Monday, 4 February 2019

Louise Bogan (1897 – 1970) - American poet

The first woman to hold the title of Poet Laureate in America

With thanks to Connie Ruzich for introducing me to Louse and her work.

Louise was born on 11th August 1897 in Livermore Falls, Maine, United States of America.  Her father, who was of Irish origin, was a clerk in a mill.  Louise was educated at the Girls' Latin School in Boston, where she began writing poetry and reading the first issues of “Poetry: A Magazine of Verse”. This led to Louise going to study at Boston University, after which she moved to New York to pursue a career in writing. In 1916, Louise married a soldier. He was posted to Panama during the First World War and after a short stay in Panama, Louise and her daughter returned to America and moved in with Louise's parents. Four years later she was left a widow. Louise’s older brother, Private Charles J. Bogan, served with the 104th Massachusetts Infantry on the Western Front in France and was killed on 17th October 1918.

In 1920 Louise spent a few years in Vienna, leaving her daughter with her parents.  In Vienna, Louise explored her loneliness and her new identity in verse. She returned to New York City and in 1923 her first poetry collection, “Body of This Death: Poems”, was published by McBride and Company, New York.

Louise married the poet Raymond Holden in 1925 but the marriage ended in divorce in 1837.

In 1927, Louise became poetry editor of “The New Yorker” Magazine.

Louise’s poetry was published in “The New Republic”, “The Nation”, “Poetry: A Magazine of Verse”, “Scribner's”, and “Atlantic Monthly”. “Collected Poems: 1923–1953” won Louise the Bollingen award in 1955 as well as an award from the Academy of American Poets in 1959. She was the poetry reviewer of The New Yorker from 1931 until she retired in 1970.

Louise died on 4th February 1970.

Connie Ruzich's commemorative WW1 poetry website is called Behind their Lines - such a clever title -

From "Fifteenth Farewell"

You may have all things from me, save my breath. 
The slight life in my throat will not give pause 
For your love, nor your loss, nor any cause. 
Shall I be made a panderer to death, 
Dig the green ground for darkness underneath, 
Let the dust serve me, covering all that was 
With all that will be? Better, from time's claws, 
The hardened face under the subtle wreath. 

Cooler than stones in wells, sweeter, more kind 
Than hot, perfidious words, my breathing moves 
Close to my plunging blood. Be strong, and hang 
Unriven mist over my breast and mind. 
My breath! We shall forget the heart that loves, 
Though in my body beat its blade, and its fang.

From “Body of this Death: Poems” by Louise Bogan, published by Robert M. McBridge & Company, New York, 1923.

Photo of Louise Bogan from