Cover image for Living is what I wanted : last poems
Living is what I wanted : last poems
Ignatow, David, 1914-1997.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
Rochester, NY : BOA Editions, 1999.
Physical Description:
84 pages ; 23 cm

Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
PS3517.G53 L58 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

On Order



The final collection from one of American's most noted poets.

Author Notes

David Ignatow was born in Brooklyn, NY on February 7, 1914. After graduating from high school, Ignatow was a writer and researcher for the Federal Government. He then held many odd jobs until he landed teaching positions at the New York School for Social Research, York College of the City University of New York, the University of Kansas, Vassar College, and Columbia University's School of the Arts.

After publishing his book Poems in 1948, Ignatow began much editorship for the Beloit Poetry Journal, the William Carlos Williams memorial chapbook, a political poetry issue of Chelsea, and The Nation. Ignatow was also the recipient of two Guggenheim Fellowships, the Bollingen Prize, the Poetry Society's Shelley Memorial Award, and an award from the National Institute of Arts and Letters.

David Ignatow died in1997.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Written mostly in 1996, the year before he died, Ignatow's spare but shapely, mostly little, short-lined last poems are highly aware that death is near. They are relatively unconcerned, though, and instead look back on, over, and squarely at life. The title states Ignatow's final attitude well, and because living is what he wanted, but "we are unable to say what this life is," death is welcome because then "we'll know perhaps just who we were." He is willing not to quarrel with that "perhaps" and the uncertainty it admits, because he has found his life to be "An epic," as the title of one poem characterizes it. He is at the stage in that epic when "thinking become[s] impersonal / as though already / detached from self." Because that is so, he talks about himself and his life and seems to speak for anyone. At least, that is the effect and the high value of these simply wise and elegant pieces. --Ray Olson

Publisher's Weekly Review

Ignatow, who died in 1997 at the age of 83, led a distinguished if not meteoric career as a man of letters, having been poet-in-residence at the University of Kentucky and Vassar, a professor at Columbia University and poetry editor for the Nation, not to mention having won several awards including the Bollingen and two GuggenheimsÄand having started out in his father's bookbinding business in depression-era Brooklyn. As the title to this posthumous volume, edited by Virginia Terris, Jeanette Hopkins and daughter Yaedi Ignatow, suggests, Ignatow gave his last years to a philosophical search for the meaning of "living": readers can discover some curious answers in these often understated, at times sparely elegant, but always accessible poems. Ignatow's humility, and his secular, unmystical stance, give his voice a startling confidence: "Patient we wait/ so that/ once dead/ we'll know perhaps just who we were,/ with others thinking back on us." ("All Living is Lying") The bookends of birth and death subsume the book, often powerfully. Ignatow's metrics seek the simplicity of William Carlos Williams, whose tone he occasionally adopts, or else the Elizabethan overtones of Robert Creeley. Sometimes the poems sound rushed, or unrevised. Yet the poet is still capable of praise, and finds pleasure in his transitional place in the universe. As the short but perfect "Make of me its purpose," with its subtle, lilting internal rhyme, states: "Let the sun be the creative one/ and make of me its purpose/ of which I know nothing/ except its aging me/ as if I knew that being creative/ is its aim, that is,/ if the sun knows, if at all." (Sept.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

In a career that spanned 50 years, IgnatowÄwinner of the Bolligen Prize, Guggenheim Fellowships, and the Robert Frost AwardÄhas produced poetry that pushed form and content to the outer limits. Ignatow solidifies his poetic genius with this last volume, composed mostly in the final year of his life. The theme of death runs throughout, but it is not something to be feared; instead, the poet sounds content, at peace. Ignatow also explores the writer's life, realizing mournfully, "I write to awaken the silence,/ to acknowledge I have nothing to say." Throughout, rhythms are tight, the diction is sharp, and the imagery lives up to the standard for which Ignatow is known. Honest, straightforward, and filled with humility, these poems are marred only by the obsessiveness of the death theme, to the point where they begin to parody themselves. Overall, however, this is a strong volume by one of America's great master poets.ÄTim Gavin, Episcopal Acad., Merion, Pennsylvania (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



Chapter One     Staying alive Reason for living. I don't have any. What is your reason for not having a reason? Is there a difference? Are you that sour on life? Can I separate one from the other? What is your strategy for staying alive? Isn't being oneself enough? Is it worth living without a reason? Do I have a say in the matter? Would you prefer not to have been born? Did I have a mind of my own then? Would you rather be dead now? Do I have a choice? Then you are opposed to suicide? Isn't living hard enough? Then to live is to be brave and on the move. Are you telling me? What would you recommend for others? Can't they make up their own minds? Then you should be congratulated. Have I said something exceptional? * * *     Live to manifest Fear is of the universe, as is death, as is love, pleasure, intimacy and cruelty. We manifest each living as though we have a personal stake in these. We are like the mountain that manifests the earthquake that brought the mountain about. And the earthquake is of the hidden plates, heat of the fire at the center of the globe, as the globe is of the big bang that is, of those who cannot name it other than as God, the mystery, and we are human and live to manifest the pressures to survive among ourselves as consciousness. We are human, if not perfectly so-- killing and raping and suppressing and enslaving-- these too manifest in us like other forces we embrace-- the storms at sea, the lightning. * * *     Along with our illusion Life is god but its powers are pure irony of purpose: to lift us to its level, to die, along with our illusion of centrality. The irony is that without death there could be no life. * * *     As though life were a question In the ripe nectarine is the sweetness of dying as though we had a choice, as though life were a question of who must live it through, as though we understood or were happy to have died unexplained to ourselves, thinking on it just another thought in the minds of the living with more to do than to think but in the doing thoughtful of their lives, who on their deathbeds are reduced to thought, smelling the air breathing in deeply. * * *     All living is lying All living is lying: we are unable to say what this life is. We speak about it in metaphors as if it could be other than what it is, and even of ourselves we say we are like this or like that. Patient we wait so that once dead we'll know perhaps just who we were, with others thinking back on us. * * *     An epic So I have had it all and need only know what goes on in death to satisfy my curiosity and to resolve my fears of selflessness that death performs. It is the same body and mind with which I was born that leads me silently to its change: hair turning white, movements slowed, thinking become impersonal as though already detached from self. It is an epic each performs unlike the audience of Ancient Greece engaged in it as we tell it. * * *     Fixed or impermanent All these objects fixed in their places-- trees, houses, the declaration of independence, the bill of rights, the constitution--awaiting an end. The earth spins as if in search of its executioner, perhaps a comet sent at random by the law of impermanence, fixed in us like a bent tree. * * *     Where I built my house Does being born matter now that I am leaving it behind? Where is a world I can go to other than this ground on which I walk and where I built my house? Am I complaining of the shortness of life? I am, and that makes me much like everyone else. Follow Adam, the leader, into the ground. * * *     The living Death provides the food: the zebra lay on its side clawed into silence, the tigress on her belly gnawing at the belly of the zebra with bloody teeth. And the living zebras at a distance, heads bowed towards the earth, eat of the living grass. * * *     Unless change is a language Plants and flowers have their colors and shapes. They sway in the wind yet their roots support them and they live to grow. If they wither it is not said unless change is a language. * * *     Shadows live in the sun Shadows lie across the pavement and trees stand over them as if studying the forms they make. A car drives across, then a truck and then a person walking, lending his own shadow. Trees, cars, trucks, and persons all represented. The sun shifts and forms merge. Later the sun will depart, leaving the pavement a gray blank, as if prepared for tomorrow, if not rain. Shadows live in the sun. for a short time. * * *     One small answer I walk into the woods, subjected to the shade, blocking the sun, chilling me. I walk out, embarrassed at myself to find the woods alien that I entered in admiration for its silence and beauty. If I climbed to the top of one tree for the sun, it would be one small answer to the problem, or if I made my home in the branches. * * *     Calm in the form of meaning I stare at revelry unable to defend myself with truth alone. I must depart this life calm in the form of meaning to be found in death. * * * Copyright © 1999 Yaedi Ignatow. All rights reserved.