Poet of the Week | May Swenson

By Administrator Fri, April 27, 2007

May Swenson was born the eldest of ten children in a Swedish-speaking Mormon household in Utah in 1919. She received a bachelor's degree in 1939 from Utah State University and went on to teach poetry at Bryn Mawr, the University of North Carolina, the University of California at Riverside, Purdue University, and Utah State University. Her work appeared in The Atlantic Monthly, The Nation, The New Yorker, The Paris Review, and Poetry. Swenson served as a chancellor of The Academy of American Poets from 1980 until her death in 1989. Her work is characterized by its strong imagery and unusual use of rhythm. The famed literary critic Harold Bloom named her as one of the three most important female poets of the twentieth century, alongside Marianne Moore and Elizabeth Bishop.

 

Water Picture

 

In the pond in the park
all things are doubled:
Long buildings hang and
wriggle gently. Chimneys
are bent legs bouncing
on clouds below. A flag
wags like a fishhook
down there in the sky.
The arched stone bridge
is an eye, with underlid
in the water. In its lens
dip crinkled heads with hats
that don't fall off. Dogs go by,
barking on their backs.
A baby, taken to feed the
ducks, dangles upside-down,
a pink balloon for a buoy.
Treetops deploy a haze of
cherry bloom for roots,
where birds coast belly-up
in the glass bowl of a hill;
from its bottom a bunch
of peanut-munching children
is suspended by their
sneakers, waveringly.
A swan, with twin necks
forming the figure 3,
steers between two dimpled
towers doubled. Fondly
hissing, she kisses herself,
and all the scene is troubled:
water-windows splinter,
tree-limbs tangle, the bridge
folds like a fan.


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