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Eleanor Wilner

Eleanor Wilner

Eleanor Wilner

(United States of America, 1937)
Eleanor Wilner was born in 1937 in Ohio. She earned a BA from Goucher College and a PhD from Johns Hopkins University, where she completed her dissertation on the imagination, a work later published as Gathering the Winds: Visionary Imagination and Radical Transformation of Self and Society (1975). Active in civil rights and peace movements, Wilner is known for writing poetry that engages politics, culture, history and myth.
I have grown tired of keeping your accounts,
shaping a story from the chaos of your caprice,
the endless invention of your unconcern; I tire
of the argument, the contention, the attempt
to make a plot out of quicksand and fog,
to rouse the wind when becalmed, to comfort
the dead with a song.

(from ‘Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory of . . .’)

In an interview with Rebecca Seiferle for Drunken Boat, Wilner said she first encountered the concept of cultural memory from Russian poet Osip Mandelstam, who was reported to have said, “I have no personal memory, only a cultural memory.” Wilner told Seiferle: “I remember reading this with an enormous sense of relief, as this was precisely my own experience. So much of the past cried out for utterance, especially all that had been silent, or silenced.” Wilner went on to explain the foundation of her poems, harkening back to her work in Gathering the Winds: “In order to validate my experience of poetic vision, I studied comparative mythology and anthropology, looking at new visions to understand their source, and saw the ways in which collective vision always began with a communal crisis and an individual who, in essence, dreamed for the community. This is what I think a poet does, and I think our culture has made us shallow and dreamless by inculcating the myth that the individual is defined and set apart by his or her own personal experience.”

                                                                     if what
loves, and love is, takes away what it aims
to preserve,
                      then here is the place to fall
meaning well but in danger
of marring what we would praise, unable
to do more than wear down the marble
steps to the altar.

(from ‘What loves, takes away’)

Wilner’s collections of poetry include Tourist in Hell (2010), The Girl with Bees in Her Hair (2004), Reversing the Spell: New and Selected Poems (1998), Otherwise (1993), Sarah’s Choice (1989), Shekhinah (1984), and maya (1979). Eleanor Wilner has received numerous awards and honors for her work, including the Juniper Prize, two Pushcart Prizes, and fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the MacArthur Foundation. An active teacher of poetry, Wilner has taught at institutions like the University of Chicago, Northwestern University, and Smith College. She is a faculty member of the Warren Wilson MFA Program, and lives in Philadelphia.
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Tourist in Hell, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, IL, 2010
The Girl with Bees in Her Hair, Copper Canyon Press, Port Townsend, WA, 2004
Precessional (limited edition), lithographs by Enid Mark, ELM Press, Wallingford, PA, 1998
Reversing the Spell: New and Selected Poems, Copper Canyon Press, Port Townsend, WA, 1998
Otherwise, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, IL, 1993
Sarah's Choice, University of Chicago Press, 1989
Shekhinah, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, IL, 1984
Gathering the Winds: Visionary Imagination and Radical Transformation of Self and Society, Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, MD, 1975
maya, University of Massachusetts Press, Amherst, MA, 1979


The Drunken Boat, Interview with Eleanor Wilner
Poetry magazine, Finding Again the World, article by Eleanor Wilner
Poetry magazine, Poetry and the Pentagon: Unholy Alliance?, article by Eleanor Wilner
Poetry Foundation, Meghan O’Rourke, J. Allyn Rosser and Eleanor Wilner on Women’s Poetry: An Exchange
Mine eyes have seen the glory of . . ., audio recording
Tracking, audio recording
Poetry Off the Shelf podcast, Bees and Monstrous Babies: Eleanor Wilner on species pity and political power run amok, audio recording
Gemeente Rotterdam
Nederlands Letterenfonds
Stichting Van Beuningen Peterich-fonds
Prins Bernhard cultuurfonds
Lira fonds
J.E. Jurriaanse
Gefinancierd door de Europese Unie
Elise Mathilde Fonds
Stichting Verzameling van Wijngaarden-Boot
LantarenVenster – Verhalenhuis Belvédère