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James LONGENBACH
September 17, 1959 - July 29, 2022

James Longenbach, age 62, died peacefully at his home in the village of Stonington, Connecticut, on July 29, surrounded by his family.

 

Jim devoted his life’s work to the study and writing of poetry. He is the author of six books of poems and eight books of prose. As a devoted teacher with expansive knowledge of literary history, he made the most intricate challenges of poetry accessible. With his poet's sensibility, he invited his students and readers to share his sense of wonder at the expressive power of language. He had the rare ability to move effortlessly between his original art as a lyric poet and his work as a scholar of poetry.

 

In his early critical studies (Modernist Poetics of History, Stone Cottage, Wallace Stevens, Modern Poetry After Modernism), Jim set out to tell new stories about the lives, the work, and the collaborations of modern and contemporary poets. He went on to write influential books about the craft of poetry (The Art of the Poetic Line, The Virtues of Poetry, How Poems Get Made, The Lyric Now). His wide-ranging expertise crossed centuries and canonical categories—he could write with equal incisiveness on John Donne and John Ashbery, Virgil and Patti Smith, Sir Thomas Wyatt and Carl Phillips. He had a unique talent for imagining the thinking that went into a poem. Every form of artistic expression was a source of inspiration to him.

His first book of poems, Threshold, published in 1998, launched his career as a poet. He published five more books of poems during his lifetime. Jim was a Guggenheim Fellow and the recipient of an Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. His fifth book of poems, Earthling, was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award.

 

Jim was an accomplished pianist and brought to his poetry a musician’s skillfulness. Like great songs that we keep singing over and over, his majestic poems invite us to keep rereading them. He gave form and sound to the most mysterious experiences of life and with his words offers us new potential to understand ourselves and our world.

 

Jim was born in Plainfield, New Jersey to Alda and Burton Longenbach. He grew up in nearby Westfield. He received his BA from Trinity College, Hartford, and his PhD in English Literature from Princeton University. He taught for many years at the University of Rochester, where he was the Joseph Henry Gilmore Professor of English. He was a visiting professor at Princeton University and taught in the Warren Wilson MFA Program for Writers. He met his wife, the writer Joanna Scott, on a study-abroad program in Rome in 1981. They raised their two daughters in Rochester, New York. Above all, he was a devoted and cherished husband and father. The family spent several semesters abroad, living in England and Italy. Jim’s two favorite places in the world, equally beloved, were Venice and Stonington, and he honored both in numerous poems.

 

Jim was preceded in death by his parents. He is survived by his wife, Joanna Scott, their two daughters Kathryn (Marc DiBenedetto) and Alice, and his sister Pam (Tom Kannally).

excerpted from his poem, “We Can Say”:

 

We live in a house

With many windows.

Because everyone

Wants to swim,

There’s the sea.

From the roof we see

Gardens for herbs,

Gardens for flowers—

I don’t imagine

We’ll live forever,

Nobody does.

My goal here

Is clarity.