"When I write the poem, I’m first talking to myself. That’s maybe where the real genesis of the directness comes—I’m trying to make this discovery of what I need to say, what I want to say, what is the accurate thing to say. And the more direct I can make that, the more I’m going to understand it for myself."—Ellen Bass
"Bass’s work reminds us of the hard jobs, the frigid waiting to catch sight of something magnificent, but Like a Beggar suggests that sometimes we catch what we already had in our hands. We feast there, on her ending images that resonate outward with the wisdom of gratitude."—Laura Madeline Wiseman, Ploughshares
"Bass shows us that we are as radiant as we are ephemeral, that in transience glistens resilient history and the remarkable fluidity of connection."—Briana Shemroske, Booklist
Ellen Bass’s most recent book of poetry, Like a Beggar, was published in April 2014 by Copper Canyon Press. Her previous poetry books include The Human Line (2007), named a Notable Book by the San Francisco Chronicle, and Mules of Love (2002), which won the Lambda Literary Award. In 1973, she co-edited (with Florence Howe) the groundbreaking No More Masks! An Anthology of Poems by Women, which was quickly established as one of the most significant feminist poetry anthologies in America.
Her poems have appeared in hundreds of journals and anthologies, including The New Yorker, The New York Times Magazine, The Atlantic, The American Poetry Review, The New Republic, The Kenyon Review, Ploughshares, and The Sun. She was awarded a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Elliston Book Award for Poetry from the University of Cincinnati, Nimrod/Hardman’s Pablo Neruda Prize, The Missouri Review’s Larry Levis Award, the Greensboro Poetry Prize, the New Letters Poetry Prize, the Chautauqua Poetry Prize, a Fellowship from the California Arts Council, and two Pushcart Prizes.
She currently is teaching in the low residency MFA program at Pacific University and has taught poetry and creative writing in Santa Cruz, CA and at other locations nationally and internationally.
Ode to Repetition
I like to take the same walk
down the wide expanse of Woodrow to the ocean,
and most days I turn left toward the lighthouse.
The sea is always different. Some days dreamy,
waves hardly waves, just a broad undulation
in no hurry to arrive. Other days the surf’s drunk,
crashing into the cliffs like a car wreck.
And when I get home I like
the same dishes stacked in the same cupboards
and then unstacked and then stacked again.
And the rhododendron, spring after spring,
blossoming its pink ceremony.
I could dwell in the kingdom of Coltrane,
the friction of air through his horn,
as he forms each syllable of “Lush Life”
over and over until I die. Once I was afraid
of this, opening the curtains every morning,
only to close them again each night.
You could despair in the fixed town of your own life.
But when I wake up to pee, I’m grateful
the toilet’s in its usual place, the sink with its gift of water.
I look out at the street, the halos of lampposts
in the fog or the moon rinsing the parked cars.
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. One morning
one of us will rise bewildered
without the other and open the curtains.
There will be the same shaggy redwood
in the neighbor’s yard and the faultless stars
going out one by one into the day.
Like A Beggar (2014)
The Human Line (2007)
Mules of Love (2002)
No More Masks! An Anthology of Poems by Women (1973)
Ellen Bass's Website
Poetry Foundation: Ellen Bass
The New Yorker: Ellen Bass
Poets & Writers: Interview with Poet Ellen Bass
PBS Weekly Poem: Ellen Bass Reads "Relax"
Rattle: A Conversation with Ellen Bass