It is no surprise that Marie Ponsot’s latest poetry collection, Easy, should feature a poem titled “Language Acquisition.” Ponsot’s engagement with sound, as both a poet and a mother, is insistent; she seeks poems, she says, that use “whatever we can find in our language to catch the world and offer it to each other.” How ironic, then, that mere months after the book was published, Ponsot suffered a stroke, from which she is now recovering, that partially impaired her speech and memory. For the woman who wrote “The delicious tongue we speak with speaks us,” the resulting loss of language and syntax must have been terrifyingly dislocating. Yet she has managed to find humor in it: laughingly observing, in a subsequent interview with the New York Times, that some people have mistaken her newfound confusion of gendered pronouns for sociopolitical commentary.
Laughing at mortality, Marie Ponsot’s accomplishments are legion; among her many fellowships and prizes is a National Book Critics Circle Award for her 1998 collection, The Bird Catcher, and her recent election to the Academy of American Poets. She is also a translator and a beloved teacher. A professor of English at Queens college until 1991—during which time she co-authored with Rosemary Deen two books on writing fundamentals, Beat Not the Poor Desk and The Common Sense—she has since taught creative writing at Columbia University, New York University, and the 92nd Street Y, among other institutions. And lest we forget triumphs closer to home, Ponsot will remind us of her seven children, sixteen grandchildren, and nine great-grandchildren.