Featured Illinois Poet
Although this website’s objective is simply to promote the art of poetry, its special focus is the rich bounty of work created by our state’s poets past and present. Through features on the work of Illinois poets, the site will highlight the poetic legacy of Illinois and showcase the bevy of fine poets currently writing within the state.
Arguably our state's most-honored living poet, Lisel Mueller has been awarded several prestigious national literary awards. In 1975, Ms. Mueller's second collection, The Private Life , was chosen as the Lamont Poetry Selection by the Academy of American Poets. Later, she received the 1980 National Book Award for The Need to Hold Still . Most recently, her Alive Together: New and Selected Poems (1996) won the coveted Pulitzer Prize.
Ms. Mueller arrived in this country at the age of fifteen, fleeing with her family the terrors of Nazi Germany. As her reminiscence “Learning to Play by Ear” (excerpted elsewhere on this website) relates in striking terms, Ms. Mueller came to English as her second language, finding its peculiarities both exotic and flushed with unintentional metaphor that made of language itself an adventure in understanding. One can still detect flashes of understanding's swift arrival in her poems' epiphanies, moments where sudden recognition bristles across the backdrop of language like heat lightning on a steamy July night. Never showy or ostentatious, Mueller's poems move with the modest decorum of the immigrant who wishes not to call attention to herself. Still, insistent in these poems is Mueller's intersecting of private and public lives, instants where the personal life resonates with historical and communal implications. If poetry is, as poet Robert Kelly asserts, all about “transforming things” and “things transforming,” then Mueller shows us that process and illuminates its lasting rewards.
Lisel Mueller's Poems
"SOMETIMES, WHEN THE LIGHT"
The poems reprinted here appear in Lisel Mueller's Alive Together (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1996). Copyright © 1996 by Lisel Mueller. Used with the author's permission.