May Swenson - Biography and Works

May Swenson is an American lyric poet noted for her clearly defined imagery. Swenson was born in Logan, Utah. After graduating from Utah State University in Logan, she worked as an editor and was writer-in-residence at Purdue University in Indiana from 1966 to 1967.

May Swenson (1931-1989)

Swenson’s first three books, Another Animal (1954), A Cage of Spines (1958), and To Mix With Time (1963), distinguished her as one whose keen appreciation of “thingness” combined with an incantatory voice to raise things to a higher “power”. Swenson presented popular readings of her own work and was often recorded. A number of contemporary composers set her verses to music. In addition to seven volumes of poetry she wrote three books of light verse for children. Her translations of contemporary Swedish poets are widely acclaimed.

 Her poetry, like that of her friend Elizabeth Bishop, is marked by keen visual perception of particularly of the natural world, a passion for the exotic, and a capacity for the self-effacement. The language in her poems is marked by wit and playful use of repetition, alliteration, rhyme and pararhyme. Swenson often invented forms to suit her subjects and her innovations included daring experiments with shaped poems and with typography. But her poem "Motherhood" is notable for the ordinary subject matter and Swenson’s typical imagery, plus a suspense that puzzles the reader until they finally find out that the poem is simply about a different mother and motherhood! The reader used to read the poetry of so called serious and symbolically “big” subject matter are likely to feel simply cheated by the simple poems like “Motherhood”. If expression, word-game and music are the three basic (conventional) elements of poetry, Swenson’s poetry can be said to be the kind that favors word-game at the cost of the other elements.

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Sharma, Kedar N. "May Swenson - Biography and Works." BachelorandMaster, 15 Nov. 2013,

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Motherhood: Summary and Analysis