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Lawrence Raab

Raab-330Poet and professor Lawrence Raab was born in Pittsfield, Massachusetts in 1946. He earned a BA from Middlebury College and an MA from Syracuse University and has taught at various institutions including American University, the University of Michigan, and Williams College, where is the Morris Professor of Rhetoric.

Raab is the author of more than half a dozen collections of poetry, including What We Don’t Know About Each Other (1993), selected for the National Poetry Series by Stephen Dunn and a finalist for the National Book Award; Visible Signs: New and Selected Poems (2003); The History of Forgetting (2009); and Mistaking Each Other for Ghosts (2015), which was a finalist for the National Book Award. He collaborated with Stephen Dunn on a chapbook of poems, Winter at the Caspian Sea (1999).

Conversational yet precise, Raab’s lyrical meditations trace human fallibility and doubt. AsBoston Review critic Don Colburn noted in a review of What We Don’t Know About Each Other,“Lawrence Raab’s gracefully haunting poems explore the fine lines of our temporal lives‚ between distance and intimacy, limits and possibility, present and past …In Raab’s poems, reason and faith are not as far apart as they sometimes seem.”

In addition to his poetry, Raab has written the screenplays The Distances (1967) and Or I’ll Come to You (1968). The Birds, his adaptation of a play by Aristophanes, was first produced at the Power Center in Ann Arbor in 1975. Raab has been an editor for Frontiers and a member of the editorial board of Alkahest.

Raab’s honors include the Bess Hokin Prize from Poetry magazine, the Academy of American Poets’ Prize, and the Charity Randall Citation from the International Poetry Forum. He has also received grants and fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Massachusetts Council on the Arts, the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, the University of Michigan Society of Fellows, the Peter S. Reed Foundation, and the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation. Raab’s poetry has been featured in The Norton Anthology of Poetry(1983), A Book of Luminous Things (1996, ed. Czeslaw Milosz), and several volumes of Best American Poetry. (Poetry Foundation)

I loved this poem because the last stanza made me think really hard about whether there has ever been a time in my life when I would feel like he said — as if all the rest of it was necessary. I still haven’t decided!


My Life Before I Knew It

I liked rainy days
when you didn’t have to go outside and play.
At night I’d tell my sister
there were snakes under her bed.
When I mowed the lawn I imagined being famous.
Cautious and stubborn, unwilling to fail,
I knew for certain what I didn’t want to know.

I hated to dance. I hated baseball,
and collected airplane cards instead.
I learned to laugh at jokes I didn’t get.
The death of Christ moved me,
but only at the end of Ben-Hur.
I thought Henry Mancini was a great composer.

My secret desire was to own a collie
who would walk with me in the woods
when the leaves were falling
and I was thinking about writing the stories
that would make me famous.

Sullen, overweight, melancholy,
writers didn’t have to be good at sports.
They stayed inside for long periods of time.
They often wore glasses. But strangers
were moved by what they accomplished
and wrote them letters. One day

one of those strangers would introduce
herself to me, and then
the life I’d never been able to forsee
would begin, and everything
before I became myself would appear
necessary to the rest of the story.


Picture Credit: poemsoutloud.net