Ellen Doré Watson’s fifth book of poems, pray me stay eager, just released from Alice James, was cited in The New York Times Book Review’s “New & Noteworthy column. Commending her “drumming heart and hard-driving mind,” Alicia Ostriker declared that the language in this new collection “leaps, dives, soars, ricochets, lurches and reels, fusing the stubbornly instantaneous and the transcendent eternal.” Publishers Weekly notes: “Towards the end of her poem ‘Hermitage’ Watson writes, ‘This is not strictly a story’—and she’s right, it isn’t. These poems are musical mediations on what cannot be narrated, but must be prayed or sung.” She has said that “at some point, serious play with words became for me not just sustenance, but joy.”
Gerald Stern pronounced the poems in Dogged Hearts (Tupelo 2010) “wild, delirious—they go every which way,” and Tony Hoagland praised the how they “batter their way forward, embodiments of the struggle to keep emotionally alive.” In an interview, speaking of the experience of giving voice to the multiplicity of characters in the book, Watson has said “Metaphor is not only were we live and how we feel, but also how we enter the experience of the other—which might be the most crucial part of being human.” Her earlier books include Broken Railings (winner of the Green Lake Chapbook Prize from Owl Creek Press), We Live in Bodies and, winner of the New York/New England Award, Ladder Music (from Alice James Books, 1997 and 2001, respectively), and This Sharpening (Tupelo Press, 2006). Her many journal appearances include American Poetry Review, Tin House, Orion, Field, Ploughshares, Gulf Coast, and The New Yorker.
Hailed by Library Journal as one of “24 Poets for the 21st Century,” Watson’s honors include a Massachusetts Cultural Council Artists Grant, a Rona Jaffe Writers Award, a MacDowell Colony Fellowship, Zoland Poetry Fellowship to Vermont Studio Center, and National Endowment Translation Fellowship. Watson is also a noted translator, with over a dozen books from Brazilian Portuguese, including the poems of Brazilian Adélia Prado (The Alphabet in the Park, Wesleyan University Press, and Ex-Voto, Tupelo Press), and also co-translated contemporary Palestinian poetry from the Arabic with Saadi Simawe, most notably in the volume Iraqi Poetry Today (Zephyr Press).
Watson has lived in the Pioneer Valley for more years than she has lived anywhere else. In addition to poetry writing at Smith, she is a core faculty member at the Colrain Manuscript Conference and the Drew University Low-Residency MFA program in Poetry and Translation, and offers a generative writing workshop in Northampton. She also serves as Poetry and Translation editor of The Massachusetts Review. While this marks her 19th and final year as director of the Poetry Center, she will stay on at Smith for several years as the Conkling Visiting Poet.
Poetry Center Readings:
Fall 2001 – Celebrating the Poetry Center’s 10th Year (with Elizabeth Alexander)