October 15, 2022

Stephen Ratcliffe (USA) 1948

Stephen Ratcliffe (USA)



Stephen Ratcliffe was born in Boston on July 7, 1948, and has lived in the San Francisco Bay Area since the age of four. He went to Reed College for three semesters, then transferred to the University of California Berkeley where he received a B.A. in 1970 and a PhD in 1978.

     Since the 1980s, Ratcliffe has published a number of books of poetry, including New York Notes (1983), Distance (1986), [where late the sweet] BIRDS SANG (1989), spaces in the light said to be where one/ comes from (1992), Present Tense (1995), Sculpture (1996), and SOUND/(system) (2002). He has also published three 474-page books, each written in 474 consecutive days: Portraits & Repetition (2002), REAL (2007), and CLOUD / RIDGE (2007).


     He followed these publications by three 1,000-page books, each written in 1,000 consecutive days: HUMAN / NATURE (2007), Remarks on Color / Sound, and Temporality (both still unpublished). His 14-hour reading of HUMAN / NATURE at the University of California-Davis on June 8-9, 2008 and another 14-hour reading of Remarks on Color / Sound on May 16, 2010 at Marin Headlands Center for the Arts can both be found at PennSound:


     He is also the author of three books of criticism: Campion: On Song (Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1981), a "close reading" of one twenty-four line song by the English Renaissance poet/composer Thomas Campion; Listening to Reading (SUNY Press, 2000), a book of essays on contemporary ‘experimental’ poetry and poetics; and Reading the Unseen: (Offstage) Hamlet (Counterpath, 2010), a book about action that doesn’t happen in Hamlet except in words, the Ghost’s speech about his murder in the orchard, Ophelia’s speech about Hamlet’s visit to her “closet,” Hamlet’s speech about his voyage to England, Gertrude’s speech about Ophelia’s death in the stream, etc.

     Ratcliffe received the Emily Chamberlain Cook Poetry Prize at UC Berkeley (1974), a Stegner Fellowship in Creative Writing at Stanford University (1974-75), and awards from both the National Endowment of the Arts (1990) and the National Endowment for the Humanities (1985 and 1995).

     He lives in Bolinas, a small town on the coast north of San Francisco, is the publisher of Avenue B books, and taught at Mills College in Oakland.





New York Notes (Bolinas, California: Tombouctou, 1983); Distance (Bolinas, California: Avenue B, 1986); Mobile/Mobile (Los Angeles: Echo Park Press, 1987); Rustic Diversions (Los Angeles: Echo Park Press, 1988); [where late the sweet] BIRDS SANG (Oakland, California: O Books, 1989); Sonnets (Elmwood, Conneticut: Potes & Poets Press, 1989); Metalmorphosis (Oakland, California: THE Press, 1991); Before Photography (Oakland, California: THE Press, 1991); five (Oakland, California: Slim Press, 1991); Selected Letters (Tenerife, Canary Islands: Zasterle Press, 1992); spaces in the light said to be where one/ comes from (Elmwood, Conneticut: Potes & Poets Press, 1992); Private (Buffalo, New York: LEAVE Books, 1993); Present Tense (Great Barrington, Massachusetts: The Figures, 1995); Sculpture (Los Angeles: Littoral Books, 1996); Mallarmé: poem in prose (Santa Barbara, California: Santa Barbara Review Publications, 1998); Idea's Mirror (Elmwood, Conneticut: Potes & Poets Press, 1999); SOUND/ (system) (Los Angeles: Green Integer, 2002); Portraits & Repetition (Sausalito, California: The Post-Apollo Press, 2002); REAL (Bolinas, California: Avenue B, 2007); HUMAN / NATURE (New York: ubu editions, 2007); CLOUD / RIDGE (New York: ubu editions, 2007); CONVERSATION (Lowell, Massachusetts: Plein Air Editions, 2010); Selected Days (2012)



╬Winner of the PIP Gertrude Stein Awards for Innovative Poetry in English





Mica, asleep in this thought of a bed in the next room

and you in the story about to believe what you read is not the truth

of people you drove beside as if it were a freeway, planned

at play in the in the folds of a quilt whose leaves piled

like sand, like fur—but to tell the shape

first the foot in its still carefully broken light, the house a shadow thins

silences toward an answer as sure in the blanket dark let go

as talking surrounds the car, a look that is

the "circumstance" of something in writing about the garden

in its present position, the letter too loud untitled

thinking for example that by its presence in the world music

has to do with evening distances, how everything dissolves almost

as words remembered in places we sat at the end of nothing

hanging in a screen, believing that nothing but space and light

between wind on the street and the way you see it

in a prism opened by a knife, abstract

on the edge of inflection

moving without knowing it passed the line as if it were the street

you walk in a circle down the block, something

close to you—air clear

by design in a place wavelengths hide under the music

memory of the form the face lost, most thin.



Reprinted from O.ars; copyright © 1993 by Stephen Racliffe

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