A Pulitzer Poet – Lisel Mueller

Thanks to Lu and Kelly for creating the Poetry Project and suggesting the theme of reading the Pulitzer Prize winning poets in August.  I have been reading poets who are new to me.   One of my favorites is  Lisel Mueller who won the Pulitzer in 1997 for the collection Alive Together.  I borrowed this book from my library but will be sure to add a copy to my poetry collection.

Mueller’s poetry very clear and direct, based in present time and yet deeply connected to the past.  She uses folk and fairy tales  in her poems, as well as everyday events.   Her poems tell stories, are often personal,  never heavy-handed and are filled with wonderful imagery.  I find her writing striking, deeply moving and quite beautiful.

Here are two poems from Alive Together:

Sometimes, When The Light

Sometimes, when the light strikes at odd angles
and pulls you back into childhood

and you are passing a crumbling mansion
completely hidden behind old willows

or an empty convent guarded by hemlocks
and giant firs  standing hip to hip,

you know again that behind that wall,
under the uncut hair of the willows

something secret is going on,
so marvelous and dangerous

that if you crawled through and saw,
you would die, or be happy forever.

Why We Tell Stories

For Linda Foster

Because we used to have leaves
and on damp days
our muscles feel a tug,
painful now, from when roots
pulled us into the ground

and because our children believe
they can fly, an instinct retained
from when the bones in our arms
were shaped like zithers and broke
neatly under their feathers

and because before we had lungs
we knew how far it was to the bottom
as we floated open-eyed
like painted scarves through the scenery
of dreams, and because we awakened

and learned to speak

We sat by the fire in our caves,
and because we were poor, we made up a tale
about a treasure mountain
that would open only for us

and because we were always defeated,
we invented impossible riddles
only we could solve,
monsters only we could kill,
women who could love no one else
and because we had survived
sisters and brothers, daughters and sons,
we discovered bones that rose
from the dark earth and sang
as white birds in the trees

Because the story of our life
becomes our life

Because each of us tells
the same story
but tells it differently

and none of us tells it
the same way twice

Because grandmothers looking like spiders
want to enchant the children
and grandfathers need to convince us
what happened happened because of them

and though we listen only
haphazardly, with one ear,
we will begin our story
with the word and

Lisel Mueller


Filed under Authors, Poetry, Poetry Project, Pulitzer, Thoughts

9 responses to “A Pulitzer Poet – Lisel Mueller

  1. “because the story of our life becomes our life” is a great line. Actually, I should have put a slash for the line break, because that’s definitely part of the charm, that minute pause.

    • I really enjoyed discovering Mueller’s work and have located a used copy of Alive Together to add to my collection. Thanks for your comment.

  2. Lu

    My favorite part of this poem are these lines:

    Because the story of our life
    becomes our life

    Because each of us tells
    the same story
    but tells it differently

    and none of us tells it
    the same way twice

    I had never read LIsel Mueller.

  3. I have this book and have only peeked into it. I have to read it through now, thanks so much for your wonderful post, Gavin. I’m really pleased with all the participation Kelly’s project is getting. I wish my life had been calmer so I could have joined in.

  4. Pingback: Poetry Project August Round Up | Regular Rumination

  5. Lisel Mueller is my all-time favorite writer. I appreciate how insightful and deep her poetry is, while still being very accessible to a wide range of readers. A favorite line of mine goes something like this: “I know too much to believe that life is good, but I act as though it were, and skeptical of love, I survive by the witness of my own”.

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