Bio / Susan Tichy

Since 1988, Susan Tichy has taught in George Mason University's Graduate Writing Program (MFA Poetry), where for five years she was Executive Producer of Poetry Theater: An Evening of Visual Poetics. In addition to graduate and undergraduate writing workshops she teaches modern & contemporary poetry, with particular interests in women Modernist & avant-garde poets, poetic form, sequence & collage, "the poem including history," Scottish poetry and the Scottish traditional ballad.

Susan Tichy’s books are A Smell of Burning Starts the Day (Wesleyan, 1988) and The Hands in Exile (Random House, 1983), a National Poetry Series selection, and Bone Pagoda (Ahsahta Press, 2007). A fourth volume, Gallowglass, is forthcoming from Ahsahta in 2010.

Her work has appeared widely in the US and Britain, and has been recognized by a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, by a Kayden Award for Poetry, a Pushcart Prize, and by nominations for the General Electric and Dewars Performing Arts Awards. Most recently, her poems have won awards from Indiana Review, Runes, and The Beloit Poetry Journal, which selected her poem "Stork" for the 2007 Chad Walsh Prize. She has served on award panels for the states of Illinois and Massachusetts, for the Zora Neale Hurston/Richard Wright Award, and for the National Endowment for the Arts. From 2005-2007 she served as Poetry Editor for Practice: New Writing + Art.

Tichy’s poems have been praised for sensual detail, a fine ear, and a willingness to engage “the broader social, political, and emotional issues of the world.” Her intention has always been to draw together threads of the personal, the historical, and the political in a mode she calls “an autobiography of imperialism.” Tichy’s first book, The Hands in Exile, centers on time spent working on the Golan Heights in 1977. It was selected for the National Poetry Series, received the Eugene Kayden Award, and was praised in The New York Times for an ability to “confront questions of nationhood, selfhood and the possible transcendence of both on a more inward and visionary plane.”

Tichy’s second volume, A Smell of Burning Starts the Day, resulted from research into human rights abuse in the Philippines during the Marcos years and during the Philippine-American War of 1899-1902. It was praised for political courage and (in Beloit Poetry Journal) for “extraordinary richness of sensitive personal observation, informed by the knowledge of the historian, and colored by the moral and political responses of a true poet.” Tichy’s essay “Forms of Temptation” discusses the political and aesthetic issues of this work. 

Subsequently, Susan Tichy has explored the relationships between narrative technique and political awareness. She has turned increasingly toward collage and quotation, forms she had used since the 1970s and which became important in her second volume. In the 1990s she wrote two collage sequences and a number of dense, lyrical poems exploring the political power of representation. Her newest book, Bone Pagoda, encompasses both lyric and collage in an extended meditation on the Vietnam war. As a young war protester in the 1960s, Tichy found her poetic vocation in the context of that war. She married an American combat veteran and later traveled with him in Vietnam. The poems of Bone Pagoda build these experiences into layers of narrative and image both introspective and musical. Poems from this volume appeared in Beloit Poetry Journal, Court Green, Denver Quarterly, Fascicle, Hotel Amerika, and Indiana Review.

Susan Tichy is also working on a long-term project, Trafficke: An Autobiography, a mixed-genre meditation (verse, prose, collage) on the myths of family and national history and on the power of literacy. Drawing on nearly 200 sources, it hunts and incorporates traces of a family history from the 6th century Scottish Highlands to the beginnings of slavery in early Maryland. An excerpt received the 1999 Prose Award from Quarter After Eight, where Douglas Messerli praised Trafficke for its combination of erudition and engaging narrative. 

When not teaching, Susan Tichy lives in a ghost town in the southern Colorado Rockies, where she is active in efforts to preserve open space and wildlife habitat. San Isabel Land Protection Trust

Photo by Gushikawa

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