Annie Finch (born 1956) is an American poet. She is author of numerous books of poetry as well as poetry translation, poetry anthologies and criticism, opera libretti, and poetic collaborations with visual art, music, theater, and dance. Her writings on poetry address topics including meter and prosody, postmodern form, and the place of poetry in contemporary life. She is also known for developing an aesthetic of women's poetic traditions. In the title essay of The Body of Poetry, Finch connects her poetry's frequent thematic focus on nature, the body, and spiritual issues, and also its attention to pattern and sound, with her earth-centered spirituality. Because of her efforts, in her poetry and criticism, to redefine the terms of discussion about poetic form, an article in The Dictionary of Literary Biography names her "one of the central figures in contemporary American poetics.
Annie Finch was born on October 31, 1956 in New Rochelle, New York. Her maternal great-aunt, Jessie Wallace Hughan, was a founder of the War Resisters League. Her mother was a poet and doll artist. Her father was a scholar of Ludwig Wittgenstein, a conscientious objector, and a professor of philosophy at Sarah Lawrence College and Hunter College. In the introduction to The Body of Poetry, Finch claims that her parents met at a lecture by Auden, and her essay "Desks" describes the influences of her father's book collection and her mother's example as a poet.
Finch graduated from Oakwood Friends' School, a Quaker boarding school in Poughkeepsie, New York, in 1973 and then studied filmmaking, art history, and poetry at Bard College at Simon's Rock before earning her B.A. in English Literature at Yale University, magna cum laude, in 1979.
In 1983 she performed and self-published an excerpt from her first book, The Encyclopedia of Scotland, in New York (it would be published in full in 2005 by the British house Salt Publishing). The same year she enrolled in the M.A. program in Creative Writing at the University of Houston, where her M.A. thesis consisted of three verse dramas written under the supervision of playwright Ntozake Shange. She married Glen Brand, who moved with her to California where she enrolled in the graduate program in English and American literature at Stanford University. While living in the San Francisco area, Finch produced, directed, and acted in short poetic plays and worked with Bob Holman on Poets Theater. She completed her dissertation under the direction of literary scholar and Anne Sexton biographer Diane Middlebrook and earned her PhD in 1990.
Finch's work first found a national audience in 1997 with the publication of Eve from Story Line Press, reissued by the Carnegie Mellon Contemporary Classics Poetry Series in 2010. Her next book, Calendars (Tupelo Press, 2003), was shortlisted for the Foreword Poetry Book of the Year. In 2010, Tupelo released an audio version and Readers Guide to Calendars. Finch's "narrative libretto" Among the Goddesses: An Epic Libretto in Seven Dreams, a combination opera libretto and epic poem focusing on abortion and goddess-centered spirituality, was published by Red Hen Press in 2010. Spells: New and Selected Poems (Wesleyan University Press) arranges Finch's poetry in chronological order for the first time, including a selection of her unpublished "lost poems" from the late 1980s.
Finch's opera Marina, based on the life of poet Marina Tsvetaeva, was produced by American Opera Projects in 2003 with music by Deborah Drattell. In 2010, with director Assunta Kent, she founded Poets Theater of Maine in Portland, Maine.
Finch and her husband, an environmental organizer, have two children. In 2004 they moved to Maine, where she served until 2013 as Director of the Stonecoast MFA Program, the low-residency MFA in creative writing at the University of Southern Maine.
In an article in Contemporary Authors, published two years before her first full-length book of poetry, Finch made a remark that anticipates the focus of her career "To me, poetic form, with its unverbal, physical power, is radically important in reconnecting us with our human roots and rediscovering our intimacy with nature . . .. rhythmic formal poetry is of great value in celebrating, commemorating, and cementing the bonds of community." As Claire Keyes notes in the entry on Finch in Scribner's American Writers, "A strong current in her work is the decentering of the self, a theme which stems from her deep connection with the natural world and her perception of the self as part of nature."
While Finch has been consistently inspired by formal poetics since the early 1990s, from the outset much in her work has differentiated her from the movement called "New Formalism." Henry Taylor wrote in a review of Eve, "while much would seem to align her with the so-called new formalists, Finch cheerfully ignores many of their stated principles" by not writing about contemporary life and forgoing a "natural" idiom. In all her books but especially in Calendars, whose downloadable "Readers Companion" offers sample scansions of fifteen separate meters used in the book and a long list of formal structures, Finch exemplifies her own invented terms "metrical diversity," "an exaltation of forms," and "multiformalism." In a blog for the Poetry Foundation, "Listening to Poetry,", she writes, "A friend asked me a few months ago, as I was discussing one of the poems I had been writing, “does it ever depress you, thinking that most people won’t know what you are doing with meter?” Maybe it should depress me, but honestly, it doesn’t. Meter just gives me too much joy for me to worry too much about it. . . . Meter is like music; you can enjoy it whether or not you understand why, and you can easily enjoy poems in meter by reading aloud to yourself, even if you are only used to reading free verse. . . . Meanwhile, just in case, my publisher is busy producing an audio version of my book on CD."
Such statements, along with Poetry Foundation blog essays on such topics as "Occasioning Occasional Poetry" and "Where Are You, General Audience?," imply that one of Finch's goals is to appeal to a wider audience for poetry., Yet Finch's work has been published and reviewed by such publishers as the innovative British publisher Salt Publishing, whose website describes The Encyclopedia of Scotland as "an early experimental work . . .a performance poem for soul-voice and attendant daemons." The book carries an endorsement by Jennifer Moxley claiming that it anticipates the work of experimental poet Stacey Dorris, and its longest review appears in the avant-garde-leaning journal Jacket. Finch's third book of poetry, Calendars, was compared in a review by Ron Silliman to the work of innovative poets Robert Duncan and Bernadette Mayer. Such connections reveal that a good part of the critical interest attracted by Finch's poetry has also come from the avant-garde end of the poetic spectrum.
In an interview with New Formalist poet R.S. Gwynn, Finch has remarked, "When I teach contemporary poetry, I divide it into four tendencies: formalist, oral tradition-performance, mainstream free verse, and experimental. I feel lucky to have encountered firsthand so many influences from these four divergent kinds of poetry. In my own work, I like to think, these different approaches have united to bring me back full-circle, yet in a new way, to the poetry I loved first, and best, when I was young."
HLF, August 8,1918—August 22,1997
“Bequeath us to no earthly shore until
Is answered in the vortex of our grave
All the things we hide in water
hoping we won't see them go—
(forests growing under water
press against the ones we know) —
(The Celtic Halloween)
In the season leaves should love,
since it gives them leave to move
through the wind, towards the ground
He is sleeping, his fingers curled,
his belly pooled open, his legs gathered,