Anne Stevenson 1933-2020
We are deeply saddened by the news that the poet Anne Stevenson died on 14 September at her home in Durham, following a short illness. She was 87.
Anne Stevenson was recognised as a major poet in both the UK and the US. Born in Cambridge, England of American parents, she grew up in the States in New England and Michigan but lived in Britain for most of her adult life.
With expectations of becoming a professional musician, she studied music, European literature and history at the University of Michigan, returning later to read English and publishing the first critical study of Elizabeth Bishop. After several transatlantic switches, she settled in Britain in 1964, living in Cambridge, Scotland, Oxford, the Welsh Borders before settling in North Wales and Durham.
From the 1990s Anne Stevenson suffered from acute, progressive hearing loss. Her stoical response to this loss can be seen in her poems ‘On Going Deaf’, 'Arioso Dolente' and ‘Hearing with My Fingers’ (all from Poems 1955-2005). A cochlear implant operation in the mid-2000s restored some of her hearing.
Earlier this year she published what she herself called her ‘swansong collection’, Completing the Circle with Bloodaxe Books. This was her sixteenth collection, following two other late collections, Stone Milk (2007) and Astonishment (2012). Her work was first published in the UK by Oxford University Press. She moved her publishing to Bloodaxe following the closure of the OUP poetry list in 1999. In 2000 Bloodaxe reissued her OUP Collected Poems 1955-1995 at the same time as a new collection, Granny Scarecrow. These were followed by A Report from the Border (2003) and a new expanded retrospective, Poems 1955-2005 (2005).
Rooted in close observation of the world and acute psychological insight, her poems continually question how we see and think about the world. They are incisive as well as entertaining, marrying critical rigour with personal feeling, and a sharp wit with an original brand of serious humour.
She held many literary fellowships, and was the inaugural winner of Britain’s biggest literary prize, the Northern Rock Foundation Writer’s Award, in 2002. In 2007 she was awarded three major prizes in the USA: the $200,000 Lannan Lifetime Achievement Award for Poetry by the Lannan Foundation of Santa Fe, a Neglected Masters Award from the Poetry Foundation of Chicago and The Aiken Taylor Award in Modern American Poetry from The Sewanee Review in Tennessee. In 2008, The Library of America published Anne Stevenson: Selected Poems, edited by Andrew Motion, in conjunction with the Neglected Masters Award. This series is exclusively devoted to the greatest figures in American literature.
As well as her numerous collections of poetry, Anne Stevenson published a biography of Sylvia Plath, Bitter Fame: A Life of Sylvia Plath (Penguin, 1989), a book of essays, Between the Iceberg and the Ship (1998), and two critical studies of Elizabeth Bishop’s work, most recently Five Looks at Elizabeth Bishop (Bloodaxe Books, 2006).
In 2016 she gave the Newcastle/Bloodaxe Poetry Lectures, published by Bloodaxe in 2017 as About Poems and how poems are not about, drawing on lectures given at both Newcastle and Durham universities.
She leaves her husband, Peter Lucas, three children, Caroline, John and Charles, and six grandchildren.
Anne Stevenson: born Cambridge, England, 3 January 1933, died Durham, 14 September 2020.
By a poignant coincidence, Anne Stevenson's poems 'How Poems Arrive' from Completing the Circle was Carol Rumens' Poem of the Week in The Guardian of 7 September 2020 here.
Jay Parini pays tribute to Anne Stevenson in The Guardian here. This appeared in the print edition on 24 September 2020.
'Stevenson’s accomplishments as a poet are nothing short of vast. Her work is by turns tender-hearted, funny, argumentative and lyrical. Her sense of place is exquisitely refined, and place in her poems becomes a moral stance, a place to stand and regard the world.' - Jay Parini
Anne was remembered in The Guardian's letters section here.
The Times pays tribute to Anne Stevenson here. This appeared in the print edition on 24 November 2020, and is available online in full by subscription.
‘Stevenson did not think only about music, she also thought through music, saying that the germ of a poem would usually appear in her mind not as a sentence but as a rhythm. That germ would then grow into lines of exquisite metrical poise.’ - The Times
Ian McMillan paid tribute to Anne Stevenson on Radio 3's The Verb on 18 September. He quoted from fellow Bloodaxe poet George Szirtes, and went on to discuss her work with Poet Laureate Simon Armitage.
‘She’ll rightly be regarded as one of the major poets of our period. Her poems, written over decades, were rich in philosophy and humanity.’ – George Szirtes on Anne Stevenson
An archive recording of Anne Stevenson reading a poem ‘which burns with her talent’ (Ian McMillan) was played. ‘Between’ is from the sequence ‘Sonnets for Five Seasons’ from her Bloodaxe retrospective Poems 1955-2005.
Listen here. Tribute to Anne Stevenson from 42:28.
Alan Taylor pays tribute in The Herald Scotland here.
An obituary in The Telegraph can be read here.
The Poetry Society pay tribute here. Includes a piece by Neil Astley, who writes of his friendship with Anne - dating back to two years before he founded Bloodaxe.
A notice is on the Poetry Book Society's website here.
Tributes in the USA
Cynthia Haven pays tribute on The Book Haven here. This links to an interview with Anne Stevenson on Cortland Review.
The Library of America remembers Anne Stevenson here.
A profile of Anne Stevenson ran in The Guardian of 2 October 2004 here.
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).
[14 September 2020]