Wednesday, February 08, 2006

February 8: Lisel Mueller (b. 1924)

Today is the 82nd birthday of American poet Lisel Mueller, born this date in 1924, in Hamburg, Germany. She came to the US with her parents in 1939, and has lived most of her life since then in the Midwest. Her 1996 collection, Alive Together: New and Selected Poems, won the Pulitzer Prize. An earlier volume, The Need to Hold Still (1980), won a National Book Award. At times, Mueller wrote about disability; Alive Together features a long poem addressed to Helen Keller, for example. In 1998, her volume Dependencies focused on the experiences of aging, including disability. Mueller herself has been blind in recent years. Here is a poem by Mueller:

Losing My Sight

I never knew that by August
the birds are practically silent,
only a twitter here and there.
Now I notice. Last spring
their noisiness taught me the difference
between screamers and whistlers and cooers
and O, the coloraturas.
I have already mastered
the subtlest pitches in our cat's
elegant Chinese. As the river
turns muddier before my eyes,
its sighs and little smacks
grow louder. Like a spy,
I pick up things indiscriminately:
the long approach of a truck,
car doors slammed in the dark,
the night life of animals--shrieks and hisses,
sex and plunder in the garage.
Tonight the crickets spread static
across the air, a continuous rope
of sound extended to me,
the perfect listener.

4 comments:

Blue / Kay Olson said...

Oh, I'm so glad you linked this to my post on Mueller or I'd never had seen it! I really need to remember to rummage the archives here more, especially for what I missed when sick a year ago.

Do you know, did Mueller know her eyesight was fading when she wrote about Monet in the '90s? It sounds as if she has cataracts too? That makes her poetry about sight and sound even more interesting.

Penny L. Richards said...

Yes, she must have known at the time; she was diagnosed with glaucoma in 1985, according to this article:
http://archive.southcoasttoday.com/daily/05-97/05-04-97/e06ae235.htm

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