Skip to content

Grossman's poems, a continuous act of confrontation, brave comparison with verses that today are sacred as verse, untouchable in their strength.

—Robert Fitzgerald

Allen Grossman

Contemporary American poet

Allen Grossman was born in 1932 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. He was educated at Harvard where he was editor of the Harvard Advocate and won the Garrison Prize for Poetry and the Prize of the Academy of American Poets. His awards and honors have included a Guggenheim Fellowship, the Witter Bynner Prize for Poetry given by the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters, and a MacArthur Fellowship. In 1997, Grossman won a literature award to honor writers of exceptional accomplishment from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. For many years he was a professor of English at Brandeis University. He was also the Andrew W. Mellon Professor of the Humanities at the Johns Hopkins University.

Descartes’ Loneliness

Fiction by Allen Grossman

Allen Grossman’s newest work Descartes’ Loneliness blends the comic and tragic. As the writer Ha Jin once wrote, it is "remarkable for the stout spirit of the speaker who dares to be funny while tackling such an austere subject as death." Poems such as "The Famished Dead," where the poet is visited by lost loved ones, "one at a time," confirm Jorie Graham’s observation that "from the bottom reaches of the underworld, to the elevations from which one need cry to be heard--Grossman invents such peace as Poetry can invent."

Sweet Youth

Poetry by Allen Grossman

Of the early work of Allen Grossman, the late Robert Fitzgerald once wrote: "At times they seem poems of great age, poems at the world’s verge, at the verge of time." Of the later work, Jorie Graham observed: "In [his] marriage of means––part almanac, part allegory, part advice column, obituary page, hymnal, epic drama––from the bottom reaches of the underworld, to the elevations from which one need cry out to be heard––Grossman invents such peace as Poetry can invent." In Sweet Youth, the younger poet and the older one meet at an eternal moment and a dialogue in poetry ensues, as the Allen Grossman of 2001 and the Allen Grossman of nearly fifty years earlier respond to one another’s words. The poems of the Sweet Youth, some of them dating to the early ‘50s, were originally collected in the poet’s first three books: A Harlot’s Hire (1961), The Recluse (1965), And the Dew Lay All Night Upon My Branch (1973). Since then, there have been six more books of poetry and four of prose, though in Sweet Youth, all the poems of the Old Man are new, written in Grossman’s seventieth year. He is now the Andrew Mellon Professor of the Humanities at The Johns Hopkins University.

How To Do Things With Tears

Poetry by Allen Grossman

How to Do Things with Tears is a book brought forth by the Sighted Singer, the poet who holds the central position in Allen Grossman’s newest work. "This is a HOW-TO book," Grossman explains. "The heroic singer of tradition is blind. A NEW singer in this present must be sighted. In this book the poet intends to say something, insofar as a poet can, about the common sadness of living and dying in the world." Like the blind bard of old, Grossman’s Sighted Singer conjures visions both high and low, in mythopoeic resonances that excite the sorrows and the laughter of the gods and men.

Available: May 01 2001

The Philosopher’s Window

Poetry by Allen Grossman

The speaker of The Philosopher’s Window and Other Poems, Allen Grossman tells us, is "an old man compelled by the insistent questioning of the children to explain himself"––and in this way, the world. He begins with creation ("The Great Work Farm Elegy"), recalls the romantic quest of youth ("The Philosopher’s Window"), returns to reality ("The Snowfall" and "Whoever Builds"). His tales told, the old man wakes in a stormy springtime ("June, June"), "when the lilacs are gone." Grossman’s allegory of life’s journey, at once sonorous and antic, takes in the high and the low in these new visionary songs of innocence and experience.

Available: September 01 1995

The Ether Dome

Poetry by Allen Grossman

In addition to substantial new work, Allen Grossman in The Ether Dome and Other Poems New and Selected 1979-1991 gives his readers a retrospective of a life in poetry that has brought him such honors as a Guggenheim Fellowship, the Witter Bynner Prize of the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters, and a MacArthur Fellowship. The Ether Dome is his seventh book of poems.

Available: October 01 1991

The Bright Nails Scattered On The Ground

Poetry by Allen Grossman

Allen Grossman’s The Bright Nails Scattered on the Ground is a book of poetry which tells of a man and a woman in love. Since their bond is unsanctioned, they must confront the task of building another universe in which their love can have a place. This is the creational work of their union, intimate, historical, and cosmic, that must be tested against reality and hope––in short, against the totality of human affairs. The book is divided into three parts at whose center are two full narratives ("A Blue Heron" and "Eurydice, or The Third Reich of Dreams") in which the man and woman each produce the story of their own existence. The shorter poems of the first and third parts set forth the context of their love, from the primordial shattering of full providence ("The Song of the Lord") to reconciliation in worlds of possible consummation ("Quies or Rest"). An elegaic pilgrimage, The Bright Nails Scattered on the Ground looks back to Lucretius, Dante, and the Kabbalah, to Hölderlin, Yeats, and Rilke, in its quest for the actuality of love.

Available: May 01 1986

Of The Great House

Poetry by Allen Grossman

"A book of poems should have exactly the same fullness and risk and lay itself open to the same judgment as a life," says Allen Grossman. Of the Great House, which includes sections of A Harlot’s Hire (1961), Grossman’s first published book, as well as his most recent poetry, presents an anatomy of the poet’s working life. The title poem invokes "the sighted singer, in a/Passionate, laboring house," who confronts those figures in his unconscious which influence and interfere with poetic vision, braving the necessary destructions until "there is nothing in place of what/I know, the only thing that is––the world." Part II, "The Pictures in a Man’s Life," seeks out relationships among the haunting, inspiring, "demonically incoherent facts of life in the world––the poet’s parents, yellowwoods blooming on a lawn, closeness to an earlier self. "The Dream Which Wakes the Sleeper Does Not End" contains poems from an earlier life, and Of the Great House closes with "An Inventory of Destructions," a summing and a summoning: "the poet speaks to the unborn in the/language of the born, and to the born he speaks/The language of the unborn––Break down and build!/Destructions are of the poet. Death is of God.”

Available: April 01 1982

The Woman On The Bridge Over The Chicago River

Poetry by Allen Grossman

The Woman on the Bridge over the Chicago River is Allen Grossman’s first collection with New Directions. His voice is astonishingly contemporary, his often dissociated imagery bordering on the surreal––yet one hears in his verse classical and Biblical echoes and, on occasion, darker medieval undertones. The brilliance of his imagination works against a measured eloquence, setting up a fine-edged tension not unlike the prophetic verse of William Blake, the wild dithyrambs of David, or the more controlled metrics of Catullus and Villon.

Available: May 01 1979