d. December 4, 1989)
Born and reared in Utah of Swedish parents who were Mormons. Her poems are oracular, imagistic, and marked by experimentalism in technique and typography of shaped forms. She also wrote riddles for children and translated Sweedish poetry. May was a co-winner of the Bollingen Prize (1979-80).
She continually questions existence and writes much on the topic of love. Her love poems concerned "human nature, the natural world, geography, and invention. They are poems of intense love between women, written at a time when that genre was rare in poetry" (Schulman). Although she did not go out of her way to make known her lesbian sexual identity, she also did not hide it. In her career she has turned down publication offers to use her poetry in a compilation of lesbian writing, yet she did agree in one case, which she explained as a tasteful collection she did not mind contributing to. Her poetry collection "The Complete Love Poems of May Swenson" focused mostly on poems in which sexual imagery is especially abundant.
Nature and sexuality are not separate categories in her work; to be a part of Nature, as we all are, joins us to a common sexual energy. Her strongest love poems, such as "Fireflies," "Dark Wild Honey," and "Wednesday at The Waldorf," rely on Nature imagery for much of their vitality and beauty.
The couple in "Wednesday at The Waldorf," for example, sits in the hotel restaurant under whales that cavort overhead. When the couple goes to their hotel room, the whales are still playing. The poem ends with a hush, a descending peace. The erotic transforms even a busy and anonymous place into one of joy and desire.
Windows and Stones, her translations of Transtromer's poetry, helped introduce English-speaking audiences to his work. Transtromer is a psychologist as well as a poet; his interest in human perception and in our relationship with the landscape and place suggests Swenson's own interest in these areas.
Another Animal (1954)
A Cage of Spines (1958)
To Mix with Time (1963)
Poems to Solve (1966)
Half Sun Half Sleep (1967)
More Poems to Solve (1971)
Windows and Stones (1972)
New and Selecte Things Taking Place (1979)