Swenson, Karen 1936-

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Swenson, Karen 1936-


Born July 29, 1936, in New York, NY; daughter of Howard (an architect) and Dorothy Swenson; married Michael Shuter, November, 1958 (divorced, 1970); children: Michael, Jr. Education: Barnard College, B.A., 1959; New York University, M.A., 1971.


Home—New York, NY.


City College of the City University of New York, New York, NY, lecturer in English, beginning 1969; also teacher at Barnard College and New York University. Poet in residence at Skidmore College, University of Idaho, University of Denver, Clark University, and Scripps College. Worked in public relations and as a dishwasher, usher, and bookseller.


PEN, Associated Writing Programs, Poetry Society of America, Poets and Writers, Poets House, Century Association, Barnard Alumni Association.


Transatlantic Review poetry fellow, Bread Loaf Writers' Conference, 1973; National Poetry Series winner, 1993, for The Landlady in Bangkok.



An Attic of Ideals, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1974.

East-West (chapbook), Confluence (Lewiston, ID), 1980.

A Sense of Direction, The Smith (New York, NY), 1989.

The Landlady in Bangkok, Copper Canyon Press (Port Townsend, WA), 1994.

A Daughter's Latitude: New and Selected Poems, Copper Canyon Press (Port Townsend, WA), 1999.


Karen Swenson (sound recording), New Letters (Kansas City, MO), 1982.

Contributor to periodicals, including New Leader, New Yorker, Nation, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, New York Quarterly, and Texas Quarterly.


Poems from Karen Swenson's first four collections found their way into A Daughter's Latitude: New and Selected Poems, along with some new poems and several that never made it into the earlier collections. The resulting volume, with individual poems arranged in chronological order, offers a historical perspective on a poet's evolution from the 1960s through the 1990s. Swenson's early work, which first appeared in the collection An Attic of Ideals, treats such subjects as the author's love-hate relationship with her mother, her father's alcoholism, her own failed marriage, and her son. She also begins to write about her worldwide travels, a theme that reappears throughout her work. The chapbook East-West and the collection A Sense of Direction find the author's wanderlust restricted to the continental United States, where Swenson's time and affections were divided between New York City and North Dakota. The Landlady in Bangkok displays the terror and exhilaration of Swenson's first travels, alone, to the Far East. "Over the decades, Swenson has oscillated in her poems between personal or familial matters and more cosmopolitan issues, such as the exploitation of women in Southeast Asia," observed Ron McFarland in the Bloomsbury Review, citing the poems "Polygamy" and "The Guide" from The Landlady in Bangkok. "Throughout her travels, however, Swenson avoids being censorious, either of her fellow tourists or of local residents she encounters," McFarland continued. He pointed to "We," from the same collection, in which Swenson enters a museum exhibit in the city formerly called Saigon, which is featuring photographs of Western soldiers committing atrocities against Vietnamese people. She asks the question, "Is it enough to see it clearly?" "Much of A Daughter's Latitude is a powerful exploration of the forces which put Swenson ‘on the road,’" observed Jack Foley in the Alsop Review. "Travel offers Swenson a way out of the burdens of her own consciousness," he continued. "It allows her to observe others—and she does so in verse which is highly descriptive, at times almost journalistic."



Contemporary Authors Autobiography Series, Volume 13, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1991.


Bloomsbury Review, September-October, 2000, Ron McFarland, review of A Daughter's Latitude: New and Selected Poems, p. 20.

Hudson Review, winter, 2000, review of A Daughter's Latitude, p. 42.

New York Times Book Review, April 11, 1999, Joy Katz, review of A Daughter's Latitude, p. 24.

Publishers Weekly, January 24, 1999, review of A Daughter's Latitude, p. 92.


Alsop Review,http://www.alsopreview.com/ (April 20, 2001), Jack Foley, review of A Daughter's Latitude.