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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)

The Small Country

Unique, I think, is the Scottish tartle, that hesitation
when introducing someone whose name you’ve forgotten

And what could capture cafuné, the Brazilian Portuguese way to say
running your fingers, tenderly, through someone’s hair?

Is there a term in any tongue for choosing to be happy?

And where is speech for the block of ice we pack in the sawdust of our hearts?

What appellation approaches the smell of apricots thickening the air
when you boil jam in early summer?

What words reach the way I touched you last night—
as though I had never known a woman—an explorer,
wholly curious to discover each particular
fold and hollow, without guide,
not even the mirror of my own body.

Last night you told me you liked my eyebrows.
You said you never really noticed them before.
What is the word that fuses this freshness
with the pity of having missed it.

And how even touch itself cannot mean the same to both of us,
even in this small country of our bed,
even in this language with only two native speakers.

Originally published in The New Yorker. Copyright © 2015 by Ellen Bass. Used with the permission of the poet.

Originally published in The New Yorker. Copyright © 2015 by Ellen Bass. Used with the permission of the poet.

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

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

poem

All around the cavernous room of the Cal-Expo off-track betting,
TVs blare simulcast as the crowd in jeans and sloppy sweatshirts
treks to the betting windows, trampling an autumn’s worth of losing tickets.
The old man doesn’t miss the

poem

After the mob murdered the man for eating
a cow, it was found to be meat
from a goat. Why can I not
stop thinking about it—
the stringy flesh inside his gut,
and the microbes run riot when his heart
stopped—how fast they started
breaking down the blood-clotted
muscle of his