-threaded carpet flung over the table
where a plate of apples, crumpled napkin
and drained wineglass abut the recapped pitcher.
Propped by one hand, her leaning drowse,
behind which, a door opens on the dream, dim, bare
     The lake at nightfall is less a lake,
but more, with reflection added, so
this giant inkblot lies on its side,
a bristling zone of black pine and fir
at the dark fold of the revealed world.
     Interpret this fallen symmetry, 
scan this water and these water lights, 
and follow a golden scribble toward