Marie Ponsot, Poet and Winner of National Book Critics Circle Award, Dies at 98


It would be her only book for nearly 25 years.

Ms. Ponsot harked back to “True Minds” when she resumed publishing in 1981: For the title of her second collection, she again drew from Sonnet 116’s opening line, calling the volume “Admit Impediment.” By then she, and her poetry, had been tempered by divorce and years of single motherhood.

The collection’s opening poem, “For a Divorce,” announces what had befallen those “true minds” of 1956. Addressing Mr. Ponsot, it begins:

Death is the price of life.

Lives change places.

Asked why

we ever married, I smile

and mention the arbitrary fierce

glance of the working artist

that blazed sometimes in your face

but can’t picture it.

“Admit Impediment” had come together with the help of a friend and professor, Marilyn Hacker, who took the manuscript in a battered interoffice envelope to the Knopf offices in Manhattan, where it found its way to the poetry editor Alice Quinn. She immediately accepted it for publication.

“Admit Impediment” earned praise for its clean but raw lines and its elegance and intimacy in revealing family life. In one poem, “As Is,” Ms. Ponsot writes of a woman cleaning her house after the death of her mother:

The house of my mother is empty.

I have emptied it of all her things.

The house of my mother is sold with

All its trees and their usual tall music.

I have sold it to a stranger,

The architect with three young children.

Things of the house of my mother,

You are many. My house is

poor compared to yours and hers.

My poor house welcomes you.

Come to rest here. Be at home. Please

Do not be frantic do not

Fly whistling up out of your places.

“Admit Impediment” was followed in 1988 by a third collection, “The Green Dark,” and in 1998 by another, “The Bird Catcher,” which brought her national attention and the National Book Critics Circle Award.

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