Mar 30 10 by Published in: Reviews No comments yet

The expansive narratives of award-winning poet Gerald Stern, juxtaposing themes of melancholy and loss with a sense of elation and pure joy, offer a rich, complex portrait of what it means to journey through life as an American.
The son of Eastern European immigrants, Stern’s childhood in Pittsburgh was shaped by the death of his only sibling Sylvia, when she was nine and he was eight. That early sense of loss, coupled with his traditional Jewish heritage, creates an intense sensibility in his work that intermingles the pain of war and death and suffering with the bliss of love and sweetness and beauty.
Shaking his audiences awake with a manic energy, he explores the fullness of what it means to be alive in all its exquisite messiness, tempered always with the specter of death, both nostalgic and cruel. His accessible, introspective poetry examines the coarse and brutishness of the everyday, burnished with a tender, nostalgic, even sentimental wisdom that elevates and exults.
The octogenarian will give a reading April 8 at 7 p.m. in Elizabethtown College’s Leffler Chapel and Performance Center. The reading is free and open to the public.
“Mr. Stern is a major international poetry figure and we are honored to bring him to campus,” said Jesse Waters, visiting assistant professor of English, and the director of the College’s new Writers House.
“He’s considered the Whitman of the 20th century,” said Waters. Indeed, Stern’s work is often compared to Walt Whitman in its expansive narratives and larger-than-life narrator that celebrate a sense of place and praise the natural world.
But unlike Whitman, Stern’s lyric sensibility is shaped by a more global, literary viewpoint and breezy, exuberant style that dances between the ordinary and the devastating, pulling back from the edge of despair with grace.
“He’s really gregarious and extroverted,” said Walters. “He puts on a real show.”
Stern has authored 15 books of poetry including, “This Time: New and Selected Poems,” which won the National Book Award in 1998. He is the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship, three National Endowment of the Arts Fellowships, the Governor’s Award for Excellence in the Arts for the State of Pennsylvania, the Lamont Poetry Prize and the Ruth Lilly Prize for Lifetime Achievement.
For more than a decade he ran the famed Iowa Writers’ Workshop creative writing program for the University of Iowa.
Stern was the first Poet Laureate of New Jersey, serving from 2000 to 2002, and was the recipient of the 2005 Wallace Stevens Award for mastery in the art of poetry and the 2005 National Jewish Book Award for poetry. He has been published in major magazines and newspapers including “The New Yorker,” “The New Republic,” “The Nation and The Atlantic.” In 2006 Stern was named a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets. A new book of poems titled “Save the Last Dance” was released in 2008 from W. W. Norton and Company, and a first volume of his collected poems titled “Early Collected Poems: 1965-1992” will be released by Norton in 2010. He lives in Lambertville, N.J.


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