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Body My House

May Swenson's Work and Life

edited by Paul Crumbley and Patricia M. Gantt

Publication Year: 2006

The first collection of critical essays on May Swenson and her literary universe, Body My House initiates an academic conversation about an unquestionably major poet of the middle and late twentienth century. Between the 1950s and the 1980s, May Swenson produced eleven volumes of poetry, received many major awards, was elected chancellor of the Academy of American Poets, and was acclaimed by writers in virtually every school of American poetry.

Essays here address the breadth of Swenson's literary corpus and offer varied scholarly approaches to it. They reference Swenson manuscripts---poems, letters, diaries, and other prose---some of which have not been widely available before. Chapters focus on Swenson's work as a nature writer; the literary and social contexts of her writing; her national and international acclaim; her work as a translator; associations with other poets and writers (Bishop, Moore, and others); her creative process; and her profound explorations of gender and sexuality. The first full volume of scholarship on May Swenson, Body My House suggest an ambitious agenda for further work.

Contributors include Mark Doty, Gudrun Grabher, Cynthia Hogue, Suzann Juhasz, R.R. Knudson, Alicia Ostriker, Martha Nell Smith, Michael Spooner, Paul Swenson, and Kirstin Hotelling Zona.

Published by: Utah State University Press

Title Page

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pp. ix-x


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pp. 1

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pp. 2-7

The life, work, and literary reputation of poet May Swenson (1913– 1989) are firmly grounded in Utah’s cultural and actual soil. A deep connection exists between Swenson and the town of Logan, Utah, where she was born and reared—a connection that is apparent from her earliest poems, ...

May Swenson Chronology

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pp. 8-10

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The Love Poems and Letters of May Swenson

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pp. 11-26

I am a fan of May Swenson’s poetry. A fan. She’s my favorite poet of many I dote on and I will tell you why right up front. I love her authentic voice, her instinctual feelings, her keenness of perception, her amazing variety of subjects, her cosmos both accessible and elusive. I love that she stayed away from poetry fashions of her time, ...

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A Figure in the Tapestry: The Poet’s Feeling Runs Ahead of Her Imagination (Greenwich Village, 1949–50)

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pp. 27-39

In their honesty, self-irony, and clear-eyed evaluation of the poet’s personal and professional circumstances, these few spare and direct lines from that diary manuscript are characteristic of the openness of May Swenson’s writing, both in her poetry and her prose. They combine to create a snapshot of her thoughts as she crossed ...

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May Swenson: Whitman's Daughter

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pp. 40-54

A great poet is a jewel of multiple faces or facets, and to see the poet from the angle of any one of those facets is to be freshly illuminated and elated. Two decades ago, elatedly writing my essay “May Swenson and the Shapes of Speculation” in the context of the post-1960s women’s poetry movement, ...

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May Swenson and Elizabeth Bishop

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pp. 55-80

Writing about Elizabeth Bishop’s treatment of sexuality, Lorrie Goldensohn observes that for Bishop, “to be personal meant to be misread, to be trapped within the conventional feminine” (62). I would reword this slightly: to be personal risks being misread as reinforcing the conventional feminine, ...

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De-Cartesianizing the Universe: May Swenson’s Design of Wor(l)ds

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pp. 81-106

May Swenson’s 1962 poem serves as an introduction to both what this essay will not deal with when looking at her poetry and what it will focus on. The poem illustrates the poet’s scientific interests, especially in space and space shuttles, landing on the moon, traveling through space, and transcending the gravitational field. ...

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That Never Told CAN Be: May Swenson’s Manuscript Witnesses

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pp. 107-119

This essay’s title makes plain my subject: reflection upon some of May Swenson’s manuscripts, some of the stories they tell, the poetic processes they reveal, the powerful testament they are to her commitment to the truth. Beginning by focusing on “THAT NEVER TOLD CAN BE,” a sheaf of poems never printed ...

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Material Girl: May Swenson’s Logopoetic Materialism

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pp. 120-137

I want to open with an anecdote about a material object, a book that is illustrative of the bifurcated history of reception of May Swenson’s work. Buried in my past lies the history of my heterosexual blind spots, a piece of which was uncannily returned to me when I began the process of writing this essay. ...

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May Swenson and Other Animals: Her Poetics of Natural Selection

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pp. 138-156

The title of this essay reflects May Swenson’s sense of herself as an animal and the fact that she often wrote of other animals as fellow members of an ever-evolving natural world. In an interview with Karla Hammond, Swenson observed that “Animals aren’t human beings, but human beings are animals,” ...

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How Everything Happens: Notes on May Swenson’s Theory of Writing

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pp. 157-180

Notes,” because I don’t want to construe May Swenson as a writing theorist, or even as one who cared much about writing as a field of study. As far as I know, it was never her purpose to study “the composing process” as such; her purpose was to compose. Still, any writer does invoke a theory of writing—a tacit one, ...

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The Queer Poetics of May Swenson

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pp. 181-194

The lens of academic queer theory seems to me to be an especially useful perspective for viewing the poetry of May Swenson—especially her unconventional representations of gender, sexuality, and desire. The meanings of “queer” as it is used in contemporary academic theory include to skew, to destabilize, ...

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“Question” and More Questions: Two Shells for May Swenson

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pp. 195-204

The southern barrier island where I’m living this winter is a good place for finding shells. Some days, at the base of the swell of sand where the tide’s been busy washing the island away, there are dense patches of them: orangey scallops; oysters in cream, white and charcoal; and my favorite, the black whelks, ...

Bibliography of the Works of May Swenson

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pp. 205-238

Works Cited and Consulted

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pp. 239-247

Notes on Contributors

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pp. 248-251


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pp. 252-254

E-ISBN-13: 9780874215434
Print-ISBN-13: 9780874216356

Publication Year: 2006