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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)

Relax

Bad things are going to happen.
Your tomatoes will grow a fungus
and your cat will get run over.
Someone will leave the bag with the ice cream
melting in the car and throw
your blue cashmere sweater in the drier.
Your husband will sleep
with a girl your daughter’s age, her breasts spilling
out of her blouse. Or your wife
will remember she’s a lesbian
and leave you for the woman next door. The other cat—
the one you never really liked—will contract a disease
that requires you to pry open its feverish mouth
every four hours. Your parents will die.
No matter how many vitamins you take,
how much Pilates, you’ll lose your keys,
your hair and your memory. If your daughter
doesn’t plug her heart
into every live socket she passes,
you’ll come home to find your son has emptied
the refrigerator, dragged it to the curb,
and called the used appliance store for a pick up—drug money.
There’s a Buddhist story of a woman chased by a tiger.
When she comes to a cliff, she sees a sturdy vine
and climbs half way down. But there’s also a tiger below.
And two mice—one white, one black—scurry out
and begin to gnaw at the vine. At this point
she notices a wild strawberry growing from a crevice.
She looks up, down, at the mice.
Then she eats the strawberry.
So here’s the view, the breeze, the pulse
in your throat. Your wallet will be stolen, you’ll get fat,
slip on the bathroom tiles of a foreign hotel
and crack your hip. You’ll be lonely.
Oh taste how sweet and tart
the red juice is, how the tiny seeds
crunch between your teeth.

"Relax" from Like a Beggar. Copyright © 2014 by Ellen Bass. Reprinted with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc. on behalf of Copper Canyon Press, www.coppercanyonpress.org.

"Relax" from Like a Beggar. Copyright © 2014 by Ellen Bass. Reprinted with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc. on behalf of Copper Canyon Press, www.coppercanyonpress.org.

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

Finally, morning. This loneliness
feels more ordinary in the light, more like my face
in the mirror. My daughter in the ER again.
Something she ate? Some freshener

someone spritzed in the air?
They’re trying to kill me, she says,
as though it’s a joke. Lucretius
got

poem

can be enough to make you look up
at the yellowed leaves of the apple tree, the few
that survived the rains and frost, shot
with late afternoon sun. They glow a deep
orange-gold against a blue so sheer, a single bird
would rip it like silk. You may have to break
your heart, but it isn’

2
poem


Enough seen….Enough had....Enough…
                           —Arthur Rimbaud

No. It will never be enough. Never
enough wind clamoring in the trees,
sun and shadow handling each leaf, never enough clang
of my neighbor hammering,
the iron nails, relenting wood,