May Swenson: Collected Poems

Langdon Hammer, Editor
Library of America
April 2013
ISBN: 978-1598532104

Propelled by, in her words, “a craving to get through the curtains of things as they appear, to things as they are, and then into the larger, wilder space of things as they are becoming,” May Swenson’s poetry is a free-ranging exploration of outer and inner worlds, of nature and the human mind. Sensuous abundance, imaginative daring, and unfailing precision are the abiding characteristics of her work. Its great scope is an index of her boundless curiosity and her delight in close observation. Fellow writers have praised her “holy exactitude” (Cynthia Ozick) and “serious fun” (Mona Van Duyn). James Merrill asked: “without her to write them, who could have imagined these poems?”

In celebration of the centenary of May Swenson’s birth, The Library of America presents the first comprehensive edition of her work, gathering all of the poems she published in the collections Another Animal (1954), A Cage of Spines (1958), To Mix with Time (1963), Half Sun Half Sleep (1967), Iconographs (1970), New & Selected Things Taking Place (1978), and In Other Words (1987), as well as an extensive selection of previously uncollected work.

Swenson’s work encompasses nature poems revealing the author’s profound absorption in wildlife; love poems celebrating beauty and passion; and poems recording her travels to the American southwest, Florida, France, and Italy, as well as her residence in New York City and Sea Cliff, Long Island. She ranged effortlessly over subjects that included—to cite only a few instances—baseball, wave motion, the DNA molecule, bronco busting, James Bond movies, and the first walk on the moon. Her attentiveness to natural forms and volatilities was matched by her explorations of unusual juxtapositions and jarringly unexpected perspectives, as well as by the genius for formal invention on display in her famous shaped poems.