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Jane Cooper

JANE COOPER

State Poet 1995 - 1995

Poetry is a way of giving people more life, a more vivid awareness of the exact moment they are living through — first a sensuous awareness, then a historical one. What else can so clearly tell us who we are, while telling us more than we knew? The true poem is almost without signature. It is a living experience in which we, poet and reader, participate together. A partnership. A means of practicing freedom.”
— Jane Cooper

Jane Cooper, poet, essayist and teacher, was born on October 9, 1924 in Atlantic City, New Jersey, and was raised in Jacksonville, Florida. A New York City resident since 1951, Cooper attended first Vassar College and, after a hiatus created by the appearance of a lifelong disability, primary immune deficiency, received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Wisconsin in 1946.

In the summer of 1947 she traveled through postwar Europe, visiting the war-ravaged ruins of St. Malo, and eventually studying at Oxford. All the while she developed poems and kept meticulous journals which would become the foundation of her later work, including the 1974 autobiographical study titled ironically (echoing a postwar Parisian sign): “Nothing Has Been Used in the Manufacture of This Poetry That Could Have Been Used in the Manufacture of Bread.” There, reflecting on what might have been her first book of poetry, Cooper acknowledged the gaps between her father’s world of safely projected maps and the world she had witnessed: “the first silk I saw after five years of wartime was a parachutist’s landing chart made into a woman’s headscarf. . . .”

It would be more than twenty years before she published her first book of poetry, The Weather of Six Mornings, which appeared in 1969 and received the Lamont Award of the Academy of American Poets. During that time, beginning in 1950, Cooper joined the faculty of Sarah Lawrence College where, with author and poet Grace Paley, and later with poet Muriel Rukeyser she developed and enhanced its writing program so that it became one of the signal programs in the nation. While maintaining her service to Sarah Lawrence, Cooper received an M. A. from the University of Iowa in 1954. There she studied with Robert Lowell and John Berryman, and worked with her classmate, the 1995 Pulitzer prize-winning poet, Philip Levine.

Cooper received a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1960, the first of many awards she has garnered. They include the Ingram-Merrill Foundation Fellowship, the Shelley Award of the Poetry Society of America, a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Maurice English Poetry Award, and the Literature Award of the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Cooper, who retired from teaching in 1987, retains the title of Professor and Poet-in-Residence Emerita at Sarah Lawrence.

Cooper’s second collection, Maps & Windows appeared in 1974, and her third collection, a decade later, Scaffolding: New and Selected Poems, was published in England in 1984. It was recently issued in America by Tilbury House (Gardiner, Maine), as was her most recent collection, Green Notebook, Winter Road. Scaffolding, as its title implies, draws its readers into the very structure of poetry and its vital presence in a lived world. There, she says, “the poem’s cleared spaces/barely hold out against/marching trees. . .”

Green Notebook, Winter Road marks a coming together of Cooper’s themes: the integral strength of language well-used, the powers of friendship and community, and the courage and patience required to get at the truth of things. Her reflections upon her lifelong disability blend powerfully with estimations of her Florida youth and poetic reflections upon two of the great artists of this century: the painter Georgia O’Keefe, and the novelist Willa Cather.

Diligent, unstinting, rigorous, a lover of both people and language, qualities which, along with strength of insight, she has enhanced in both the world of poetry and of education, Cooper has nonetheless produced a relatively small body of work. “There are maybe a hundred good poems,” Cooper has said of her life’s work, which has continued through both devoted teaching and frequent illness. With patience and clarity of style, she has read deep in the book of life. The poet Galway Kinnell has noted in her poems “a pure formal grace. . . as though [reflecting hard work honed to simplicity] they are products not of labor but of inspiration.” Of Cooper’s work Adrienne Rich has said: “[Cooper has] a passionate commitment to the imagination, a craft which is both subtle and honorable, a continuing inner growth.” Recently, Philip Levine has said: “Over her lifetime the totality of Jane Cooper’s commitment to poetry has given us work of extraordinary power and beauty, as well as literally dozens of students who have gone on to find within themselves their own poetic genius.”

Throughout her life Cooper has played the roles of writer and teacher with equal ease. She has proven herself a genuine and loving friend to both the art of poetry and to countless colleagues, young and old. Her voice is an exultation of community, a brilliance, which, as outgoing State Poet Richard Howard has remarked, makes her “among the most responsible and inveterately rewarding poets of our moment.”

". . .poetry--like any art--exists to give everyone more life, and a people deprived of the arts will not know its own worth. This is the best and simplest reason I know to speak up for continued public arts funding, and it's what makes an organization like the New York State Writers Institute so valuable both practically and as a symbol."
Jane Cooper, from State Poet acceptance speech (December 19, 1995)


JANE COOPER – Selected Bibliography

POETRY

THE WEATHER OF SIX MORNINGS: POEMS. New York: Macmillan, 1969.
CALLING ME FROM SLEEP: NEW & SELECTED POEMS, 1961-1973. Chapbook. Bronxville, New York: Sarah Lawrence College. 1974.
MAPS & WINDOWS: POEMS. New York: Macmillan, 1974.
THREADS: ROSA LUXEMBURG FROM PRISON. Chapbook. New York: Flamingo Press, 1978.
SCAFFOLDING: NEW AND SELECTED POEMS. London: Anvil Press Poetry Ltd., 1984.
SCAFFOLDING: SELECTED POEMS. Gardiner, Maine: Tilbury House, Publishers, 1993.
GREEN NOTEBOOK, WINTER ROAD. Gardiner, Maine: Tilbury House, Publishers, 1994.

EDITING

Co-Editor. EXTENDED OUTLOOKS: THE IOWA REVIEW COLLECTION OF CONTEMPORARY WOMEN WRITERS. New York: Macmillan, 1982.

Co-Editor. THE SANITY OF EARTH AND GRASS: COMPLETE POEMS OF ROBERT WINNER. Maine: Tilbury House, Publishers, 1994.

ANTHOLOGIES

Adcock, Fleur, editor. THE FABER BOOK OF 20TH CENTURY WOMEN’S POETRY. London & Boston: Faber & Faber, 1987.
Howard, Richard, editor. BEST AMERICAN POETRY 1995. New York. Simon & Schuster, 1995.
Howe, Florence and Bass, Ellen , editors. NO MORE MASKS! AN ANTHOLOGY OF POEMS BY WOMEN. Garden City, NY: Anchor Press, 1973.
Piercy, Marge, editor. EARLY RIPENING: AMERICAN WOMEN’S POETRY NOW. New York: Pandora, 1987.

SELECTED RESOURCES

Criticism

Clausen, Jan. “The Practiced Hand.” Women’s Review of Books, vol. XII, no. 7, April 1995, p. 19.
Goldensohn, Lorrie. Contemporary Poets, 1991.
Hadas, Rachel. “An Ecstasy of Space.” Parnassus: Poetry in Review, vol. 15, no. 1, 1989, p. 217.
Sack, Lisa. “Angle of Repose: Jane Cooper’s Long View.” Voice Literary Supplement, vol. 132, February 1995, p. 27.

Profiles/Interviews

Boethel, Martha. “New Horizons.” New Directions for Women. Vol. 16 no. 5, September/October 1987.
Guidas, Eric. “An Interview with Jane Cooper.” Iowa Review, vol. 25 no. 1, Winter 1995, p. 90.
Hale, Dori. “Threads Not Bread: Manufacture of Poetry.” Sojourner, vol. 5 no. 5, January 1980.
Smith, Jordan. “Jane Cooper Talks with Jordan Smith.” Poetry Society of America Newsletter, Spring 1986.

Recordings

“Jane Cooper Reading her Poems with Comment.” Recording Laboratory. Recorded for the Archive of Recorded Poetry and Literature, Library of Congress. May 26, 1970. Audiocassette.
“Jane Cooper.” Kansas City, MO. New Letters. Interview and poetry reading broadcast November 1986 on the radio program New Letters on the Air. Audiocassette.
“The Poetry of Jane Cooper, Sherley Anne Williams and Judith Johnson Sherwin.” Stony Brook: Poetry Center Productions, SUNY at Stony Brook, 1978. Videocassette.
“Green Notebook, Winter Road: A Tribute to Jane Cooper.” Poets House, The Donnell Library, New York City. October 1994. Audiocassette.


PREVIOUS ARTICLES:
Acceptance Speech
Writers Online Magazine Article

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