Annie Finch

Annie Finch

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Annie Finch is an American
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

A poet is a person who writes poetry. A poet's work can be literal, meaning that his work is derived from a specific event, or metaphorical, meaning that his work can take on many meanings and forms. Poets have existed since antiquity, in nearly all languages, and have produced works that vary...

. She is author of numerous books of poetry as well as poetry translation, poetry anthologies and criticism, opera libretti, and poetic collaborations with visual art, music, theater, and dance. Her writings on poetry address topics including meter and prosody, postmodern form, and the place of poetry in contemporary life. She is also known for developing an aesthetic of women's poetic traditions. In the title essay of The Body of Poetry, Finch connects her poetry's frequent thematic focus on nature, the body, and spiritual issues, and also its attention to pattern and sound, with her earth-centered spirituality
Wicca , is a modern Pagan religious movement. Developing in England in the first half of the 20th century, Wicca was popularised in the 1950s and early 1960s by a Wiccan High Priest named Gerald Gardner, who at the time called it the "witch cult" and "witchcraft," and its adherents "the Wica."...

. Because of her efforts, in her poetry and criticism, to redefine the terms of discussion about poetic form, an article in The Dictionary of Literary Biography names her "one of the central figures in contemporary American poetics."


Annie Finch was born on October 31, 1956 in New Rochelle, New York. Her maternal great-aunt, Jessie Wallace Hughan, was a founder of the War Resisters League
War Resisters League
The War Resisters League was formed in 1923 by men and women who had opposed World War I. It is a section of the London-based War Resisters' International.Many of the founders had been jailed during World War I for refusing military service...

. Her mother was a poet and doll artist. Her father was a scholar of Ludwig Wittgenstein
Ludwig Wittgenstein
Ludwig Josef Johann Wittgenstein was an Austrian philosopher who worked primarily in logic, the philosophy of mathematics, the philosophy of mind, and the philosophy of language. He was professor in philosophy at the University of Cambridge from 1939 until 1947...

, a conscientious objector
Conscientious objector
A conscientious objector is an "individual who has claimed the right to refuse to perform military service" on the grounds of freedom of thought, conscience, and/or religion....

, and a professor of philosophy at Sarah Lawrence College and Hunter College. In the introduction to The Body of Poetry, Finch claims that her parents met at a lecture by Auden, and her essay "Desks" describes the influences of her father's book collection and her mother's example as a poet.

Finch graduated from Oakwood Friends' School, a Quaker boarding school in Poughkeepsie, New York, in 1973 and then studied filmmaking, art history, and poetry at Bard College at Simon's Rock before earning her B.A. in English Literature at Yale University, magna cum laude, in 1979.

In 1983 she performed and self-published an excerpt from her first book, The Encyclopedia of Scotland, in New York (it would be published in full in 2005 by the British house Salt Publishing
Salt Publishing
Salt Publishing is an independent publisher whose origins date back to 1990 when poet John Kinsella launched Salt Magazine in Western Australia. The journal rapidly developed an international reputation as a leading publisher of new poetry and poetics...

). The same year she enrolled in the M.A. program in Creative Writing at the University of Houston, where her M.A. thesis consisted of three verse dramas written under the supervision of playwright Ntozake Shange
Ntozake Shange
Ntozake Shange born October 18, 1948, is an American playwright, and poet. As a self proclaimed black feminist, much of the content of her work addresses issues relating to race and feminism....

. Before leaving Houston, Finch married Glen Brand and moved with him to California where she entered the graduate program in English and American literature at Stanford University. While living in the San Francisco area, she produced, directed, and acted in short poetic plays and worked with Bob Holman
Bob Holman
Bob Holman is a poet and poetry activist in the United States.- Career :After graduating from Columbia University in 1970, Bob Holman founded, with Sara Miles and Susie Timmons, the NYC Poetry Calendar, a free monthly publication with all the readings and poets "on the same page"...

 on Poets Theater. She completed her dissertation under the direction of literary scholar and Anne Sexton biographer Diane Middlebrook
Diane Middlebrook
Diane Helen Wood Middlebrook was an American biographer, poet, and teacher. She taught feminist studies for many years at Stanford University. She is best known for critically acclaimed biographies of poets Anne Sexton and Sylvia Plath , and jazz musician Billy Tipton...

 and earned her PhD in 1990.

Finch's work first found a national audience in 1997 with the publication of Eve from Story Line Press, reissued by the Carnegie Mellon Contemporary Classics Poetry Series in 2010. Her next book, Calendars (Tupelo Press, 2003), was shortlisted for the Foreword Poetry Book of the Year. In 2010, Tupelo released a detailed Readers Guide to Calendars along with a CD version read by the author. Finch's "narrative libretto" Among the Goddesses: An Epic Libretto in Seven Dreams, a combination opera libretto
A libretto is the text used in an extended musical work such as an opera, operetta, masque, oratorio, cantata, or musical. The term "libretto" is also sometimes used to refer to the text of major liturgical works, such as mass, requiem, and sacred cantata, or even the story line of a...

 and epic poem focusing on abortion
Abortion is defined as the termination of pregnancy by the removal or expulsion from the uterus of a fetus or embryo prior to viability. An abortion can occur spontaneously, in which case it is usually called a miscarriage, or it can be purposely induced...

 and goddess-centered spirituality, was published by Red Hen Press in 2010. Spells: New and Selected Poems (Wesleyan University Press) arranges Finch's poetry in chronological order for the first time, including the first publication of her unpublished "lost poems" from the late 1980s.

Finch's opera Marina, based on the life of poet Marina Tsvetaeva, was produced by American Opera Projects
American Opera Projects
American Opera Projects is a professional opera company based in New York City, NY and is a member of OPERA America, the Fort Greene Association, and the Alliance of Resident Theatres/ New York]] . The company's primary mission is to develop and present new works...

 in 2003 with music by Deborah Drattell
Deborah Drattell
Deborah Drattell is an American composer. She was born in Brooklyn, New York, and started her career in music as a violinist. Her compositions have been performed by the New York Philharmonic, Orchestra of St. Luke's, the Tanglewood and Caramoor Music Festivals, and many other groups and venues...

. In 2010, with director Assunta Kent, she founded Poets Theater of Maine in Portland, Maine.

Finch and her husband, now an environmental organizer, have two children. In 2004 they moved to Maine, where she is currently Director of Stonecoast MFA Program
Stonecoast MFA Program in Creative Writing
The Stonecoast MFA Program in Creative Writing is a graduate program in creative writing based at the University of Southern Maine in Portland, Maine. It enrolls approximately 100 students in four major genres: creative nonfiction, fiction, poetry, and popular fiction...

, the low-residency MFA in creative writing at the University of Southern Maine.

Poetic Themes and Strategies

In an article in Contemporary Authors, published two years before her first full-length book of poetry, Finch made a remark that anticipates the focus of her career "To me, poetic form, with its unverbal, physical power, is radically important in reconnecting us with our human roots and rediscovering our intimacy with nature . . .. rhythmic formal poetry is of great value in celebrating, commemorating, and cementing the bonds of community." As Claire Keyes notes in the entry on Finch in Scribner's American Writers, "A strong current in her work is the decentering of the self, a theme which stems from her deep connection with the natural world and her perception of the self as part of nature."

While Finch has been consistently inspired by formal poetics since the early 1990s, from the outset much in her work has differentiated her from the movement called "New Formalism." Henry Taylor wrote in a review of Eve, "while much would seem to align her with the so-called new formalists, Finch cheerfully ignores many of their stated principles" by not writing about contemporary life and forgoing a "natural" idiom. In all her books but especially in Calendars, whose downloadable "Readers Companion" offers sample scansions of fifteen separate meters used in the book and a long list of formal structures, Finch exemplifies her own invented terms "metrical diversity," "an exaltation of forms," and "multiformalism." In a blog for the Poetry Foundation, "Listening to Poetry,", she writes, "A friend asked me a few months ago, as I was discussing one of the poems I had been writing, “does it ever depress you, thinking that most people won’t know what you are doing with meter?” Maybe it should depress me, but honestly, it doesn’t. Meter just gives me too much joy for me to worry too much about it. . . . Meter is like music; you can enjoy it whether or not you understand why, and you can easily enjoy poems in meter by reading aloud to yourself, even if you are only used to reading free verse. . . . Meanwhile, just in case, my publisher is busy producing an audio version of my book on CD."

Such statements, along with Poetry Foundation blog essays on such topics as "Occasioning Occasional Poetry" and "Where Are You, General Audience?," imply that one of Finch's goals is to appeal to a wider audience for poetry., Yet Finch's work has been published and reviewed by such publishers as the innovative British publisher Salt Publishing
Salt Publishing
Salt Publishing is an independent publisher whose origins date back to 1990 when poet John Kinsella launched Salt Magazine in Western Australia. The journal rapidly developed an international reputation as a leading publisher of new poetry and poetics...

, whose website describes The Encyclopedia of Scotland as "an early experimental work . . .a performance poem for soul-voice and attendant daemons." The book carries an endorsement by Jennifer Moxley
Jennifer Moxley
Jennifer Moxley is an American poet, editor, and translator who was born in San Diego, California. She currently teaches poetry and poetics at the University of Maine and resides in Maine with her partner, Steve Evans.- Poetry :...

 claiming that it anticipates the work of experimental poet Stacey Dorris, and its longest review appears in the avant-garde-leaning journal Jacket
Jacket (magazine)
Jacket is an on-line literary periodical edited by the Australian poet John Tranter. The first issue was in October 1997.Each new number of the magazine is posted at the Web site piece by piece until the new issue is full, when the next issue starts. Past issues remain posted as well...

Finch's third book of poetry, Calendars, was compared in a review by Ron Silliman
Ron Silliman
Ron Silliman is an American poet. He has written and edited over 30 books, and has had his poetry and criticism translated into 12 languages. He is often associated with language poetry. Between 1979 and 2004, Silliman wrote a single poem, The Alphabet...

 to the work of innovative poets Robert Duncan
Robert Duncan (poet)
Robert Duncan was an American poet and a student of H.D. and the Western esoteric tradition who spent most of his career in and around San Francisco. Though associated with any number of literary traditions and schools, Duncan is often identified with the poets of the New American Poetry and Black...

 and Bernadette Mayer
Bernadette Mayer
Bernadette Mayer is a poet and prose writer. In 1967 she received a BA from New School for Social Research. She has since edited the journal 0 TO 9 with Vito Acconci and the United Artists Press with Lewis Warsh...

. Such connections reveal that a good part of the critical interest attracted by Finch's poetry has also come from the avant-garde end of the poetic spectrum.

In an interview with New Formalist poet R.S. Gwynn, Finch has remarked, "When I teach contemporary poetry, I divide it into four tendencies: formalist, oral tradition-performance, mainstream free verse, and experimental. I feel lucky to have encountered firsthand so many influences from these four divergent kinds of poetry. In my own work, I like to think, these different approaches have united to bring me back full-circle, yet in a new way, to the poetry I loved first, and best, when I was young."

Honors and awards

  • 2009 Robert Fitzgerald Prosody Award
    Robert Fitzgerald Prosody Award
    The Robert Fitzgerald Prosody Award is awarded to scholars who have made a lasting contribution to the art and science of versification. The award was named after the poet, critic, and translator Robert Fitzgerald. It was established in 1999 at the Fifth Annual West Chester University Poetry...

  • 2008 Fellowship, Black Earth Institute
  • 2006 Complete Poetry of Louise Labe Awarded Honorable Mention for a translation in the field of women’s studies by the Society for the Study of Early Modern Women
  • 2005 Alumni Award, University of Houston Creative Writing Program
  • 2003 Calendars a finalist for the Foreword Poetry Book of the Year Award
  • 1993 Nicholas Roerich Fellow, Wesleyan Writers Conference

Books of Poetry

  • Among the Goddesses: An Epic Libretto in Seven Dreams (Red Hen Press
    Red Hen Press
    Red Hen Press is an American non-profit press specializing in the publication of literary fiction and poetry located in Pasadena, California. Founded by Kate Gale, the mission of Red Hen Press is to discover, publish, and promote works of literary excellence that have been overlooked by mainstream...

    , 2010)
  • Shadow-Bird: From the Lost Poems. Dusie Kollektiv/Ugly Duckling Presse, 2009.
  • Calendars. Manchester, VT: Tupelo Press
    Tupelo Press
    Tupelo Press is an American not-for-profit literary press founded in 1999. It produced its first titles in 2001, publishing poetry, fiction and non-fiction...

    , 2003. [Shortlisted, Foreword Poetry Book of the Year Award for 2003]. Second edition with Audio CD and downloadable Readers' Companion, 2008.
  • Eve. Brownsville, OR: Story Line Press, 1997. [Finalist, National Poetry Series, Yale Series of Younger Poets, Brittingham Prize].
  • The Encyclopedia of Scotland. Caribou Press, 1982; Cambridge: Salt Publishing. 2005.


  • A Poet’s Craft: The Making and Shaping of Poems. Forthcoming. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press
    University of Michigan Press
    The University of Michigan Press is part of the University of Michigan Library and serves as a primary publishing unit of the University of Michigan, with special responsibility for the creation and promotion of scholarly, educational, and regional books and other materials in digital and print...

    , 2011.
  • A Poet’s Ear: A Handbook of Meter and Form. Forthcoming. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2011.
  • The Body of Poetry: Essays on Women, Form, and the Poetic Self. Poets on Poetry Series, Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2005.
  • The Ghost of Meter: Culture and Prosody in American Free Verse. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1993. Paperback edition with new preface, 2001.

Poetry Translation

  • The Complete Poetry and Prose of Louise Labé: A Bilingual Edition. Edited with Critical Introductions and Prose Translations by Deborah Lesko Baker and Poetry Translations by Annie Finch. Chicago: University of Chicago Press
    University of Chicago Press
    The University of Chicago Press is the largest university press in the United States. It is operated by the University of Chicago and publishes a wide variety of academic titles, including The Chicago Manual of Style, dozens of academic journals, including Critical Inquiry, and a wide array of...

    , 2006.

Opera Libretti

  • Lily Among the Goddesses. Music by Deborah Drattell. Production in progress.
  • Marina. American Opera Projects, DR2 Theater, New York, 2003.


  • Multiformalisms: Postmodern Poetics of Form. Coeditor with Susan Schultz. WordTech Communications
    WordTech Communications
    WordTech Communications LLC is one of the largest poetry publishers in the United States, producing nearly 50 titles per year. The press is owned and operated by Lori Jareo and Kevin Walzer. Some of their more notable authors are Ravi Shankar , Philip Dacey, Rachel Hadas, J. E...

    , 2008.
  • A Formal Feeling Comes: Poems in Form by Contemporary Women. Brownsville, OR: Story Line Press, 1994. Reprinted by Wordtech Editions, 2007.
  • Lofty Dogmas: Poets on Poetics. Coeditor with Maxine Kumin and Deborah Brown. University of Arkansas Press
    University of Arkansas Press
    The University of Arkansas Press is a university press that is part of the University of Arkansas. It was established in 1980, and the press issues an average of twenty titles per year. The press is a member of the Association of American University Presses....

    , 2005.
  • An Exaltation of Forms: Contemporary Poets Celebrate the Diversity of Their Art. With Katherine Varnes. University of Michigan Press, 2002.
  • Carolyn Kizer: Perspectives on Her Life and Work. Coeditor with Johanna Keller and Candace McClelland. CavanKerry Press, 2000.
  • After New Formalism: Poets on Form, Narrative, and Tradition. Brownsville, OR: Story Line Press, 1999.

External links