NEW YORK (AP) — Gerald Stern, one of the country’s most beloved and respected poets, who wrote with vivid melancholy and earthy humor about his childhood, Judaism, mortality and the wonders of the contemplative life, has died. He was 97.

Stern, New Jersey’s first poet laureate, died Thursday at Calvary Hospice in New York, according to his longtime partner Ann Marie Macari. Makara’s statement released Saturday by publisher WW Norton did not give a cause of death.

Winner of the 1998 National Book Award for the anthology This Time, the bald and round-eyed Stern has sometimes been mistaken for Allen Ginsberg and often compared to Walt Whitman for his lyrical and sensual style and his wedding gift of the physical world to the great cosmos.

Stern was shaped by the rough, urban environment of his native Pittsburgh, but he also identified strongly with nature and animals, marveling at the “power” of a maple tree, comparing himself to a hummingbird or a squirrel, or finding the “secret of life” in a dead animal on the road.

A lifelong agnostic who also passionately believed in “the idea of ​​the Jew,” the poet wrote more than a dozen books and described himself as “partly comedic, partly idealistic, tinged with irony, smeared with mockery and sarcasm.” In poems and essays, he wrote with particular intensity about the past—his immigrant parents, long-lost friends and lovers, and the staggering divisions between rich and poor, Jew and non-Jew, in Pittsburgh. He considered the poem “The One Thing in Life” from the 1977 collection Lucky Life to be the poem that best defined him.


There is sweetness in my mind

there is water with a small cave behind

there are lips that speak Greek

This is something I keep to myself; to which I return;

one thing no one wanted


He was in his 50s before he won any major honors, but he was often quoted in the latter half of his life. In addition to the National Book Award, his honors include being a finalist for the 1991 Pulitzer Prize for Leaving Another Kingdom and receiving lifetime achievement awards such as the Ruth Lilly Award and the Wallace Stevens Award. In 2013, the Library of Congress awarded him the National Rebecca Johnson Bobbitt Award for “Early Collected Poems” and called him “one of America’s greatest evangelist poets in the Whitmanian tradition: with moments of humor and whimsy, as well as enduring generosity, his work extols the mythologizing power art”.

Meanwhile, in 2000, he was named New Jersey’s first Poet Laureate, and inadvertently contributed to the post’s quick demise. After serving his two-year term, he recommended Amiri Barak as his successor. Barack sparked fierce protest with his 2002 poem “Somebody Blowed Up America,” which claimed that Israel had advance knowledge of the 9/11 attacks a year earlier. Baraka refused to resign, so the state decided not to have a laureate anymore.

Born in 1925, Sterne did not recall any significant literary influences as a child, but spoke of the lasting trauma of the death of his older sister, Sylvia, when he was 8 years old. halls and got into fights.” But as he told The New York Times in 1999, he was a well-read thug who made it through college. Stern studied political science at the University of Pittsburgh and received an M.A. in comparative literature from Columbia University. Ezra Pound and WB Yeats were among the first poets he read closely.

Stern lived in Europe and New York in the 1950s and eventually settled in a 19th-century house near the Delaware River in Lambertville. His creative development was slow. Only in his spare moments in the army, in which he served for a short time after the Second World War, did he come up with the “sweet idea” of making a living by writing.

He spent much of his 30s working on “The Pineys,” a poem about the American presidency, but despaired that it was “indulgent” and “boring.” Approaching his 40s, he worried that he had become an “eternal old student” and an “eternal young teacher.” Through a mid-life crisis, he finally found his voice as a poet, discovering that he had been taking the “easy way out” than he should have.

“It also had to do with the realization that my long youth was over, that I would not live forever, that death was not just a literary event, but very real and very personal,” he wrote in the essay “Some Secrets.” published in 1983 “I was able to let go and finally be myself and lose my shame and pride.”

His marriage to Patricia Miller ended in divorce. They had two children, Rachel Stern Martin and David Stern.

Stern largely avoided topical poetry, but he was a longtime political activist whose causes included desegregating a swimming pool in Indiana, Pennsylvania, and organizing an anti-apartheid reading at the University of Iowa. He taught at several schools, but was very skeptical about writing programs and academic life.

At Temple University, he was so enraged by the school’s decision in the 1950s to build a 6-foot brick wall separating the campus from neighboring black neighborhoods in Philadelphia that he decided to scale the wall on his way to class.

“The Institute subtly and insidiously works on you in such a way that even though you appear to have freedom, you become a servant,” he told the online publication The Rumpus in 2010. – Your main task is to get promoted to the next one. get an invitation to a picnic. Or get a position. Or need it.”

In addition to Macara and his children, Stern is survived by grandchildren Dylan and Alan Stern and Rebecca and Julia Martin.