Anne Stevenson Passes Away – Poetry News September 16th

Today we have just one poetry news story, the sad death of the poet and critic Anne Stevenson, who has died aged 87.

Anne Stevenson, Poet and Critic Dies Aged 87

The poet and critic Anne Stevenson has passed away at the age of 87.

Born in 1933 in Cambridge, Anne was the oldest of three daughters. Her father was the American philosopher Charles Stevenson. When she was just six months old, he enrolled at the graduate school at Harvard and moved the family to Boston where they spent six years. When her father was offered a lectureship at Yale they moved to New Haven. She returned to England as a young woman and settled in the North East.

Whilst Anne is was an award-winning poet in her own right, penning poetry that was both witty and elegiac, she rose to fame with the publication of “Bitter Fame”. This was a biography of her fellow poet Sylvia Plath. Stevenson was particularly well known for her critical writing about other female poets.

“Bitter Fame” was the first publication that gave equal blame to Plath and her husband Ted Hughes for the breakup of their marriage, something that previously had been suggested Hughes was much more to blame for. It was a book which divided the Plath establishment.

Amongst her fellow poets, Stevenson had her own crowd of admirers including the former poet laureate Andrew Motion. The pair were friends for many years and Motion felt that she belonged in “the lineage of puritan women poets that extends from Emily Dickinson to Elizabeth Bishop and Sylvia Plath”. A special volume of her book published when she turned 70 gained tributes from most of the leading figures in the poetry world.

The fact that she is not as well known as she might have been is, in part, attributed to the fact that she was neither British nor American but a bit of both. However, she was well known for the fact that she avoided competitions and workshops of all types. She was fond of saying that the greats such as Shakespeare and Byron would never have enrolled in classes, however, the fact that she was almost completely deaf is most likely to have been the reason she avoided these public occasions.

Bitter Fame was the only Plath biography that was produced with the co-operation of the Plath estate. However, its stance that both parties were equally to blame for the breakup of the marriage outraged followers of Plath, who declared the book the work of an envious minor poet. It wasn’t until Birthday Letters, published in 1998 by Hughes emerged, that the views held in Stevenson’s book were vindicated.

Whilst Stevenson wrote a number of poetry collections, she always felt that her own work was overshadowed by the book that she had written about Plath.

Her love of fiction was something she gained from her mother whilst her father fostered in her a passion for poetry and music. As a youngster, it was music that attracted her attention. Every house they lived in had several musical instruments and her father would often shout encouragement to her as she practised.

Anne Stevenson is survived by her husband and three children: a daughter and two sons.


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