Gerald Stern, prize-winning lyrical poet, dies at 97

Stern has written more than a dozen books and won the National Book Award in 1998 for his anthology “This Time”.

NEW YORK – Gerald Stern, one of the country’s most loved and respected poets, writes with melancholy and earthly humor about his childhood, Judaism, death and the the miracle of contemplative life, has passed away. He is 97 years old.

Stern, New Jersey’s first poet laureate, died Thursday at Calvary Hospice in New York City, according to his longtime partner, Anne Marie Macari. A statement from Macari, released Saturday by publisher WW Norton, did not include a cause of death.

Winner of the 1998 National Book Award for the anthology “This Time,” the bald, round-eyed Stern is sometimes mistaken for Allen Ginsberg and often compared to Walt Whitman for his lyrical and sensual style, and gift of him for the wedding. physical world to the larger universe.

Stern is shaped by the rough urban surroundings of his native Pittsburgh, but he also identifies strongly with nature and animals, marveling at the “power” of a maple tree, for example. like a hummingbird or a squirrel, or find out the “secret of life” in a dead animal on the road.

A lifelong agnostic who also strongly believes in “Jewish ideas,” the poet has written more than a dozen books and describes himself as “part humor, part humor.” idealistic, colored with irony, smear and satire.” In poems and essays, he writes with particular intensity about the past – his immigrant parents, long-lost friends and lovers, and the stark divide between the rich and the poor. poor, Jewish and non-Jewish Pittsburgh. He considers “The Only Thing in Life,” from the 1977 anthology “Lucky Lives,” as his most defining poem.

There’s a sweetness buried in my mind

there is water with a small cave behind it

have a mouth that speaks Greek

It is what I keep to myself; what I return;

something that no one else wants

He was well over 50 years old before winning any major awards, but was often mentioned in the second half of his life. In addition to the National Book Award, his honors include being a finalist for the 1991 Pulitzer Prize for “Leaving Another Kingdom” and receiving lifetime achievement awards such as the Ruth Lilly Award and Wallace Stevens Award. In 2013, the Library of Congress presented him with the Rebekah Johnson Bobbitt National Award for “Early Collected Poems” and hailed him as “one of the great American poets in the Whitmanic tradition: With humorous and whimsical moments, and enduring generosity, his work celebrates the mythologizing power of art. “

Meanwhile, he was honored as New Jersey’s first poet laureate, in 2000, and unwittingly helped bring the position to a rapid demise. After serving his two-year term, he nominated Amiri Baraka as his successor. Baraka sparked an outcry with his 2002 poem “Somebody Blew Up America,” which alleges that Israel had prior knowledge of the September 11 attacks the previous year. Baraka refused to resign, so the state decided that there were no winners.

Stern, born in 1925, has no memory of a major literary influence as a child, but has spoken of the lingering grief following the death of his sister, Sylvia, at the age of eight. hall and fight. ‘ However, he told The New York Times in 1999, he was a good read thug and did very well in college. Stern studied political science at the University of Pittsburgh and received a master’s degree. Comparative literature at Columbia University Ezra Pound and WB Yeats were among the first poets he read carefully.

Stern lived in Europe and New York during the 1950s and eventually settled in a 19th-century house near the Delaware River in Lambertville. His creative development came slowly. It was only during his spare moments in the Army, during which he briefly served after World War II, that he conceived the “sweet idea” of writing for a living. He spent most of his 30s writing a poem about the American presidency, “The Pineys,” but despaired that it was “engaging” and “boring.” As he nears the age of 40, he worries that he has become “a student who is forever young” and “an instructor who is forever young”. Going through a midlife crisis, he finally found his voice as a poet, discovering that he had “taken an easier path” than he should have.

“It also involved the realization that my prolonged youth was over, that I would not live forever, that death was not just a literary event but very real and very personal,” he wrote in Essay “Some Secrets”. published in 1983. “I was able to let go and finally be myself, losing my shame and pride.”

His marriage to Patricia Miller ended in divorce. They have two children, Rachael Stern Martin and David Stern.

Stern mostly avoids topical poems, but he is a longtime political activist whose causes include destroying a swimming pool in Indiana, Pennsylvania and organizing an anti-segregation reading. race at the University of Iowa. He has taught at several schools, but has great skepticism about writing programs and academic life. At Temple University, he was so angered by the school’s decision in the 1950s to build a 6-foot-high brick wall separating the campus from the nearby Negro neighborhoods of Philadelphia that he decided to trying to climb the wall on the way to class.

He told the online publication The Rumpus in 2010. “The organization works in a subtle and insidious way in such a way that even though you seem to have freedom, you become a servant.” Or get invited to a picnic. Or get the right of use. Or get fired. “

In addition to Macari and her children, Stern is survived by grandchildren Dylan and Alana Stern and Rebecca and Julia Martin.

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