Cover image for What I can't bear losing : notes from a life
What I can't bear losing : notes from a life
Stern, Gerald, 1925-
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : W.W. Norton, [2004]

Physical Description:
270 pages ; 23 cm
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Table of contents
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PS3569.T3888 Z477 2004 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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In a series of freewheeling rambles that combine autobiography and meditation, Gerald Stern explores significant and representative events in his life. He describes the dour Sundays of Calvinist Pittsburgh, punctuated by his parents' weekly battles. We have glimpses of him as a wilderness camp counselor, and later, having been declared 4-F, as a postwar draftee (a stint that includes jail). In the 1950s he savors the romance of Paris. Stern also tells of being shot in Newark--the bullet is still in his neck to prove it. Other scenes include being mistaken for Allen Ginsberg and encounters with Andy Warhol. And in the ineffably tender "The Ring," Stern recalls his mother's second engagement ring, "when they were a bit richer, if a bit broader and a bit more weary."As in his poetry, Stern discovers his subject as he goes along, relishing that discovery and expanding on it. There is no other voice like Gerald Stern's, funny and reflective and opinionated--and forgiving.

Author Notes

Often applauded as a modern Walt Whitman, Gerald Stern was born February 22, 1925 in Pittsburgh. Stern grew up in Pittsburgh and received a BA in 1947 from the University of Pittsburgh and an M.A from Columbia University in 1949. He did post-graduate study at the University of Paris from 1949 to 1950 and taught at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, Temple University, University of Pittsburgh, University of Iowa, Columbia, New York University, and Princeton. He held chairs at Washington University at St. Louis, Bucknell, and The University of Alabama. He has been a member of the University of Iowa Writer's Workshop in Iowa City since 1982.

Stern is the author of 12 collections of poetry including Leaving Another Kingdom: Selected Poems, Bread Without Sugar and Odd Mercy. His work is anthologized in more than 50 anthologies of American poetry. His long poem "Hot Dog " from Odd Mercy was published in a special supplement to The American Poetry Review in 1995. His work has received numerous awards including the Patterson Poetry Prize, the PEN Award, the Jerome J. Shestack Poetry Prize, the Melville Caine Award from the Poetry Society of America, The Lamont Poetry Prize, and the Fellowship of the Academy of American Poets for Distinguished Lifetime Service. He has also received a Guggenheim fellowship and three National Endowment for the Arts grants.

Gerald Stern married Patricia Miller on September 12, 1952 and they have two children, Rachael and David. They were subsequently divorced.

(Bowker Author Biography) Gerald Stern lives in Lambertville, New Jersey.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Readers familiar with National Book Award winner Stern's swinging, streetwise, and metaphysical poetry will find this collection of autobiographical and spiritual ramblings extraordinarily moving, as will anyone curious about the coming-of-age of a twentieth-century working-class American writer. Now in his eighties, Stern is by turns flinty and rhapsodic, stoic and sexy as he recounts indelible incidents from his scrappy Pittsburgh childhood, his nearly surreal stint in the military, his improvised European sojourns, and the night he was shot in the neck. The veteran of street fights, unreasonable arrests, countless confrontations with anti-Semitism, and dangerous love affairs, Stern fought his way out of a terrible isolation and into the solace of literature. As he wrestles with regrets, channels joy, and poses keen questions about forgiveness and charity, Stern offers ravishingly poetic inquiries into everything from the Jewish Sabbath to the tree of life to love, posing crucial questions of forgiveness and charity. Not only did Stern become a poet against all odds, he has remained a warrior, a seeker, and a writer of conscience. --Donna Seaman Copyright 2003 Booklist

Publisher's Weekly Review

Part autobiography, part meditative series, this memoir by New Jersey?s first poet laureate will appeal mostly to Stern familiars. Others are less likely to be charmed by Stern?s aimless prose style. ?I don?t know if I?m getting these events in the right order or even the right year,? he writes at one point, and it?s evident that he doesn?t really care. Instead, Stern, whose collection This Time won the National Book Award in 1998, appears to aim for a feeling of idle chatter?the narrative is digressive, repetitious and bereft of clear chronology. Readers willing to submit patiently to such a raconteur will be compensated with morsels of wisdom. Descriptions of his parents? Sunday morning quarrels, for example, provide a platform for a discourse on Calvinist and Jewish Sabbaths. And ideas about guilt and remorse surface after he recounts how he (innocently?) abetted an acquaintance rape. Chance encounters appear to be a mainstay of Stern?s life, and celebrated figures (Casals, Warhol, Orlovitz) appear in walk-ons that diminish them. (Fans of Stern?s poetry will also find plenty of information about how he developed his distinctive writing style.) The underlying theme of this memoir?the power and inadequacy of memory?has weight, but Stern?s rich meditations are framed by trivia. It?s a technique that works well in the author?s verse?he can carve a meaningful poem out of a chance encounter with a hotel desk clerk?but, unfortunately, the crafting necessary to achieve such transformations is missing in these prose musings. (Nov.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.

Library Journal Review

Poet Stern, winner of the National Book Award for This Time, has conjoined reflective autobiographical essays offering readers a glimpse into his personal as well as professional life. Blending wry humor and brutal honesty, he offers reflections on the people, places, and events that have shaped and influenced him, most of which took place in the 1940s and 1950s. After reading many of these pensive pieces, one quickly observes that even in the funniest stories there is a shadowy underside. "The Ring," for example, is the portrait of the poet's thrifty father and his unhappy mother, who was troubled by her husband's attitudes. As was custom, after 25 years of marriage, his father bought his mother a second, larger, and more impressive engagement ring. She had wanted to go to one of the downtown jewelry stores and select the ring for herself from the lovely velvet boxes on display. Instead, her husband bought the ring wholesale, and for the rest of her life, she felt the ring was tainted. After her death, when Stern took the ring to have it appraised, he found out that it was worth around $60,000-$59,000 more than his father paid for it. The poet's ruminations on whom his mother is haunting in the afterlife are hilarious. For both academic and public libraries with large collections of poetry and memoir.-Pam Kingsbury, Univ. of North Alabama, Florence (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Table of Contents

Introductionp. 13
Sundaysp. 17
The Beaconp. 34
Remorsep. 42
First Ritesp. 53
Some Secretsp. 59
Hotel Du Centrep. 74
Vow of Silencep. 83
Paris Postp. 96
Blessedp. 104
The Sabbathp. 121
Bullet in My Neckp. 135
Ginsberg and Ip. 148
Andyp. 156
Cavesp. 164
Charityp. 181
Tree of Lifep. 191
The Ringp. 203
Salesmanp. 211
A Day without the Jewsp. 231
What I Have to Defend, What I Can't Bear Losingp. 250
Acknowledgmentsp. 269