Elizabeth Macklin - link to home page

Elizabeth Macklin  




Born Poughkeepsie, New York, 1952.

After studying Spanish language and literature at SUNY Potsdam (U.S.) and in Spain at the Universidad Complutense de Madrid, she moved to New York City, where in 1974 she joined the editorial staff of The New Yorker. Her first poems, stories, and essays began appearing in the late seventies, in The New Yorker, Paris Review, Poetry, and elsewhere. For the poet and translator Alastair Reid she did her first translation, of an essay by Jorge Luis Borges ("Palermo, Buenos Aires").

In the early eighties, she worked with the Taller Literario Rácata at CUNY Hostos [see link], and on translations of Latin American writers for the Brecht Forum in New York [link], where she organised bilingual readings by Latin American writers who were resident in the city, including a memorial reading for the Argentine master Julio Cortázar.

In 1990, she received an Ingram Merrill poetry prize. Between 1989 and 1991 she was the poetry editor of the monthly magazine Wigwag. Her first collection of poems, A Woman Kneeling in the Big City, was published in 1992.

After the death of her mother, in 1993, she used a Guggenheim Fellowship in Poetry to spend several months in Rice County, Minnesota, near the former family farm, reading through her mother's papers. After returning to New York, she became a member of PEN American Center [link]; continued work on poems; and wrote critical essays on the work of Louise Glück and Anne Carson, reminiscences of the New Yorker editor William Shawn and of encountering the work and person of the poet Amy Clampitt, and, for an anthology of pieces on women poets and poetry, an essay called "It's a Woman's Prerogative to Change Her Mind."

In 1999, she left her editing job at The New Yorker to take a yearlong Amy Lowell Poetry Travelling Scholarship, spending the scholarship year in Bilbao, in Spain's Basque Country, beginning studies in the Basque language. Since February of 2000, back in New York, she has worked as a freelance editor for fiction and nonfiction writers, written poetry criticism, and begun work on a collage book of poetry, prose, pictures, and translations. She has regularly returned to the Basque Country to continue her language studies, largely at the Santurtziko Udal Euskaltegia [link], and has recently begun work as a translator with The Basque Literature Series, newly created to bring contemporary Basque writing to the U.S. in English.

Poetry Collections

You've Just Been Told (New York: W. W. Norton, 2000)

A Woman Kneeling in the Big City (New York: W. W. Norton, 1992)

Further  information is available  on Norton's website, at http://www.nortonpoets.com/mackline.htm


Individual poems have appeared over the years in Barrow Street, TheBalde, The Bitter Oleander Review, Boston Review, Canto, Colorado Review, Columbia, Hampden-Sydney Poetry Review, The Los Angeles Times, Lyra, The Nation, New England Review, The New Republic, The New Yorker, The New York Times, Open City, Paris Review, Pivot, Poetry, Prairie Schooner, Rattapallax, Southwest Review, Tercer Milenio, The Threepenny Review, Trasimagen, Verse, and The Yale Review.


Poems of New York, ed. Elizabeth Schmidt (Everyman's Library, Knopf, 2002)

The Penguin Book of the Sonnet, ed. Phillis Levin (Penguin Books, 2001)

The KGB Bar Book of Poems, ed. David Lehman & Star Black (HarperCollins; 2000)

Stone and Steel, ed. Bascove (Godine; 1998)

Prayers at 3 A.M., ed. Phil Cousineau (Harper San Francisco; l995)

Best American Poetry 1993, ed. Louise Glück and David Lehman (Scribners). 

Best American Poetry 1991, ed. Mark Strand and David Lehman (Scribners).

Recent Essays

"Who Put the Code in the Dagoeneko?" Barrow Street, Fall 2001. 

"It's a Woman's Prerogative to Change Her Mind," By Herself: Women Reclaim Poetry, Molly McQuade, ed. (Graywolf Press; 2000) 

Past essays and other prose work (fiction, reporting) have appeared in The New Yorker, The Threepenny Review, Wigwag, and on the Poetry Society of America website 


Reviews of works by Charles Simic, Octavio Paz, Louise Glück, Anne Carson, and other poets have appeared in The New Yorker, The Boston Review, Parnassus: Poetry in Review, and The New York Times Book Review.


Versions of poems and essays by Latin-American writers - the Cuban poet Lourdes Casal, Jorge Luis Borges, the Puerto Rican satirist Ana Lydia Vega, and the Colombian poet and fiction writer Adelaida López Mejía among them - have appeared in The New Yorker, Nimrod, Heresies, Puerto Rico Libre!, Ixok Amargo: Central American Women's Poetry for Peace, and Borges: A Reader. Translated in collaboration with the Puerto Rican poet Orlando J. Hernández, a fable by the late-nineteenth-century Caribbean writer and educator Eugenio María de Hostos was published bilingually as In a Paper Boat / En Barco de Papel (Ediciones Moria, 1989).  

In addition to her work with The Basque Literature Series, she is currently translating poems from Cuidadano del aire, the last book of the Puerto Rican poet José Luis Colón Santiago (1947-2001), and from Bitartean Heldu Eskutik (Meanwhile Hold Hands), by the Basque poet Kirmen Uribe. 


"Around her poetry Elizabeth Macklin uses grammar as a scaffolding of detachment. She builds precarious platforms that enable her to see her past and her family and to sort through the chaotic pain of memory: to examine the deceptive facets of truth. These poems parse life's sentences. Tension arises from how Macklin tests grammar's ability, both as metaphor and as the raw material of language, to enclose her oblique and urgent questions. Sometimes her grammar is playfully inflected -- she watches, in an altered state, a wisp of smoke rise, 'high, highest, higher' -- sometimes dead serious. Here a particle carries a poem: 'when I asked for the truth, the definite article / answered, asking but definite, "'The' truth?" / and instantly repeated, definite, "The truth?"' To get at the unanswerable and risk joy, she reaches into the thin air where language falls into music: 'It's a long pleasure: / ongoing humming creatures, / noisemaker-urgent again -- / more than halfway loving, / as if it were songs, approaching music. / Is it really only a long pleasure / to be as I am? The scree-slide's swinging around, / but I'm not in danger . . . / The cicadas' round-and-round is / nothing resembling a human quarrel / or losing battle. Is only round.' Because if grammar provides a framework, it also shackles. Macklin writes: 'No, we never liked our grammar / but we liked the stories.' In You've Just Been Told, the scaffolding finally falls away, revealing poems of abrupt perception and rigorous lyricism."

Deborah Weisgall, New York Times.


"In these poems, Macklin explores what she calls 'grammars of attention,' presenting her own rules of usage and then, disarmingly, revising them. In a poem about a difficult father, entitled 'Almost,' her multiple variations on this apparently generic word--'See? I'm almost / with you again. / I'm almost angry / with you again'--reveal the central conviction of her work: that even an unprepossessing adverb carries an emotional valence."

The New Yorker.


"Elizabeth Macklin ends her section of The Poetry Society of America's What's American about American Poetry? [link] ..., 'the country was set up to expect disagreement--or, as Fitzgerald put it, "to hold two [or more?] opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function."' By this criteria, Macklin's collection, You've Just Been Told is quintessentially American. Her poems ask the reader to contemplate multiple realities, and, in order to create the concentration required for such a task, draws readers in by raising questions early in the poems.

"The ambiguities of Macklin's poetry create extra realities that strengthen both the meaning and the emotional impact of her work....

"[The] emotional impact bred by ambiguity reveals itself most in 'Imagine'. This piece begins, 'Once I spoke a foreign language in a dream-- like skating, like swimming in air.' Both these acts invoke freedom, but does this foreign language make the narrator feel free, or does the ability to speak the language? The next lines suggest the latter: 'Like flying: / I was able to reach the doctor, was able to save / the loved one, able to make myself/understood . . .' But the other meaning still remains (particularly emphasized since line two is end-stopped) and is, in fact, brought to the forefront with the lines, 'I spoke the most foreign language / I loved, I hoped /I dreamed', for nothing can be more free than love, hope, and dreams--and if that is the language, it is indeed free. Of course, the next line again dashes that meaning with 'that I said the needful thing'. This pattern of destroying the meaning, a beautiful meaning (for wouldn't a language of freedom be wonderful?) prepares the reader for the final tragedy of the poem, which reminds the reader that it was all just a dream: 'I was not able. / Not having done a thing, except in a dream / I was not there.' Suddenly, the narrator was not able to save the loved one, and, finally, the idealism of dreams as freedom is crushed, because no can actually achieve something by doing it in a dream. Meanwhile, the ambiguity adds an extra emotional undercurrent by making the tragedy universal, for, while not everyone has lost someone in a foreign land, most everyone yearns for freedom....

"Elizabeth Macklin's You've Just Been Told demands that readers hold multiple ideas in their heads, but she is gracious enough to raise questions that generate enough interest for them to willingly do so. It is demanding to work to read, and, in the end, the ambiguities and questions read the reader more than the reader reads the work. But, if America really wants to be diverse, then each poem, not just the totality of poetry, must thus allow for the individual reader's singularity."

The Part-Time Postmodernist (Summer 2000).


"'Half the house here belongs to me. Half belongs to sound.' Thus beautifully begins Macklin's second collection of poems, a reflection on loss and memory. 'In the taste / of this sour apple / is the bee'--and therein the history of everything required to bring us the apple. But our timing is off--the apple is unripe. Similarly, when we speak with intended clarity, we fail. Even in poems, which Macklin compares with mazes, 'just when you think you're getting close / to the center, you're moved away.' At times Macklin pauses before her subject; at other times she maneuvers as if imagining lives while gazing at paintings--lives once removed, as it were. Memory, she seems to be saying, works exactly this way. Yet her poems seem risen from experience and from the awareness that what we lose remains in us, if skewed. The titles of the book's three sections ('Grammars of Attention,' 'The Editorial We,' and 'Persons Plural') assert Macklin's preoccupations with the confusions of language. She contends that 'stories alone' cannot reveal the truth without attention to the (grammatical) rules we too often complain against. The way things are said is vital, but we frequently misspeak or misunderstand--and yet we construct our lives in response to such inaccuracies. How unfortunate that even thought depends on the undependable language in which it is threaded! 'Here is the sound I've missed,' Macklin announces in one poem, knowing the reader can never hear it. And yet her poems aspire to help us accomplish exactly that.

"'I seized what is nowadays made to seem / nearly nothing,' Macklin writes. If she means by 'nearly nothing,' poetry itself, we can be glad she did."

Kirkus Reviews.



GO HOME (writersartists.net)

return to writersartists home page (logo by artist Van Howell)