March 27, 2013

Bob Perelman (USA) 1947

Bob Perelman (USA)

Poet, critic, and translator Bob Perelman was born in Youngstown, Ohio in 1947, and attended the University of Rochester and the University of Michigan for his Master’s degree in classics. At the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop he received an MFA degree, before going on to receive his PhD at the University of California in Berkeley. Perelman is currently Professor of English at the University of Pennsylvania.

His first book, Braille (1975), was influenced by William Carlos Williams “improvisations.” Other works have had a wide range of inspirations, from Ezra Pound to Marcel Proust. As an original member of the San Francisco “Language” poets Perelman edited two collections of speeches by poets, Talks (appearing in Hills 6/7) in 1980, and Writing/Talks of 1985. He has published several books of poetry, as well as writing critical books such as The Trouble with Genius: Reading Pound, Joyce, Stein, and Zukofsky (1994) and The Marginalization of Poetry (1996). He also translated The Selected Poems of Tomaz Salamun (1988) and Modern Archaist: Selected Poems of Osip Mandelstam (2008).
      Perelman’s writing often includes seemingly statemental passages on politics, commercialization, violence, and other issues, but these are lyrical linked with more standard poetic sections which, as Ron Silliman has written “at first appears to be that straightforward thing, a collection poems, but when examined more closely reveals layers of connection from one poem to the next until a close reader becomes dizzy with the vertical dimensions that can lurk behind the simplest word.”
     His work has been collected into several anthologies, including From the Other Side of the Century: A New American Poetry 1960-1995 and Postmodern American Poetry: A Norton Anthology (1994).


Braille (Ithaca, New York: Ithaca House Press, 1975); Seven Works (Berkeley, California: The Figures, 1978); a. k. a (Berkeley, California: Tuumba Press, 1979); Primer (San Francisco: This Press, 1981); To the Reader (Berkeley, California: Tuumba Press, 1984); The First World (Great Barrington, Massachusetts, 1986); Face Value (New York: Roof, 1988); Captive Audience (Great Barrington, Massachusetts: The Figures, 1988); Virtual Reality (New York: Roof, 1993); Ten to One: Selected Poems (Middletown, Connecticut: Wesleyan University Press, 1999); Playing Bodies (with art by Francie Shaw) (New York: Granary Books, 2003); IFLIFE (New York: Roof, 2006)

For a poem and audio broadcasts, go here:

For several Perelman recorded readings, click below:

March 24, 2013



The Auden Group is a very loosely aligned number of British and Irish poets writing through the 1930s. They are also sometimes referred to as the Thirties Poets.
     All the poets knew one another, and most had been educated at either Oxford or Cambridge, all sharing vaguely left-wing viewpoints, although one of the group, Louis MacNeice was highly suspicious of Communism. The writers associated with the grouping—W. H. Auden, Louis MacNeice, Cecil Day-Lewis, Stephen Spender, Christopher Isherwood, and, to a lesser degree, Edward Upward and Rex Warner—never gathered together in the same room, nor shared any coherent poetic or literary values. Four of them, Auden, Day-Lewis, MacNeice, and Spender did read together in a 1938 BBC broadcast, that also included Dylan Thomas, but the reading was not significant in their any community sense.

Rather, the poets connected individually, particularly through Auden, who collaborated several times with both Isherwood and MacNeice, and wrote with Day-Lewis an introduction to the annual Oxford Poetry. Auden also dedicated books to Isherwood and Spender, and Day-Lewis mentioned Auden in a poem. But in the public mind, the individuals continued to be linked, with poet Roy Campbell referring to “MacSpaunday” in his 1946 work, Talking Bronco, a word created from the names of MacNeice (Mac), Spender (sp), Auden (au-n), and Day-Lewis (day). Although some members of this group were gay and even had sexual liaisons, MacNeice and Day-Lewis were apparently heterosexual.

Douglas Messerli

"D. H. Lawrence's Poetry Saved from Censor's Pen" | essay by Dalya Alberge (The Observer, 2013)

D.H. Lawrence's poetry saved from censor's pen.

New edition of author's work reveals him as a talented war poet who attacked British imperialism

by Dalya Alberge       
The Observer, Saturday 23 March 2013        

D.H. Lawrence was an infamous victim of the censor as his sexually explicit novel Lady Chatterley's Lover was banned in Britain until 1960. Now a new edition of Lawrence's poems, many rendered unreadable by the censor's pen, will reveal him as a brilliant war poet whose work attacking British imperialism during the first world war was barred from publication.
     His poems took aim at politicians, the brutality of the first world war and English repression – but censorship and sloppy editing rendered them virtually meaningless, to the extent that the full extent of his poetic talent has been overlooked.
     Deleted passages have now been restored and hundreds of punctuation errors removed for a major two-volume edition to be published on 28 March by Cambridge University Press – the final part of its mammoth 40-volume edition of Lawrence's Letters and Works.
     The Poems, the first critical edition of Lawrence's poetry, sheds new light on the miner's son who became one of the 20th century's most influential writers, with novels such as Sons and Lovers, The Rainbow and Women in Love.
     The new volume's editor, Christopher Pollnitz, told the Observer that it "radically shifts our understanding of Lawrence's significance as a poet". What was removed from the poems – by state censors or publishers fearing government intervention – was the "ultimate censorship", he said, because extensive and significant cuts made the texts virtually unreadable.
     Lawrence wrote poetry from 1905 until his death in 1930, aged 44. Pollnitz said it is widely assumed that only the novels suffered censorship, "but it goes all through the poetry as well".
   Some 860 poems are published in the new edition. They include "All of Us," a sequence of 31 war poems never fully published before, which reveal Lawrence's preoccupation with the Allies' campaigns in the first world war.
     Between 1916 and 1919, Lawrence struggled to get the sequence into print. Pollnitz said publishers who knew of the banning of The Rainbow would not touch a collection that criticised imperial policy – the opening up of eastern fronts in Turkey or Iraq – and poetry that explored the evil of self-sacrifice for some abstract greater good.
    Lines now restored identify places such as "Salonika and Mesopotamia" – explosive references at the time, Pollnitz said. "While the war was continuing, the worst defeat the British suffered was in Mesopotamia … General Townshend's charge up the Tigris towards Baghdad was one of the most costly and wasteful ventures, in lives and money, of the first world war."
   The subtitle Salonika appears in "Rose, Look out upon Me," a previously unpublished work. Pollnitz said: "Salonika was the Greek city to which Allied troops were sent after the attempt to storm the Dardanelles failed."
     In the poem, Lawrence portrayed a common English soldier, stationed in Salonika, who is attracted to a Greek woman, but it is a doomed passion: "Oh you Rose, look out/ On a miserable weary fellow./ For once she looked down from above/ And vanished again like a swallow/ That appears at a window …"
     Lawrence also wrote about the home front, and the changing roles of women – a girl startling her boyfriend by asking him to stay with her before he leaves – and how childhood innocence can be wrecked by the stresses of war.
     Pollnitz added: "Lawrence's writing on war and sex were censored by publisher timidity, making All of Us unpublishable at the time, and the sequence is being fully published almost 100 years after its wartime composition."
     Ill-health meant Lawrence himself was never conscripted. His insight into the war probably came from his pacifist friend, Lady Cynthia Asquith, daughter-in-law of prime minister Herbert Asquith. While war poets such as Wilfred Owen depicted the cruelty of a bloody battlefield, Lawrence tackled the loss of lives and impact on loved ones from a political point of view. He also had to write with more subtlety because censors were already watching him. In a poem titled "Dust," he wrote of a relative's horrible death: "My brother died in the heat/ And a jackal found his grave;/ Nibbled his fingers, the knave;/ No more would I let him eat."
     In "Antiphony," he wrote of a British prisoner of war in Turkey struggling to cope with captivity – "Each evening, bitter again" – and, in Needless Worry, he explored a young woman's loss of her soldier fiancé, talking to her mother: "Why are you so anxious, there's no fear now he's dead."
     In "The Well of Kilossa," he referred to the war in German east Africa and the huge loss of lives in inhospitable terrain: "A draught of thee is strength to a soul in hell."
     The poetry edition is published a century after 10,000 words were censored from Sons and Lovers, and nearly all copies of The Rainbow destroyed, with a sexual episode between Ursula Brangwen and her schoolmistress among offending passages. His sexually explicit 1928 novel, Lady Chatterley's Lover, became a cause célèbre in 1960 when, after a much-publicised trial, Penguin won the right to publish the complete book – a dramatic step towards securing freedom of the written word.

Erich Fried (Austria / England) 1921-1988

Erich Fried (Austria/England)

Erich Fried was born Jewish in Vienna, Austria on May 6, 1921. He was a child actor and began writing at an early age. When his father was killed by the Gestapo during the Anschluss in 1938, Fried fled with his mother to England, working throughout the war as a librarian and a factory worker.

Fried also joined Young Austria, a left-wing emigrant youth movement, but left the group when it advocated Stalinist causes. He also translated Shakespeare, T. S. Eliot, and Dylan Thomas. He returned to Vienna for the first time in 1962.
      Fried published several volumes of poetry, but also wrote fiction, drama, and radio plays, as well as political works, the last of which were controversial as he attacked the Zionist movement and various left-wing causes.
     In 1982 he regained his Austrian nationality, but maintained a dual citizenship with the United Kingdom. Fried was also a member of the Graz Authors’ Collective.
     Fried died of intestinal cancer in Baden-Baden, Germany in 1988, but is buried in the Kensal Green cemetery in London.


Deutschland: Gedichte (London: Austrian P.E.N., 1944); Gedichte (Hamburg: Claussen, 1958);  Warngedichte (1964); Anfectungen: Füntzig Gedichte (Berlin: Wagenbach, 1967);  Die Beine der grösseren Lügen (Berlin: Klaus Wagenbach, 1969); Befrelung von der Flucht: Gedichte und Gegengedicted (Düsseldorf: Claussen, 1968); Die Freiheit den Mund aufzumachen; achtundvierzig Gedichte (Berlin: Klaus Wagenbach, 1972);  Gegengift: 49 Gedichte u. e. Zyklus (Klaus Wagenbach, 1974); Höre Israel!: Gedichte und Fussnoted (Hamburg: Verlag Association, 1974); Die bunten Getüme: 70 Gedichte (Berlin: Wagenbach, 1977); 100 Gedichte ohne Vaterland (1978); Liebesgedichte (Berlin: Klaus Wagenbach, 1979); Ganz oben leichte Vögel: Gedichte (Hattingen/Ruhr: Flieter-Verlag, 1982); Es ist was es ist: Liebesgedicht, Angstgedichte, Zorngedichte (Berlin: Klaus Wagenbach, 1983); Beunrhigungen: Gedicte (Berlin: Klaus Wagenbach, 1984); In die Simme einradiert: Gedichte (Koln: Bund-Verlag, 1985);  Als ich mich nach dir verzehrte: swelundsiebzig Gedichte von der Liebe (Berlin: Klaus Wagenbach, 1990); Einbruch der wirklichkeit: versteute gedichte 1927-1988 (Berlin: Klaus Wagenbach, 1991)


Last Honours, trans. by Georg Rapp (London: Turret Books, 1968); On Pain of Seeing, trans. by Georg Rapp (London: Rapp and Whiting, 1969/ Chicago: Swallow Press, 1969); selection in Four German Poets (New York: Red Dust, 1979); 100 Poems without a Country, trans. by Stuart Hood and Georg Rapp (London: John Calder, 1978/New York: Red Dust, 1980); Love Poems (Paris: Calder Publications, 1991)

Soap Bubbles

I grasped at
a straw
and blew bubbles of
and policemen

They shimmered
puffed up
in all colors
but they burst
when they
were touched

A policeman
that I told this to
without touching him
touched me
with his truncheon
so that I burst

—Translated from the German by Milne Holton and Herbert Kuhner

Advantages of Nudism

Naked fear
now seems
to  bear

it used to be
with heavy
covering it

—Translated from the German by Milne Holton and Herbert Kuhner


do you still
write poems
although you know
that you can only
reach a minority
with this method

my friends ask me
impatient that
they can only
reach a minority
with their methods

and I can’t
give them
an answer

—Translated from the German by Milne Holton and Herbert Kuhner

English language copyright ©1985 by Milne Holton and Herbert Kuhner. Reprinted from Austrian Poetry Today, ed. and translated by Milne Holton and Herbert Kuhner (New York: Schocken, 1985).

March 23, 2013

Zafer Şenoak (b. Turkey / Germany) 1961

Zafer Şenoak (b. Turkey/Germany)

Born in Ankara, Turkey in 1961, Zafer Şenoak is now a writer living and working in Berlin. His father was a journalist and his mother a teacher, and in 1970 he moved with his family to Munich where he went on to study political science, philosophy and literature at the University of Munich.
      To date, Şenoak has seven volumes of poetry and numerous other books of essays and prose writing. Among his poetry volumes are Ritual der Jugend, Das senkrechte Meer, and Fernwehanstalten. Recently, Babel Verlag has issued a selected edition, Übergämg: Ausgewählte Gedichte 1980-2005 (Border Crossing: Selected Poems 1980-2005) which includes new poems written in the decade since Fernwehanstalten.

The poet has also published translations of the 14th-century Anatolian mystic poet, Yunus Emre and has published works of fiction, Gefährliche Verwandtschaft, Die Prärie and Die Erottomane—Ein Findelbuch. His books of essays include Atlas des tropischen Deutschland (1992), War Hitler Araber? (2004), and Zungenentfernung (2001). His books have been translated into French, a his essays, Atlas of a Tropical Germany has been translated into English and published by the University of Nebraska Press, 2000.
     In 1988 he founded the literary magazine, Sirene. In that same year he received the Adelbert von Chamisso Award and a grant from the Berlin Senate for the Literarisches Colloquium. He was a fellow at the Villa Aurora in Los Angeles in 1996.
     Şenoak is a regular contributor to the German alternative daily Tagezeitung in Berlin, and has edited numerous bilingual essay and story collections in German and Turkish. He has been writer-in-residence at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Darmouth College, University of Wales-Swansea, Oberlin College, and the University of California at Berkeley.


Elekrisches Blau (München: Edition Literazette, 1983); Flammenstropfen (Frankfurt/Main: Dagyeli Verlag, 1985); Ritual der Jugend (Frankfurt/Main: Dagyeli Verlag, 1987); Das senkrechte Meer (Berlin: Babel Verlag, 1991); Fernwehanstalten (Berlin: Babel Verlag, 2005); Übergang: Ausgewählte Gedichte 1980-2005 (Berlin: Babel Verlag, 2005)


selections in Douglas Messerli, ed. The PIP Anthology of World Poetry of the 20th Century, Volume 7—At Villa Aurora: Nine Contemporary Poets Writing in German (Los Angeles: Green Integer, 2006)

The Tiger the Woods and Us

the tiger is no longer sad
we opened the cage and we took him
we like to smell him he smells us
and falls profoundly to sleep

he dreams
the way we
dream of him
the woods all to himself

the dark wood raises its white sex
pushes open our door
we keep dreaming
even when it scares us

at home the tiger is tame
the woods are wild and damp
soon comes summer and heavy breathing
we get into our thinnest skin.

—Translated from the German by Elizabeth Oehlkers Wright

The Invisible Woman

even the paths to us are getting shorter
look through the sunny wall of the house
a woman leans on the door
beautiful in her invisibility

all of this makeshift
waiting four us to take a step
but we don’t move
hold our hands back

we don’t sleep
when we don’t want to wake from a dream
lean for while at the door
and search for the word that is not written
—Translated from the German by Elizabeth Oehlkers Wright

English language translation copyright ©1997 by Elizabeth Oehlkers Wright, reprinted from Dimension2, Vol 4, no. 2 (1997).

March 22, 2013

"At Point Zero" | review by Douglas Messerli (on Anne Portugal's Nude)

At Point Zero

Anne Portugal, Nude, trans. Norma Cole (Berkeley: Kelsey St. Press, 2001) by Douglas Messerli

With over four books of poetry published in France—all on the list of the distinguished publisher P.O.L.—Anne Portugal is fast becoming recognized as one of the major French poets. Her book Le plus simple appareil has been translated in a beautiful edition as Nude. Before I go any further with this review, however, I must admit that it was originally to have been published by my own Sun & Moon, but in the financial duress of the last few years, was taken on by Kelsey St. Press. So I am prejudiced to like it. However, it rereading the work—years after my original encounter—I do feel I have some observations to make.

     The work, divided into seven parts—"the bath," "the exhibition," "the garden," "the elders," "the visitors," "Susannah's letter," and "the painting"—is really one long work thematically based on the biblical tale of
Susanna and the Elders. That story, canonical in Catholicism and apocryphal in Protestantism, added sometime in 100 B.C. to the Hebrew-Aramaic version of Daniel, tells the story of Susanna, a beautiful woman married to Joakim, whose house is the site of the local court. Two of the elders of that court desire Susanna and plot her rape. As she takes a bath in the garden, they hide themselves, observing, and then offer her the choice of sexually submitting to them or being accused of adultery. When Susanna refuses to give in to their demands, they denounce her, trying her in the court and sentencing her to death. Enter Daniel, who interrogates the two elders, proving their guilt and Susanna's innocence. Praised by her parents, Daniel becomes a hero among the people.
     Portugal's work, however—although containing the bath, garden, nude, elders, and sexual encounters—is hardly a literal retelling of the Bible tale. Rather, for this author the work is an interweaving of what it means to be a woman in contemporary France and a study in formal structures, a kind of verbal painting, which she lays out early in the book with a series of panoramas. Indeed, the work is addressed to an unknown who "knows painting" ("You really know painting"), presumably the individual to whom the book is dedicated, Marc Silvain. But the author could be addressing anyone else, even possibly the poet Guillaume Apollinaire to whose poems Portugal makes reference throughout Nude, and who, as the author of The Cubist Painters, certainly did also know painting. Already in the second section, "the exhibition," Portugal alludes to Apollinaire's poem "Annie," which describes a Mennonite living on the shores of Texas between Mobile and Galveston, passing a garden filled with roses by a villa "Which is one huge rose." And in "the garden" she connects that poem with images from Apollinaire's "White Snow" and "Palais," which, ultimately, in the last section, reverberates with Portugal's references to Apollinaire's "Rosemonde," "the rose of the world," and again to "Palais," as Susannah turns back to Rosemonde's palace.
    To focus on these echoing patterns, however, would be to mislead the reader. Portugal's work, far from being a sort of academic compilation of literary references, is lyrically dense and complex in its structure. And for that reason, if for no other, I long for a bilingual edition, where I could compare the complexity of the original—it's multiple puns and enjambments—with Cole's translation. For, if the poem begins with the simple image of Susannah at the bath, a plump and blonde Swede, as the author see her, "limned" by "the two elders' heads," it soon swirls into a series of multiple images, of numerous Susannahs, a woman naked in a field in Normandy while at the same time a passionate girl in a sateen nightie. The poem becomes a "vessel borne upon multiple waves," just as Susannah becomes all women, Venus and "a plump woman who's put on weight she's put on weight." Portugal's work, in fact, is like a cubist painting, a series of images overlaying each other which together portray not an instant in time, a symbolic flash of womanhood, but all women through time, being both preyed upon by the opposite sex and sensually aroused by its attentions, a woman moving forward in history while turning back to the romance of Rosemonde's palace—which leaves man eternally starting out again "at point zero.”

March 21, 2013

"The seeds of its own unfolding" | poem talk by Thomas Devaney, Al Filreis, Tom Mandel,and Bob Perelman (on Lyn Hejinian's "constant change figures") [link]

Discussion “The seeds of its own unfolding”: PoemTalk on Lyn Hejinian's "constant change figures" with Thomas Devaney, Al Filreis, Tom Mandel, and Bob Perelman

Elke Erb (DDR / Germany) 1938

Elke Erb (DDR/Germany)

Elke Erb was born on February 18, 1938 in Scherbad/Eifel, in what was then East Berlin. Her father was the literary scholar Ewald Erb. As a young woman Erb studied German and Slavic Literatures at the University of Halle. From 1958-1959 she worked as a farmhand, finally receiving her teacher’s certificate in 1963. Until 1965 she worked as a copy editor at the Mitteldeutschen Verlag.
     She was married to Adolf Endler from 1967 to 1978.

Since 1966 Erb has worked primarily as a poet and translator. In 1969 she traveled to Georgia, and in 1974 she published a translation of works by the Russian poet Marina Tsvetaeva. She has also published novels and poems by Oleg Yuriev and Olga Martynova.
     Her first collection of poetry (and prose) was Gutachen of 1975, followed by Einer schreit: Nicht! (1976), De Faden der Geduld (1978), and Trost (1982). Since 1982 she has added 14 books of poetry to her output, as well books of prose, and other texts.
     In 1998 Erb won the Peter-Huchel Preis for her collection Kastanienallee, which was followed by numerous other notable awards, including the Heinrich-Mann-Preis (1990), the Erich-Fried-Preis (1995), the Hans-Erich-Nossack-Pries (2007), the Georg-Trakl-Preis (2012), the Ernst-Jandl-Preis (2013), the Bundesverdienstkreuz (2019), and the Georg Büchner Prize (2020).
     In 1995 English Burning Deck published a selection of her poems, translated by Rosmarie Waldrop.


Gutachen. Poesie and Prosa (Berlin: Aufbau Verlag, 1975); Einer schreit: Nicht! (Berlin: Wagenbach, 1976); De Faden der Geduld (Berlin: Aufbau Verlag, 1978); Tros. Gedichte und Prosa (Stuttgard: Deutsche Verlagsanstalt, 1982); Vexierbild (Berlin: Aufbau Verlag, 1983); Kastanienallee. Texte und Kommentare (Berlin: Aufbau Verlag, 1987); Poets Corner 3: Elke Erb (Berlin: Unabhängige Verlagsbuchhandlung Ackerstraße, 1991); Unschuld, du Licht meiner Augen (Göttingen, Steidl Verlag, 1994); Mensch sein, nicht (Basel: Urs Engeler Editor, 1998); Leibhaftig lessen (Warmbronn: Verlag Ulrich Keicher, 1999); Sachverstand (Basel: Urs Engeler Editor, 2000); Lust. 2 Gedichte (Warmbronn: Verlag Ulrich Keicher, 2001); die crux (Basel: urs Engeler Editor, 2003); Gänsesommer (Basel: Urs Engeler Editor, 2005); Freunde hin, Freunde her (Lyrikedition 2000, 2005); Sonanz. 5-Minuten-Notate (Basel: Urs Engeler Editor, 2008); Wegerich. Wahn, Denn Wieso? (Warmbronn: Verlag Ulrich Keicher, 2008); Meins (Berlin: Wuischke, 2010); Das Hündle kam weiter auf drein (Berlin: Wuischke und Solothurn 2013); Sonnenklar (Berlin: Wuischke und Solothurn 2015)


Mountains in Berlin, trans. by Rosmarie Waldrop (Providence, Rhode Island: Burning Deck, 1995)

From Gutachen.

Gulliver's Travels

...As I opened my eyes, dense reeds, grown shoulderhigh surrounded my
bed; in this circle, a water bird on long legs, his beak emerged from his
warm feathers to announce: “You are going to stay here now. I have
adopted you.” I got up and looked out above the reeds. “Don't be
surprised,” I heard behind me, “stranger things have been true, as you
know.” Out on the lake, under the distant clouds, I made out a boat...

Portrait of A. E. (An Artful Fairy Tale)

As if the house could not have been preserved in this spot at any time:
not the basement, not the basement windows, not the windows looking out
onto the garden.

As if every war had intentionally focused on precisely this spot, on
tearing out the stairs.

As if every storm too, every stroke of lightning had struck the walls,
every downpour brought the dark down on the helpless.

As if precisely here a child's inconsolable sobs had been able to melt
stones, as if here everything had happened that others were able to
fend off.

As if here the green of the bushes cut like fire through the soft
flowing air.

As if this spot could teach us where houses have been preserved one
could make friends with and visit.

As if the house here had not been preserved so that foundations could
be laid for a life.

What They Say About Me

In my palace burn twenty-five chandeliers
and three goldfish swim in my pond

I get four thousand mark for one verse
and six lines takes me a year

In the morning I can afford an egg
and a second one too, just as I please, one egg or two

Wall Painting in a Barn

With three others
she looks at the barn, old:
I'd be a brown horse
painted on the wall.

A picture lovely like earth,
a picture one barely can see
on the stones, moist, cold,
my picture painted, a horse.

Light comes in through the roof
as well as my foe, the dark.
I'd stand there, in brown paint
on stone, a horse.

English language translation copyright ©1995 by Rosmarie Waldrop, reprinted from Mountains in Berlin (Providence, Rhode Island: Burning Deck, 2995).

W. H. Auden (England / USA) 1907-1973

W. H. Auden (England / USA)

Born on February 21, 1907 in York, Wystan Hugh Auden grew up in a professional middle-class family near Birmingham. His father, George Augustus Auden, was a physician, and his mother Constance Rosalie Bicknell Auden had trained as a missionary nurse. His grandfathers were both Church of England clergymen, and Auden was raised, accordingly, to follow the “High” Anglican traditions, and throughout his life the poet traced his love of language and music to his childhood church services.
     In 1908 his father was appointed the School Medical Officer and Lecturer of Public Health near Birmingham. At age eight Auden began attending a series of boarding schools, returning to his family only at holidays. At his first boarding school, St. Edmund’s in Hindhead, Surrey, Auden met his lifelong friend, Christopher Isherwood. At Gresham’s School, at the age of thirteen, Auden discovered his interest in poetry, soon after, having a crisis of faith. At school he also performed in productions of Shakespeare, publishing his first poems in the school magazine in 1923.

Until fifteen years of age, Auden still planned to become a mining engineer, but his love of language dominated. As Auden would describe it later: “words so excite me that a pornographic story, for example, excites me sexually more than a living person can do.”
     In 1926 he entered Christ Church, Oxford, with a scholarship in biology, but changing to English his second year. At Oxford Auden met Cecil Day Lewis, Louis MacNeice, and Stephen Spender, as well as meeting up again with his childhood friend, Isherwood. The four writers would often be associated later with what would be called “the Auden Group,” in part because of their similar left-wing political views. Auden left Oxford in 1928, with a third-class degree.
      His relationship with Isherwood, however, continued to develop, Isherwood serving both as a kind of literary mentor, and later, in the 1930s, as a lover. In 1935-1939 the two collaborated on three plays—The Dog Beneath the Skin, The Ascent of F6, and On the Frontier—and a travel book.
      In 1928 Auden left England for nine months, traveling to Berlin, in part as a response against what he saw as the repressiveness of British society and the disdain of his work by some English poets. There he experienced the political and economic unrest that would become one of his central themes throughout his life.
     Returning to England, he worked as tutor before publishing his first book, Poems (1930), accepted by T. S. Eliot at Faber and Faber, who would ultimately publish nearly all of Auden’s works. In 1930 he also began teaching at boys’ schools, first at the Larchfield Academy in Scotland and later at The Downs School, where experienced a feeling a described as a “Vision of Agape,” where he realized a deep love for his fellow teachers, leading him to return to the Anglican Church in 1940.
     Throughout these years, Auden had various transient sexual relations with both younger and less intelligent figures, but was unable to form any serious relationships until meeting Chester Kallman in 1939.
     Throughout the late 1930 the poet worked as a reviewer, essayist, and lecturer for G.P.O, Film Unit, a branch of the British Post Office. Through that experience he met the composer Benjamin Britten, with whom he collaborated on plays, song cycles, and a libretto.
     In 1936 he spent three months in Iceland—a country which had long fascinated Auden’s imagination—which produced the travel book, Letters from Iceland (1930), co-written by Louis MacNeice. Now committed to an activist journalism as opposed to a “reporting” one, Auden traveled to Spain with the intention of driving an ambulance for the Republic in the Spanish Civil War. He was instead put to work as a broadcasting propagandist, traveling to the front. Highly effected by the complexity of issues and social views, the seven-week visit to Spain affected him for the rest of his life. In 1938, he and Isherwood spent six months involved in the Sino-Japanese War, working together on the book, Journey to a War. On the return home, the two stopped in New York City, and determined to move to the United States.
    They sailed to New York, on temporary visas, in January 1939, their abandonment of England creating even further hostility to Auden’s work by the British poetic scene. In 1939, however, Isherwood moved to California, and Auden and he saw each other only occasionally over the years following.
     At this same time Auden met the poet Chester Kallman, who became his lover, their relationship being described by Auden as a “marriage.” That relationship ended in 1941, however, because of Auden’s insistence upon a mutually faithful relationship; yet the two remained companions for the rest of Auden’s life, sharing houses and apartments.
      In 1940-41 the two lived at 7 Middagh Street in Brooklyn Heights, sharing a house with Carson McCullers, Benjamin Britten, Jane and Paul Bowles, and several others, a house that became known later as “February House.”
      When Britain declared war on Germany, Auden offered to return to England, but was told by the British embassy that, because of his age, he was not needed. In 1941-42 he taught English at the University of Michigan. In August of 1942 he was drafted into the US Army, but was rejected on medical grounds. Although he received a Guggenheim Fellowship for the following year, he chose instead to teach at Swarthmore College, where he continued until 1945.
     With the end of World War II in Europe, he was asked to join the U.S. Strategic Bombing Survey in Germany to determine the effects of Allied bombings on German morale, a visit which again deeply affected him. Upon returning to the US, he joined the faculty of The New School for Social Research, as well as lecturing at Bennington, Smith, and US colleges. Auden became a naturalized citizen of the United States in 1946.
    As the years passed, Auden was drawn to Roman Catholicism, particularly through the works of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Beginning in 1948, first in Ischia, Italy and a decade later, in Kirchstetten, Austria, Auden summered in Europe, buying a farmhouse in Austria.
    From 1956-61, Auden was Professor of Poetry at Oxford University, requiring him to present three lectures each year. But he continued to winter in New York, living now on St. Mark’s Place in the East Village of Manhattan, while summering in Europe. Auden died in Vienna in 1973 and was buried in his beloved Kirchstetten.


Poems (London: Faber and Faber, 1930/ reprinted 1933); The Orators: An English Study (London: Faber and Faber, 1932/reprinted 1966); Look Stranger (London: Faber and Faber, 1936; published as On This Island (New York: Random House, 1937); Letters from Iceland (prose and poetry, with Louis MacNeice) (London: Faber and Faber, 1937/New York: Random House, 1937); Journey to the War (prose and poetry, with Christopher Isherwood) (London: Faber and Faber, 1939/New York: Random House, 1939); Another Time (London: Faber and Faber, 1940/New York: Random House, 1940); The Double Man (London: Faber and Faber, 1941/New York: Random House, 1941); For the Time Being (New York: Random House, 1944/London: Faber and Faber, 1945); The Collected Poetry of W.H. Auden (New York: Random House, 1945); The Age of Anxiety: A Baroque Eclogue (New York: Random House, 1947/London: Faber and Faber, 1948); Collected Shorter Poems (London: Faber and Faber, 1950); Nones (New York: Random House, 1951/London: Faber and Faber, 1952); The Shield of Achilles (New York: Random House, 1955/London: Faber and Faber, 1955); Homage to Clio (London: Faber and Faber, 1960/New York: Random house, 1960); About the House (London: Faber and Faber, 1965/New York: Random House, 1965); Collected Longer Poems (London: Faber, 1968/New York: Random House, 1969); City without Walls and Other Poems (London: Faber, 1969/New York: Random House, 1969); Epistle to a Godson and Other Poems (London: Faber and Faber, 1972/New York: Random House, 1972); Thank You, Fog: Last Poems (London: Faber and Faber, 1974/New York: Random House, 1974); Collected Poems (London: Faber and Faber, 1976/New York: Random House, 1976/reprinted New York: Vintage Books, 1989); Juvenilia: Poems 1922-1928 (London: Faber and Faber, 1994/Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1994); Poems (New York: Knopf, 1995); Collected Poems (New York: Modern Library, 2007); Selected Poems (New York: Vintage International, 2007)

For a selection of Auden poems, go here: