Featured on NPR's The Writer's Almanac
“Ellen Bass’s new poetry collection, Like a Beggar, pulses with sex, humor and compassion.”—The New York Times
“Bass tries to convey everyday wonder on contemporary experiences of sex, work, aging, and war. Those who turn to poetry to become confidants for another's stories and secrets will not be disappointed.”—Publishers Weekly
“In her fifth book of poetry, Bass addresses everything from Saturn’s rings and Newton’s law of gravitation to wasps and Pablo Neruda. Her words are nostalgic, vivid, and visceral. Bass arrives at the truth of human carnality rooted in the extraordinary need and promise of the individual. Bass shows us that we are as radiant as we are ephemeral, that in transience glistens resilient history and the remarkable fluidity of connection. By the collection’s end—following her musings on suicide and generosity, desire and repetition—it becomes lucidly clear that Bass is not only a poet but also a philosopher and a storyteller.”—Booklist
Ellen Bass brings a deft touch as she continues her ongoing interrogations of crucial moral issues of our times, while simultaneously delighting in endearing human absurdities. From the start of Like a Beggar, Bass asks her readers to relax, even though "bad things are going to happen," because the "bad" gets mined for all manner of goodness.
From "Another Story":
After dinner, we're drinking scotch at the kitchen table.
Janet and I just watched a NOVA special
and we're explaining to her mother
the age and size of the universe—
the hundred billion stars in the hundred billion galaxies.
Dotty lives at Dominican Oaks, making her way down the long hall.
How about the sun? she asks, a little farmshit in the endlessness.
I gather up a cantaloupe, a lime, a cherry,
and start revolving this salad around the chicken carcass.
This is the best scotch I ever tasted, Dotty says,
even though we gave her the Maker's Mark
while we're drinking Glendronach...
Ellen Bass's poetry includes Like A Beggar (Copper Canyon Press, 2014), The Human Line (Copper Canyon Press, 2007), which was named a Notable Book by the San Francisco Chronicle, and Mules of Love (BOA, 2002), which won the Lambda Literary Award. She co-edited (with Florence Howe) the groundbreaking No More Masks! An Anthology of Poems by Women (Doubleday, 1973). Her work has frequently been published in The New Yorker, American Poetry Review, The New Republic, The Sun and many other journals. She is co-author of several non-fiction books, including The Courage to Heal: A Guide for Women Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse (HarperCollins, 1988, 2008) which has sold over a million copies and been translated into twelve languages. She is part of the core faculty of the MFA writing program at Pacific University.
"Bad things are going to happen," begins Bass (The Human Line), though she insists on giving praise despite that. In the post-Confessional tradition of Sharon Olds with a backdrop of Rilke and Neruda and populated with images both traditional (flowers, insects, fruit) and novel (Barbies and TV), Bass tries hard to convey everyday wonder on contemporary experiences of sex, work, aging, and war: "What if you felt the invisible/ tug between you and everything?" These poems which contain statements as frankly narrative as "I'd just left my husband and come out as a lesbian" chiefly function as memoir, holding Bass's personal experience to such importance that it raises the question of where in poetry is the line between introspection and naval-gazing? While the attempts are honest, the results are mixed, as when the social experiences of the speaker are lauded, while others are employed merely as metaphor for her: "When I get back in bed I find/ the woman who's been sleeping there/ each night for thirty years. Only she's not/ the same, her body more naked/ in its aging, its disorder. Though I still/ come to her like a beggar." Still, those who turn to poetry to become confidants for another's stories and secrets will not be disappointed.