Arthur Sze was born in New York City in 1950, and educated at the University of California-Berkeley. Known for his difficult, meticulous poems, Sze’s work has been described as the “intersection of Taoist contemplation, Zen rock gardens and postmodern experimentation” by the critic John Tritica. The poet Dana Levin
described Sze as “a poet of what I would call Deep Noticing, a strong lineage in American poetry. Its most obvious and influential practitioner is William Carlos Williams
; its iconic poem, ‘The Red Wheelbarrow.’ Dispassionate presentation of ‘the thing itself,’ ‘glazed with rain/water’ (or any particular) is its prevailing attribute… [yet] Sze’s attention is capacious; it’s attracted to paradox; it takes facing opponents and seats them side by side.” Though Sze’s early work, including the books The Willow Wind
(1972) and Two Ravens
(1976), was marked by its lyrical imagism, his later work has included many long, linked poems that take thinking and perception as their focus. Influenced by Williams and American Modernism, as well as Chinese poets like Bei Dao
, Sze’s work travels beyond “the restrictions of Imagism and classical Chinese poetry into new territory, while retaining essential techniques garnered from the encounter,” according to Tony Barnstone
in Rain Taxi.
In books like Archipelago
(1995), The Redshifting Web
(2005), and The Gingko Light
(2009), Sze has emerged as one of America’s most thoughtful and experimental poets. According to K. Michel on Poetry International Web,
“Sze’s work is characterised by its unusual combination of images and ideas, and by the surprising way in which he makes connections between diverse aspects of the world. In his poetry he combines images from urban life and nature, ideas from modern astronomy and Chinese philosophy as well as anecdotes from rural and industrial America. In this way, he creates texts that capture and reflect the complexity of reality.” His book Compass Rose
(2014) was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize.
Sze’s many honors include a Lannan Literary Award, an American Book Award, the Lila Wallace-Reader’s Digest Writer’s Award, and a Western States Book Award for Translation. He has received grants and fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Witter Bynner Foundation. In 1984 Sze began teaching at the Institute of American Indian Arts, where he is Professor Emeritus. He has also been the Visiting Hurst Professor at Washington University, the Doenges Visiting Artist at Mary Baldwin College, and spent residencies at universities such as Brown, Bard College, and the Naropa Institute. In 2012, he was elected chancellor of the Academy of American Poets.
Institute of American Indian Arts, instructor in English, 1984-89, director of creative writing program, 1989-96, professor of creative writing, 1989—; writer. Member of board of directors, Tooth of Time Books, 1985-88. Artist-in-residence at Naropa Institute, 1989 and 1995, Brown University, 1991, and Bard College, 1991. Poetry coordinator, Tone Roads West: Poetry and New Music Festival, 1983; participant in public readings, workshops, and writers' conferences; visiting poet at schools in Alaska and New Mexico; judge in writing contests.
- The Willow Wind, Rainbow Zenith Press (Berkeley, CA), 1972, revised edition published as The Willow Wind: Poems and Translations from the Chinese, Tooth of Time Books (Santa Fe, NM), 1981.
- Two Ravens, Tooth of Time Books (Guadalupita, NM), 1976, revised edition published as Two Ravens: Poems and Translations from the Chinese, 1984.
- Dazzled, Floating Island Publications (Point Reyes, CA), 1982.
- River River, Lost Roads Publishers (Providence, RI), 1987.
- Archipelago, Copper Canyon Press (Port Townsend, WA), 1995.
- The Redshifting Web: Poems 1970-1998,Copper Canyon Press, 1998.
- Quipu, Copper Canyon Press (Port Townsend, WA), 2005.
- The Gingko Light, Copper Canyon Press (Port Townsend, WA), 2009.
- Compass Rose, Copper Canyon Press (Port Townsend, WA), 2014.
- The Silk Dragon: Translations of Chinese Poetry, Copper Canyon Press, 2001.
Work represented in anthologies, including Articulations: The Body and Illness in Poetry,
edited by Jon Mukand, University of Iowa Press (Iowa City, IA), 1994; Premonitions: The Kaya Anthology of New Asian North American Poetry,
edited by Walter Lew, Kaya Production (New York City), 1995; I Feel a Little Jumpy around You,
edited by Naomi Shihab Nye and Paul Janeczko, Simon & Schuster (New York City), 1996; and What Book!?: Buddhist Poems from Beats to Hiphop,
edited by Gary Gach, Parallax Press (Berkeley, CA), 1998.
- Editor of collections I Am Waiting to Be Free, 1981, and Cuentos III, 1984. Contributor to periodicals, including Conjunctions, River Styx, Asian Pacific American Journal, American Poetry Review, Hanging Loose, and Manoa. Contributing editor, Buttons, 1971-73, and Tyuonyi, 1985-94. Corresponding editor, Manoa, 1998—.
- Albuquerque Journal, January 5, 1997, John Tritica, review of Archipelago.
- Bloomsbury Review, July/August, 1996, C. L. Rawlins, review of Archipelago.
- Manoa, November, 1996, Gene Frumkin, review of Archipelago,pp. 218-220.
- New Mexican, June 21, 1998, William MacNeil, review of The Redshifting Web: Poems 1970-1998.
- Washington Post Book World, August 2, 1998, Robert Hass, "Poet's Choice."
Discover this poet’s context and related poetry, articles, and media.
Articles By ARTHUR SZE
- On Poetry and Water
In the first of our essays inspired by the Pulitzer Foundation's Water Exhibition, the poet finds inspiration in Roni Horn's art and the I Ching.
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