Anne Stevenson's Completing the Circle is a swansong collection of moving elegies and celebrations written in her 80s during the early decades of what she calls in her preface, 'a newly transformed, already terrifying century'. Most of these poems look back on her past from 'the viewpoint of a bewildered survivor facing up to the realities of time passing and beloved contemporaries dying'. In common with much of her work – and fittingly for this wide-ranging book of remembrance – she manages to maintain a tone that is serious without being funereal, acquiescent without indulging in confessional despair, keeping personal self-pity at bay with a characteristic detachment that can quietly slip into wit. The title-poem, while it owes a debt to Rilke, essentially expresses the poet's own long-considered belief that 'death naturally and rightly completes the cycle we recognise and accept as life'.
Completing the Circle is Anne Stevenson's 16th collection, her third since her much praised Bloodaxe retrospective Poems 1955-2005. It follows two other late collections, Stone Milk (2007) and Astonishment (2012).
‘Just turned 87, Anne Stevenson is a leading British-American poet. Born in Cambridge to US parents she grew up in New England and Michigan, but has long lived in Durham City. The title of her latest collection, Completing the Circle, suggests the swansong she admits – or rather proclaims – it is. The ‘it’s sunset touch’ could hardly be more beautiful…there’s a balm and peacefulness in this signing-off collection, the tone of which is set early on: “They slip away who never said goodbye,/ My vintage friends so long depended on...”… Magnificent. To conclude – a tour-de-force.’ – Harry Mead, The Northern Echo
‘Anaesthesia’ and ‘At 85’ [are] the two poems that frame the collection. Both are sonnets - 'I've always found it satisfactory to play the game of the sonnet' - and ruminations on age and loss, very spare and beautiful’ – Woodstock Bookshop, on Anne Stevenson's launch reading for Completing the Circle
‘While Anne Stevenson is most certainly, and rightly, regarded as one of the major poets of our period, it has never been by virtue of this or that much anthologised poem, but by the work or mind as a whole. It is not so much a matter of the odd lightning-struck tree as of an entire landscape, and that landscape is always humane, intelligent and sane, composed of both natural and rational elements, and amply furnished with patches of wit and fury, which only serve to bring out the humanity.’ – George Szirtes, London Magazine
‘One of the most important poets active in England today… she presents us with a complex reality where an intently sensory world inhabited by wilful resistant people is overlaid by ghosts, ideas, and spectral emissions: the historical, philosophical, and scientific – all dimensions of what obviously isn’t there and yet can’t be denied.’ – Emily Grosholz, Michigan Quarterly
Anne Stevenson: ‘In Passing’ (now ‘As the Past Passes’)
Anne Stevenson reads and discusses a poem then called ‘In Passing’ which she has since re-titled ‘As the Past Passes’ and included in her new collection, Completing the Circle. Pamela Robertson-Pearce filmed Anne at her home in Durham on 8 March 2015 for the Transatlantic issue of the US journal Ploughshares edited by Neil Astley (issue 126, Spring 2015) in which this poem was first published.
Anne Stevenson reads seven poems
Anne Stevenson reads seven poems, six from Poems 1955-2005 (Bloodaxe Books, 2005), and one (‘Beach Kites’) from Stone Milk (Bloodaxe Books, 2007): ‘Making Poetry’, ‘Poem for a Daughter’, ‘A Marriage’, ‘Arioso Dolente’, ‘The Minister’, ‘Beach Kites’ and ‘Small Philosophical Poem’. Pamela Robertson-Pearce filmed Anne Stevenson at Highgreen Manor, Tarset, Northumberland (next-door to Bloodaxe’s former Tarset office) on 23 February 2008. This film is from the DVD-anthology In Person: 30 Poets, filmed by Pamela Robertson-Pearce & edited by Neil Astley (Bloodaxe Books, 2008).