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One of the most outstanding poets of his generation.

—Kenneth Rexroth

Nathaniel Tarn

Contemporary franco-american poet, translator and critic

Nathaniel Tarn (born 1928 in Paris) is an American poet, essayist, anthropologist, and translator. He lived in Paris until age 7, then in Belgium (Lycée d’Anvers) until age 11. Tarn graduated in history and English as a Scholar of King’s College, Cambridge. He returned to Paris and, after some journalism and radio work, discovered anthropology at the Musée de l’Homme, the Ecole des Hautes Etudes and the Collège de France. A Fulbright grant took him to Yale and the University of Chicago where Robert Redfield sent him to Guatemala for his doctoral fieldwork (1951–2). He completed this work as a graduate student at the London School of Economics (1953–8). In 1958, a grant from the Rockefeller Foundation sent him to Burma for 18 months after which he became Lecturer in South East Asian Anthropology at the School of Oriental and African Studies of the University of London (1960–1967). Tarn published his first volume of poetry, Old Savage/Young City, with Jonathan Cape, London and Random House, New York in 1964–5; a translation of Pablo Neruda’s The Heights of Macchu Picchu in 1968 with Cape and Farrar Straus, and began building a new poetry program at Cape. He left anthropology in 1967. From 1967–9, he joined Cape as General Editor of the international series Cape Editions and as a Founding Director of the Cape-Goliard Press, specializing in contemporary American Poetry with emphasis on Charles Olson, Robert Duncan, Louis Zukofsky and their peers and successors. He brought a great many French, other European and Latin American titles to Cape and made many visits to the U.S. as a Cape Editor. In 1970, with a principal interest in the American literary scene, he immigrated to the US as Visiting Professor of Romance Languages, Princeton University, and became a citizen. Later he moved to Rutgers. Since then he has taught English and American Literature, Epic Poetry, Folklore, inter alia at the Universities of SUNY Buffalo, Pennsylvania, Colorado, New Mexico, and Manchuria. He’s read and lectured all over the world: Paris, Heidelberg, Freiburg, Berlin, Rome, Messina, Prague, Budapest, Sydney, Melbourne, and many other places. He has set foot in every state of the US, with an especially long study in Alaska. Extensive travels over the years, to all seven continents, have informed his poetry from the start.

As poet, literary and cultural critic (two volumes: Views from the Weaving Mountain, University of New Mexico Press, 1991, and The Embattled Lyric, Stanford University Press, 2007), translator (he was the first to render Victor Segalen’s Stèles into English, continued work on Neruda, Latin American, and French poets) and editor (with many magazines), Tarn has published some thirty books and booklets in his various disciplines including Lyrics for the Bride of God and Ins and Outs of the Forest Rivers with New Directions. He has been translated into ten foreign languages. His papers are at Stanford.

In 1985, he took early retirement and has since lived near Santa Fe, New Mexico. His interests range from bird watching, gardening, classical music, opera, and ballet, and much varied collecting, from aviation to world history.


Gondwana

Poetry by Nathaniel Tarn


Gondwana: an ancient supercontinent long dispersed into fragments. Contemplating the ethereal blue is of Antartica, once part of it, Nathaniel Tarn writes in the opening section of his magnificent collection: "They said back then/ there was a frozen continent/ in those high latitudes encircling globe:/ are you moving toward it?"From there, the rising and falling stairs at Fez in Morocco meld into a cantata on marriage, empire, and the meditational nature of climbing. In a series of beautiful, short poems "Il Piccolo Paradiso," Tarn creates a haven of home, bird flight, and innvervating fligh. In another section, the heroic WWII fighter Pilot Lydia Litvyak is personified as Eurydice speaking to her lover captain, Orpheus. The book concludes with the powerful poems of "Exitus Generis Humani," its polyphonic lines slowly pouring over the reader in a mournful, yet often humorous, reverie that reveals allegiance to Earth as the essential divinity, while calling for radical change if we want to prevent a definitive ending.


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The Beautiful Contradictions

Poetry by Nathaniel Tarn


The Beautiful Contradictions is an awe-inspiring vortex of mythology, history, and anthropology that pushes the lyric to its upper limit. A vast ecopoem for a dying Earth, a socially radical poem, a matrilineal drama, a Judeo-Mayan-Buddhist initiation, a transatlantic epic ending as a transamerican arrival, a testament uniting science and imagination.

It takes a long time to bring to poetry
whatever sears the spirits of any particular age
when each letter each word each comma must pass
each breath be submitted to interminable tests
so what we have now is the age of song dead



Ins & Outs Of The Forest Rivers

Poetry by Nathaniel Tarn


Nathaniel Tarn’s newest collection of poems, Ins and Outs of the Forest Rivers, dives deep into the spiritual and physical sufferings of our global age. After a moving overture, the book unfolds in five sections: "Of the Perfected Angels," with its lucid meditation on Issenheim altarpiece by Matthias Grünewald; "Dying Trees," written out of the horrible loss of hundreds of thousands of trees throughout the American West in recent years; "War Stills," an engagement with the ongoing atrocities in Iraq; "Movement / North of the Java Sea," taking flight from Maui to Bali to Papua New Guinea; and the final section "Sarawak," snaking its way through the river and indigenous anguish of Borneo, where Tarn as poet-anthropologist surveyed the loss of forest lands and its effects on tribal peoples.



Lyrics For The Bride Of God

Poetry by Nathaniel Tarn


Nathaniel Tarn’s Lyrics for the Bride of God, a book-length poem composed over the course of five years, represents the author’s most sustained effort since The Beautiful Contradictions (1969). The Bride, first appearing at the end of that volume, here dominates the entire work in fulfilling her ultimate kabbalistic task: the return of the holy sparks, dispersed among mankind at the creation, to their original Source. In this, the Bride undergoes exile in the guise of a very human woman––constantly changing identity, species, race, color, age, and even sex; ranging through many different mythical and historical settings; raising a host of political issues from ecology to feminism: and creating, against Tarn’s anthropological background, an astonishing cosmos propelled by the eternal interaction of male and female. Perhaps the author’s most dramatic work, the Lyrics reflect a time of personal tension and loss, a time of exile from Europe transformed into a fervent adoption, on a continental scale, of his new American milieu. Overall, it is Tarn’s expansive, energetic woridview that makes the work cohere. At a time when so much poetry lacks either head or heart, Tarn clearly hopes that, in the Lyrics, both have full sway.


Available: April 01 1975