Between Silence & Sound

Marie Ponsot
Alfred A. Knopf, $26, 82 pp.

The poet Marie Ponsot has always written at the top of her talent, which is at the top of the art. From the outset, she has imagined the making of a poem in its fullest sense. A poem for Ponsot is an object of sight and of sound, of thoughts and of feelings, a created field of interacting language and themes, composed of various voices and tones of voice. Ponsot requires that we pay the closest attention to every level of language in a poem: syllables, words, lines, sentences, spacing on the page, punctuation, meter, rhyme, syntax. The payoffs—depths of meaning that endlessly surprise, instruct, and delight—are stunning.

Born in New York City in 1921, the poet graduated from St. Joseph’s College for Women in Brooklyn and Columbia University, where she received a master’s degree in seventeenth-century English literature. After World War II, she lived for three years in Paris, where she married the French painter Claude Ponsot. Returning to New York, she worked as a translator and freelance writer of radio and television scripts, while raising seven children on her own. She taught until she was seventy-two at Queens College, where she is now professor emerita of English.

is Ponsot’s sixth book of poems (several of its poems originally appeared in these pages). Ponsot’s first book, True Minds, was published in 1957 by Lawrence Ferlinghetti in the City Lights Pocket Poets Series, which, a year earlier, had published Allen Ginsberg’s...

To read the rest of this article please login or become a subscriber.

About the Author

Lawrence Joseph is Tinnelly Professor of Law at St. John’s University School of Law. His most recent books of poems are Into It and Codes, Precepts, Biases, and Taboos: Poems 1973–1993 (Farrar, Straus and Giroux). His The Game Changed: Essays and Other Prose will be published by the University of Michigan Press in 2011.