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Aimee Fifarek

PONSOT, MARIE (1921- ) Termed a formalist because of her mastery of the sonnet, villanelle, and sestina, Marie Ponsot considers herself an eccentric, having written as much free as formal verse (see prosody and free verse); her poems are always formal, she said in a telephone interview, in the sense that "language generates form" (Interview). Compared with 17th-century John Donne for her metaphysical poems, with James Joyce for her word coinages and puns, and with Seamus Heaney for her connection to the earth, Ponsot can nevertheless be best described as keenly independent.

Ponsot was born and reared in Queens, New York. Her first volume, True Minds (1957), was swallowed in the wake of Allen ginsbergs howl. Living for decades "outside the world of poetry," as she supported seven children by writing for television and radio, teaching and translating, Ponsot maintained the "desire to write poems, not to publish them" (Interview). She won the Eunice Tietjens Memorial Award for poems in Poetry magazine (1960). Her second volume, Admit Impediment (1981), did not appear until she was 60. The Green Dark (1988) won the Delmore schwartz Memorial Poetry Award. Long revered in poetry circles, she came to popular prominence when The Bird Catcher (1998) won the National Book Critics Circle Award. Springing: New and Selected Poems (2002), featured in a front-page review in the New York Times Book Review when Ponsot was 81, includes one uncollected poem from each year between 1946 and 1971. She was awarded the Shelley Memorial Award by the Poetry Society of America and the Phi Beta Kappa Poetry Prize (2002). Ponsot has taught at Queens College of the City University of New York.

Dinitia Smith has written that a "Marie Ponsot poem is a jeweled bracelet, carefully carved, with small, firm stones embedded in it" (E1). Her poems begin with stark assertions, such as "Death is the price of life" ("For A Divorce" [1981]), include puns, such as "I think I've got what I need / In the overhead compartment" ("What Do You Want to Be When You Grow Up?" [2002]), or end in witty aphorisms, such as, "Age is not / All dry rot" ("Pourriture Noble" [1998]). "Late" (1981) is a crown of sonnets (a series in which the last line of each sonnet becomes the first line of the next). The intricate form and the recurring image of her mother's diamond, whose "permanence defies / The dark, in sparkles on this page," demonstrate her signature elegance.

Whether writing about motherhood or metaphysics in colloquial or philosophical diction, Ponsot demonstrates, in David Orr's words, "the exhilarating integrity" (9) of one who insists that poetry is, as Pon-sot herself said, "human language at its most triumphant" (Interview).

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