Berg, Stephen (Walter)

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BERG, Stephen (Walter)

Nationality: American. Born: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 2 August 1934. Education: University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia; Boston University; University of Iowa, Iowa City, B.A. 1959; University of Indiana, Bloomington. Family: Married Millie Lane in 1959; two daughters. Career: Formerly instructor in English, Temple University, Philadelphia; also taught at Princeton University, New Jersey, and Haverford College, Pennsylvania. Professor, Philadelphia College of Art. Poetry editor, Saturday Evening Post, Philadelphia, 1961–62. Since 1972 founding editor, with Stephen Parker and Rhoda Schwartz, American Poetry Review, Philadelphia. Awards: Rockefeller-Centro Mexicano de Escritores grant, 1959–61; National Translation Center grant, 1969; Frank O'Hara prize (Poetry, Chicago), 1970; Guggenheim fellowship, 1974; National Endowment for the Arts grant, 1976; Columbia University Translation Center award, 1976. Address: 2005 Mt. Vernon Street, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19130, U.S.A.



Berg Goodman Mezey. Philadelphia, New Ventures Press, 1957.

Bearing Weapons. West Branch, Iowa, Cummington Press, 1963.

The Queen's Triangle: A Romance. West Branch, Iowa Cummington Press, 1970.

The Daughters. Indianapolis, Bobbs Merrill, 1971.

Nothing in the Word: Versions of Aztec Poetry. New York, Grossman, 1972.

Grief: Poems and Versions of Poems. New York, Grossman, 1975.

With Akmatova at the Black Gates: Variations. Urbana, University of Illinois Press, 1981.

In It. Urbana, University of Illinois Press, 1986.

First Song, Bankei, 1653. Omaha, Nebraska, Cummington Press, 1989.

Crow with No Mouth: Ikkyu, 15th Century Zen Master: Versions. Port Townsend, Washington, Copper Canyon Press, 1989.

Homage to the Afterlife. Omaha, Nebraska, Cummington Press, 1991.

New & Selected Poems. Port Townsend, Washington, and Newcastle upon Tyne, Bloodaxe, 1992.

Oblivion: Poems. Urbana, University of Illinois Press, 1995.

The Steel Cricket: Versions 1958–1997. Port Townsend, Washington, Copper Canyon Press, 1997.

Shaving. Marshfield, Massachusetts, Four Way Books, 1998.

Footnotes to an Unfinished Poem. Washington, D.C., Orchises Press, 2000.


Oedipus the King, with Diskin Clay, adaptation of a play by Sophocles (produced New York, 1981). New York and London, Oxford University Press, 1978.


Sea Ice: Versions of Eskimo Songs. Omaha, Nebraska, Cummington Press, 1988.

Editor, with Robert Mezey, Naked Poetry: Recent American Poetry in Open Forms. Indianapolis, Bobbs Merrill, 1969.

Editor, with S.J. Marks, Between People. Chicago, Scott Foresman, 1972.

Editor with S.J. Marks, About Women. New York, Fawcett, 1973.

Editor, with Robert Mezey, The New Naked Poetry. Indianapolis, Bobbs Merrill, 1976.

Editor, In Praise of What Persists. New York, Harper, 1983.

Editor, Singular Voices: American Poetry Today. New York, Avon, 1985.

Translator, with Steven Polgar and S.J. Marks, Clouded Sky, by Miklos Radnoti. New York, Harper, 1972.

Translator, Crow with No Mouth: Ikkyu, 15th-Century Zen Master. Port Townsend, Washington, Copper Canyon Press, 1989.


Critical Studies: "Translation and the Egg" by Deborah Digges, in Field (Oberlin, Ohio), 39, Fall 1988; by Frederick Smock, in American Book Review, 15(5), December 1993–94; "Stephen Berg: The Passion of Mourning, Part I," in Denver Quarterly, 27(3), Winter 1993, and "Stephen Berg: The Passion of Mourning, Part II" in Denver Quarterly, 38(2), Fall 1993, both by Laurence Lieberman.

Stephen Berg comments:

All comments on my work—such as the introductions to Nothing in the Word, Clouded Sky, and Grief—are random and apply to the particular books and poems in question.

*  *  *

Many of the poems in Stephen Berg's 1971 collection, The Daughters, break forth with an almost breathless fury of speech, the expression of an agonized, compassionate mind and sensibility confronting the bitter realities of modern existence:

   We, the dooms, your future, the bloody fire
   between places, dancers on the corpses of who,
   we eat what there is. Are you
   sitting at a table? Is there food? Us,
   the zero washing itself, bones entering the floor,
   leaves zigzagging down through silt, through farms
   in the lone face of a mirror.

Berg appears to write in the tradition of such poets as Neruda, Vallejo, and Patchen. Like them, he strives for a language and imagery that encompass the irony, fatality, and suffering of a life everywhere overshadowed by mortality, a life unredeemed and unaccounted for either by reason or by any known God. In this endeavor Berg often stretches words and syntax to their extreme limits. Frequently his means of progression—more evident in his longer pieces, which are marked by greater space and freedom—is elliptical and associative rather than logical or merely sequential. Berg's poems sometimes surge and lash out seemingly uncontrollably, yet his works reflect a strong and inventive imagination operating constantly, drawing together disparate details and linking objects and bodies such as love and death, pain and anger. With sudden, vivid, and terrible lightning strokes of vision, he takes his readers to a poetic universe that illuminates their own sense of the world.

Berg's poetry suffers occasional lapses, excesses, and repetitions, but these are minor in comparison with the ambitiousness and force of what he attempts. His later poems show a calmer, more reflective side to his writing. Berg is not only an energetic and highly talented poet but also a translator and editor of considerable accomplishment. As the poet himself once wrote, "I can go anywhere, I can let go forever/and live in the middle of fire, in silence &"

—Ralph J. Mills, Jr.