Nathaniel Tarn

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.


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.…
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Poetry Pamphlets 5-8

In March of 2013 we launched a new series of Poetry Pamphlets, a reincarnated version of the “Poet of the Month” and “Poets of the Year” series James Laughlin published in the 1940s, which brought out such eclectic hits as William Carlos Williams’s The Broken Span, Delmore Schwartz’s poetic play Shenandoah, John Donne’s Some Poems and a Devotion, and Yvor Winters’s Giant Weapon, among many others. The New Directions Poetry Pamphlets will highlight original work by writers from around the world, as well as forgotten treasures lost in the cracks of literary history.…
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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…
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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.…
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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.…
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Poetry by Elizabeth T. Gray, Jr.

With a contribution by Nathaniel Tarn

In the foreword to her book-length poem Salient, Elizabeth Gray writes, “This work began by juxtaposing two obsessions of mine that took root in the late 1960s: the Battle of Passchendaele, fought by the British Army in Flanders in late 1917, and the chöd ritual, the core ‘severance’ practice of a lineage founded by Machik Lapdrön, the great twelfth-century female Tibetan Buddhist saint.” Over the course of several decades, Gray tracked the contours and traces of the Ypres Salient, walking the haunted battlefield ground of the contemporary landscape with campaign maps in hand, reading “not only history, poetry, and fiction, but also unit diaries; contemporary reports and individual accounts; survey information and maps of all kinds; treatises on aerial photography and artillery tactics; and manuals on field engineering and tactical planning.…
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Tarn’s poetry redefines nature and art for human culture, bringing a genuine psychological and linguistic curiosity about the human mind, about what it means to be human.
—Brenda Hillman, Jacket
While poetry is narrowing its concerns, Tarn risks a scale epic enough to contain mountains and oceans. He keeps his lines of communication open to more than one life form, with a prophetic sureness of direction.
—Geoffrey O’Brien, Village Voice
One of the most outstanding poets of his generation.
—Kenneth Rexroth
A rich temperament, a remarkable, linguistic inventiveness, and a vision both original and universal.
—Octavio Paz
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