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



Gerald Stern, one of many U.S.’s most beloved and revered poets who wrote with spirited melancholy and earthly humour about his childhood, Judaism, mortality and the wonders of the contemplative life, has died. He was 97.

Stern, New Jersey’s first poet laureate, died Thursday at Calvary Hospice in New York City, in response to his longtime associate, Anne Marie Macari. An announcement from Macari, launched Saturday by writer WW Norton, did not embrace the reason for dying.

Winner of the National Book Award in 1998 for the anthology “(*97*) Time,” the balding, round-eyed Stern was typically mistaken in particular person for Allen Ginsberg and typically in comparison with Walt Whitman due to his lyrical and sensual model, and his reward for wedding ceremony the bodily world to the better cosmos.

Stern was formed by the tough, city environment of his native Pittsburgh, however he additionally recognized strongly with nature and animals, marvelling at the “energy” of a maple tree, likening himself to a hummingbird or a squirrel, or discovering the “secret of life” in a useless animal on the highway.

A lifelong agnostic who additionally fiercely believed in “the concept of the Jew,” the poet wrote greater than a dozen books and described himself as “half comedic, half idealistic, colored in irony, smeared with mockery and sarcasm.” In poems and essays, he wrote with particular depth in regards to the previous — his immigrant dad and mom, long-lost pals and lovers, and the placing divisions between wealthy and poor and Jews and non-Jews in Pittsburgh. He regarded “The One Thing in Life,” from the 1977 assortment “Lucky Life,” because the poem that greatest outlined him.


There is a sweetness buried in my thoughts

there may be water with a small cave behind it

there is a mouth talking Greek

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

the one factor that nobody else wished


He was previous 50 earlier than he gained any main awards, however was cited typically over the second half of his life. Besides his National Book Award, his honours included being a Pulitzer Prize finalist in 1991 for “Leaving Another Kingdom” and receiving such lifetime achievement awards because the Ruth Lilly Prize and the Wallace Stevens Award. In 2013, the Library of Congress gave him the Rebekah Johnson Bobbitt National Prize for “Early Collected Poems” and praised him as “one in all America’s nice poet-proclaimers within the Whitmanic custom: With moments of humour and whimsy, and an everlasting generosity, his work celebrates the mythologizing energy of the artwork.”

Meanwhile, he was named New Jersey’s first poet laureate, in 2000, and inadvertently helped convey in regards to the place’s speedy demise. After serving his two-year time period, he really useful Amiri Baraka as his successor. Baraka would set off a fierce outcry together with his 2002 poem “Somebody Blew Up America,” which alleged that Israel had advance information of the Sept. 11 assaults the yr earlier than. Baraka refused to step down, so the state determined to not have a laureate.

Stern, born in 1925, remembered no main literary influences as a toddler, however did converse of the lasting trauma of the dying of his older sister, Sylvia, when he was 8. He would describe himself as “a thug who frolicked in pool halls and bought into fights.” But, he informed The New York Times in 1999, he was a well-read thug who excelled in faculty. Stern studied political science at the University of Pittsburgh and obtained a grasp’s in comparative literature from Columbia University. Ezra Pound and W.B. Yeats have been among the many first poets he learn intently.

Stern lived in Europe and New York throughout the Nineteen Fifties and finally settled in a nineteenth century residence close to the Delaware River in Lambertville. His artistic improvement got here slowly. Only throughout free moments within the military, through which he served for a quick time after World War II, did he conceive the “candy thought” of writing for a dwelling. He spent a lot of his 30s engaged on a poem in regards to the American presidency, “The Pineys,” however despaired that it was “indulgent” and “tedious.” As he approached age 40, he anxious that he had change into “an eternally outdated pupil” and “eternally younger teacher.” Through his midlife disaster, he lastly discovered his voice as a poet, discovering that he had been “taking a neater method” than he ought to have.

“It additionally needed to do with a realization that my protracted youth was over, that I would not dwell eternally, that dying was not only a literary occasion however very actual and very private,” he wrote within the essay “Some Secrets,” printed in 1983. “I used to be in a position to let go and lastly change into myself and lose my guilt and pleasure.”

His marriage to Patricia Miller led to divorce. They had two youngsters, Rachael Stern Martin and David Stern.

Stern principally averted topical poems, however he was a longtime political activist whose causes included desegregating a swimming pool in Indiana, Pennsylvania, and organizing an anti-apartheid studying at the University of Iowa. He taught at a number of colleges, however had nice skepticism about writing packages and the educational life. At Temple University, he was so enraged by the varsity’s determination within the Nineteen Fifties to construct a 6-foot brick wall separating the campus from the close by Black neighbourhoods of Philadelphia that he made some extent of climbing the wall on the way in which to class.

“The establishment subtly and insidiously works on you in such a method that although you appear to have freedom you change into a servant,” he informed the net publication The Rumpus in 2010. “Your most important challenge is to get promoted to the following factor. Or get invited to a picnic. Or get tenure. Or get laid.”

Besides Macari and his youngsters, Stern is survived by grandchildren Dylan and Alana Stern and Rebecca and Julia Martin.


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