W. S. Di Piero
W.S. Di Piero was born in 1945 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and earned degrees from St. Joseph’s College and San Francisco State College. A poet, essayist, art critic, and translator, Di Piero has taught at institutions such as Northwestern University, Louisiana State University, and Stanford, where he is professor emeritus of English and on faculty in the prestigious Stegner Poetry Workshop. Elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2001, Di Piero was awarded the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize in 2012.
Di Piero’s poetry is known for its gritty realism. Populated with characters and settings reminiscent of the South Philadelphia neighborhood of his boyhood and the Italian-American working-class families he grew up with, Di Piero’s poetry frequently makes use of colloquial language and diction—what poet Philip Levine described as “our American voices in all their glory and banality.” Using everyday objects as well as speech to create both rhythm and image, Di Piero’s style is “jittery,” according to Publisher’s Weekly, able to evoke “intensity and… atmosphere within the space of a single line.” Di Piero’s numerous collections of poetry include Country of Survivors (1974), The First Hour (1982), The Dog Star (1990), Skirts and Slacks (2001), Chinese Apples: New and Selected Poems (2007), and Nitro Nights (2011).
But Di Piero’s poetry doesn’t just treat urban landscapes; he also takes inspiration from works of art, including the art of Italian masters such as Caravaggio, Carpaccio, and Lippi. Di Piero’s interest in visual art has led him to art criticism, and he is a regular art reviewer for the San Diego Reader. Di Piero has published a number of volumes of essays on literary and visual art, including Memory and Enthusiasm (1989), Out of Eden: Essays on Modern Art (1991), Shooting the Works: On Poetry and Pictures (1996), a collection of memoirs, essays, notes, and art criticism, City Dog (2009), and When Can I See You Again: New Art Writings (2010).
An award-winning translator of Italian poetry, Di Piero’s first translation, Giacomo Leopardi's Pensieri (1981), was nominated for a National Book Award. Other translations include Sandro Penna's This Strange Joy (1982), which received the Academy of American Poets Raiziss/de Palchi Translation Award, Leonardo Sinisgalli's The Ellipse (1982) and Night of Shooting Stars (2011), and a translation of Euripides’s Ion (1996). Speaking to John Rodden about translation, Di Piero noted: “Translation assists you in arriving at recognitions. As a translator, you feel your way through to some of the same recognitions that the poet originally had and that shaped the poem. For me, this sense of pursuing recognitions—of waiting for recognitions to arrive—is what poetry and translation are about. So the process of translation has helped me immensely in that way: not as a question of language, but rather as a quest for recognitions.”
W.S. Di Piero has won numerous honors and awards for his work, including fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the Ingram Merrill Foundation, and the Lila Wallace-Reader’s Digest Fund. He lives in San Francisco.
Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, LA, instructor, 1976-79, assistant professor of English, 1979-80; Northwestern University, Evanston, IL, visiting lecturer in English, 1980-82; Stanford University, Stanford, CA, assistant professor, 1982-85, associate professor, 1985-90, professor of English, 1990—.
- Country of Survivors, E. B. Rasmussen (Berkeley, CA), 1974.
- Solstice, Porch Publications (Tempe, AZ), 1981.
- The First Hour, The Cummington Press/Abattoir Editions, University of Nebraska (Omaha, NE), 1982.
- The Only Dangerous Thing, Elpenor Books (Chicago, IL), 1984.
- Early Light, University of Utah Press (Salt Lake City, UT), 1985.
- The Dog Star, University of Massachusetts Press (Amherst, MA), 1990.
- The Restorers, University of Chicago Press (Chicago, IL), 1992.
- Shadows Burning, TriQuarterly Books/Northwestern University Press (Evanston, IL), 1995.
- Skirts and Slacks, Alfred A. Knopf (New York, NY), 2001.
- Brother Fire, Alfred A. Knopf, 2004.
- Chinese Apples: New and Selected Poems, Alfred A. Knopf, 2007.
- Nitro Nights, Copper Canyon Press (Port Townsend, WA), 2011.
- Memory and Enthusiasm: Essays, 1975-1985, Princeton University Press (Princeton, NJ), 1989.
- Out of Eden: Essays on Modern Art, University of California Press (Berkeley, CA), 1991.
- Shooting the Works: On Poetry and Pictures, TriQuarterly Books (Evanston, IL), 1996.
- City Dog, Northwestern University Press (Evanston, IL), 2009.
- When Can I See You Again: New Art Writings, Pressed Wafer (Boston, MA) 2010.
- Giacomo Leopardi, Pensieri, Louisiana State University Press (Baton Rouge, LA), 1981; Galaxy Book paperback, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 1984.
- Sandro Penna, This Strange Joy: The Collected Poems of Sandro Penna, Ohio State University Press (Columbus, OH), 1982.
- Leonardo Sinisgalli, The Ellipse: Selected Poems of Leonardo Sinisgalli, Princeton University Press (Princeton, NJ), 1982.
- Photography: A History, Aperture Publications, 1985.
- Euripides, Ion, introduction, notes, and commentary by Peter Burian, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 1996.
- Leonardo Sinisgalli, Night of Shooting Stars, Tavern Books (Portland, OR), 2011.
- Work represented in several anthologies, including The Morrow Book of Young American Poets, William Morrow (New York, NY), 1989; The Columbia History of American Poetry, Columbia University Press (New York, NY), 1993; The Age of Koestler (poetry), Practices of the Wind Press (Kalamazoo, MI), 1994; The Poetry of the American West, Columbia University Press (New York, NY), 1996; Italian Poetry Today (translations), New Rivers Press (Minneapolis, MN), 1979; New Directions 44 (translations), New Directions Press (San Francisco, CA), 1982; Hiding in Plain Sight (essay), Mercury House (San Francisco, CA), 1993; Best American Essays 1995 (essay), Houghton-Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1995; and Poets on Poetry (essay), Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 2001. Wrote introduction for The Art of Gregory Gillespie, edited by K. R. Eagles-Smith, Harcourt Contemporary (New York, NY), 1992. Contributor of poems to periodicals, including New Yorker, Yale Review, Ploughshares, Southern Review, Pequod, and New Criterion. Contributor of translations to periodicals, including American Poetry Review, International Poetry Review, Chelsea, Modern Poetry in Translation, and Agni Review. Contributor of essays and reviews to periodicals, including The New York Times Book Review, The New Republic, Civilization, The American Scholar, Commonweal, andThreepenny Review. Author of regular column on the visual arts for weekly newspaper, The San Diego Reader; author of catalog essays for various art galleries and museums.
- American Book Review, June, 1996, review of Shadows Burning, p. 21.
- Chelsea, 1997, reviews of Shooting the Works: On Poetry and Pictures and Shadows Burning, p. 197.
- Library Journal, May 15, 1996, David Kirby, review of Shooting the Works, p. 62; July, 1996, T. L. Cooksey, review of Ion, p. 115; March 15, 2001, Frank Allen, review of Skirts and Slacks, p. 88.
- New York Times Book Review, August 5, 2001, Albert Mobilio, "Poems around the House," review of Skirts and Slacks, p. 15.
- Partisan Review, spring, 1999, Eric Pankey, review of Shadows Burning, p. 344.
- Publishers Weekly, March 18, 1996, review of Ion, p. 65; April 1, 1996, review of Shooting the Works, p. 67; March 26, 2001, review of Skirts and Slacks, p. 85.
- Sewanee Review, winter, 2001, David C. Ward, review of Shooting the Works, p. 149.
- Academy of American Poets, http://www.poets.org/ (November 29, 2001), "W. S. Di Piero."
- Stanford University, English Department, W. S. Di Piero, http://www.stanford.edu/dept/english/ faculty/pages/ (May 2, 2002).
Poems By W. S. DI PIERO
- "I Can’t Tell You What the Pain Is Like"
- "Pacific Surfliner" Now Arriving San Diego
- A Lowrider Loudly Brings Us
- Big City Speech
More poems by W. S. Di Piero (42 poems)
- Brother Francis to Brother Leone
- Buddy Caesar and His Starlighters
- Chicago and December
- City Dog
- Girl with Pearl Earring by Johannes Vermeer
- Having My Cards Read
- Ice Plant in Bloom
- Injun Joe as an Avatar
- It’s That Time
- Johnny One Note
- More Dreams and So What?
- Moving Things
- New Endymion
- On a Picture by Cézanne
- Saint Francis of Assisi
- Saturday Afternoon
- Skirts and Slacks
- So It Goes
- Solo R&B Vocal Underground
- Solo R&B Vocal Underground
- Somehow They Got Three Stories Up
- The Ash Bringer
- The Green Man
- The Little Flowers
- The One-Year-Old Lemon Tree
- The Shoe Box
- To My Old City
- Two Girls
- Walt, the Wounded
- What To Do
- What’s Left
Articles By W. S. DI PIERO
- “Baby Sweetness Blew His Cool Again ... ”
James Schuyler's letters require patience, but there's soul under the gossip.
- Semba!: A Notebook
- Antagonism: Philip Larkin
- Cook the Hell Out of 'Em
- Hearing Voices at the Met
Fra Angelico and the dramatic monologues of Browning.
- Mickey Rourke and the Bluebird of Happiness: A Notebook
On music, myth, and shapely speech.
- Only Collect
A poet walks through the Metropolitan Museum's Vollard exhibit, and thinks of Rilke, dogs looking in mirrors, and his Vuillard neurosis.
- Robert Browning: “Fra Lippo Lippi”
In the realm of the world-class talkers.
- San Francisco
Grounded at last.
- What’s for Dinner?
Imagination, taste, and the makings of a man.
Audio & PodcastsChicago Poetry Tour Podcast
Art Institute of Chicago
The Art Institute was surrounded by railyards when it was first built, emblematic of Chicago’s roots in industry and the arts. Stuart Dybek, Lisel Mueller, W.S. Di Piero, and others read.
Feeling Like a Worm in Tequila?
Poets chasing poets, Dean Young vs. Tony Hoagland, a theory of hats, and more.
May We Blossom Every Fifty Years
Poems from Karen An-hwei Lee and Brooklyn Copeland, plus Giacomo Leopardi translated by W.S. Di Piero.
Something Has Come Between Us!
Is simile a species of metaphor? And other catchy concepts.
"That discrete first pock"
Poems by Kathleen Raine, Denise Levertov, W.S. Di Piero, Claudia Emerson, and Stuart Dybek; plus Mary Ruefle on fear and poetry.
We Live in a Time Full of Love
Poems from A.V. Christie, Kevin Young, W.S. di Piero, plus Richard Zenith on the notebooks of Fernando Pessoa.
W.S. Di Piero: 2012 Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize Winner
The poet reads his poems and discusses his work.