Paul Violi was born and raised on Long Island, in New York State. He earned a BA in English from Boston University and served in the Peace Corps in Nigeria from 1966 to 1967. An active editor and a teacher, Violi was associated with the second generation of New York School poets, collaborating with artists such as Dale Devereux Barker and cofounding Swollen Magpie Press. He also worked as managing editor of Architectural Forum, organized poetry readings at the Museum of Modern Art, and was at one time an assistant to Buckminster Fuller.
Violi wrote more than a dozen collections of poetry. His books include Waterworks (1972); In Baltic Circles (1973, 2011); Harmatan (1977), which was based on notes from time spent in Nigeria; The Curious Builder (1993); Breakers: Selected Poems (2000); and Overnight (2007). His inventive, playful, wry poems treat contemporary culture and frequently adapt nontraditional poetic forms (an index, a crossword puzzle). In Rain Taxi, Fred Muratori wrote this of Violi’s poems: “they begin as modest eddies, then spiral outward in ever widening circles to absorb and transform conventions of mass culture rarely incorporated into poetry.”
Before his death in 2011, Violi was honored with the John Ciardi Lifetime Achievement Award in Poetry, the Ingram Merrill Foundation Poetry Award, the American Academy of Arts and Letters Morton Dauwen Zabel Award, and fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts.
He taught at New York University, Columbia University, The New School, and Sing Sing prison, among other places.