- Peter M. Sacks
Peter M. Sacks (born in 1950) is an expatriate South African poet, painter, and literary critic living in
Cambridge, Massachusetts, and Normandy, France. He is best known as a poet and teacher of writing.
Books and Awards
Peter Sacks has published five books of poetry: "In These Mountains" (
Macmillan1986), "Promised Lands" ( Penguin Books1990), " NatalCommand" ( University of Chicago1997), "O Wheel" ( University of Georgia2000), and "Necessity" ( W.W. Norton2002). Individual poems by Sacks have appeared in " The New Yorker", " The New Republic", " Boulevard", " The Paris Review", and other publications. He is also the author of "The English Elegy: Studies in the Genre from Spencer to Yeats" ( Johns Hopkins University1985) and an art historical study, "Woody Gwynn: An Approach to the Landscape" ( Texas Tech University1993).
He received Phi Beta Kappa's
Christian GaussAward for "The English Elegy" in 1985 and was the 1999 winner of the University of Georgia Contemporary Poetry Series contest (although this award is controversialAlex Beam, "Website polices rhymes and misdemeanors," "Boston Globe", March 31, 2005, [http://www.boston.com/news/globe/living/articles/2005/03/31/website_polices_rhymes_and_misdemeanors/ available here] ] Tomas Alex Tizon, "In Search of Poetic Justice," "Los Angeles Times", June 17, 2005. Available at the [http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/nation/la-na-foetry17jun17,0,4322348,full.story LA Times] (subscription needed). Text is available at [http://www.newpoetryreview.org/forum/viewtopic.php?p=346&sid=7579d596987e6e68e16f022fd314ce22 New Poetry Review] or [http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/c/a/2005/07/10/BAGGJDJQJI1.DTL&type=printable SFgate] (accessed 16 March 2007)] ). Summer 1999 he was a Lannan Foundationwriter in residence in Marfa, Texas.
Sacks was born in
Port Elizabeth, South Africa, and grew up in Durban. His father was a physician, and for a time Peter expected to follow in his footsteps. He attended Princeton University(B.A. 1973), Oxford Universityas a Rhodes Scholar(M.Phil. 1976), and Yale University(Ph.D. 1980). Sacks taught English at Johns Hopkins Universitybetween 1980 and 1996, being promoted to full professor in 1989. Since 1996, he has been a professor of English and American literature and language at Harvard University. [ [http://www.hno.harvard.edu/gazette/1999/04.15/sacks.profile.html "Swimming in Words"] , Harvard Gazette]
His first wife was [http://barbarakassel.com/Artist.asp?ArtistID=5729&Akey=PQFJP8B4 Barbara Kassel] , a painter and teacher of painting.
Sacks married poet
Jorie Grahamin 2000. Among other awards, her poetry has been recognized by a Pulitzer Prize, a MacArthur Fellowship, and a [http://www.artsandletters.org/awards.php Morton Dauwen Zabel Award] from the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters. Graham's relationship with Sacks was briefly the subject of controversy in the poetry community, when the website Foetry.comalleged [http://foetry.com/wp/?page_id=80 Foetry.com archive] ] [http://foetry.com/wp/?page_id=85 Foetry page on Jorie Graham] that she judged the University of GeorgiaContemporary Poetry series contest that selected Sacks's manuscript "O Wheel" as the first place winner. Although contest administrator Bin Ramkerefused to name the judge who had selected Sacks's manuscript, the allegation was shown to be partially true when [http://foetry.com/foetry/mailfraud.pdf documents were released] following a [http://www.georgiaencyclopedia.org/nge/Article.jsp?id=h-1363 Georgia Open Records Act] request. Although (according to the Los Angeles Times) Graham had not yet arrived at Harvard or married Sacks when the prize was awarded, she did not deny that she and Sacks knew each other at the time of the contest, and said that she felt "awkward" enough about it to ask the series editor Ramke to make the call.
In 1999, during a period of indecision, Sacks began painting over photographs using thick white acrylic. This led to an interest in what he might be able to accomplish as a painter. He now exhibits his work in
Franceand around the world. [ [http://www.galeriepieceunique.com/infoframes/sacks.htm Photographs and discussion of Sacks's artworks] , Galerie piece unique]
Overview of the poetry
Sacks is not a narrative poet in a conventional sense, and he is not a nature poet, yet readers of his poems soon begin to inhabit the landscapes Sacks identifies as home – and to share his knowledge of how deeply dangerous (physically, emotionally, morally) being alive can become.
Library Journal", reviewing "In These Mountains", said, “This first volume of poetry by a South African living in America is a quiet, understated, and complex work, ranging in subject from travel to homelessness; in feeling, from celebrations of beauty to painful recollection. Weaving together myth, memory, and history to narrate the fate of South African Bushmen, the long title poem expresses Sacks's complex feelings -- sorrow, outrage, loss toward his homeland. Sacks is a visual poet – an image maker rather than an abstract or discursive one – and his images, like his feelings about South Africa, are double-edged.”
Reviewing "Promised Land",
J.M. Coetzeedescribed Peter Sacks as “a poet whose sense of history lies deep in his bones." Others have praised his ability to communicate passion, pain, and the desire for redress, side by side with submission to the fact of mortality.
"Natal Command" chronicles the poet’s despair as he watches his father die and his fatherland change. The figure of the poet as swimmer and runner, of sensual man as natural athlete, is central to the book.
"O Wheel" is a millennial collection of poems – some of them masquerading as diary notes – celebrating the beauty of the
American Westand the poet’s love of his African home. The work also looks back at a century of unprecedented violence and the wrenching death of his father. In “Two Mountains,” the poet, recognizing himself as Isaacat the place of sacrifice, becomes the invoked Muse. [http://www.powells.com/biblio/0820321842?&PID=32322 Powell's Books] described "O Wheel" as "a book of amazing delicacy, intricacy, and formal beauty that reveals terrifying truths. Its backdrop is an edgy mix of the intense violence of South Africa's recent history, the personal struggles of the human soul for the rights to speak freely and to experience justice, and the expanse of the American literary landscape. Peter Sacks employs a variety of poetic styles and approaches that break new ground formally as well as thematically. With a vision that is at once personal and public, he contends with nihilism and extracts hope from even the most barbaric aspects of human nature. "O Wheel" offers sensitive and striking poems that menace, overwhelm, entice, provoke, and deeply move the reader."
Sacks writes of "Necessity", “The poems make and record an unavoidable but potentially self-clarifying quest in the face of injustice, atrocity, beauty.” [ [http://www.folger.edu/template.cfm?cid=559 Program announcement] ,
Folger Shakespeare Library]
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