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Like a Beggar

4.52  ·  Rating details ·  368 ratings  ·  54 reviews
Paterson Poetry Prize Finalist, 2015

Featured on NPR's The Writer's Almanac

“Ellen Bass’s new poetry collection, Like a Beggar, pulses with sex, humor and compassion.”—The New York Times

“Bass tries to convey everyday wonder on contemporary experiences of sex, work, aging, and war. Those who turn to poetry to become confidants for another's stories and secrets will not be dis
Paperback, 70 pages
Published March 25th 2014 by Copper Canyon Press
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Average rating 4.52  · 
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Nice to meet you, Ellen. Good stuff here. I like your free verse world because it's the same air I breathe, generally.

As for the book, the vast majority of poems are one-stanza jobs, often tall as centers on basketball teams. Bass's is a very journal-esque kind of world, so we see mostly treatments of her life, her kids, dealing with death of parents, and sex. You know. All that ordinary stuff.

Bass also includes Pablo Neruda-like odes throughout. Here we have odes to repetition, the heart, invi
Bud Smith
Oct 26, 2014 rated it it was amazing
The first poem in this, Relax, is the best poem in this book and it's so good, it crawled out of the book and put a bunch of poetry collections I own in headlocks, which is a pretty unexpected thing to have happen from a poem that's got zen mice and strawberries in it. The rest of the collection was astounding too though, I put a Star next to 12 of the poems. I guess that means that Ioved 12 of the poems so much that I just had to mark the table of contents up as like an offering to the poetry g ...more
Jun 21, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: poetry, read-in-2020
everything here
seems to need us

Rainer Maria Rilke

I can hardly imagine it
as I walk to the lighthouse, feeling the ancient
prayer of my arms swinging
in counterpoint to my feet.
Here I am, suspended
between the sidewalk and the twilight,
the sky dimming so fast it seems alive.
What if you felt the invisible
tug between you and everything?
A boy on a bicycle rides by,
his white shirt open, flaring
behind him like wings.
It's a hard time to be human. We know too much
and too little. Does the breeze need us?
May 06, 2014 rated it it was amazing
I thoroughly enjoyed Ellen Bass' latest poetry collection. I had the pleasure of attending a reading at the Walt Whitman center in Huntington, NY, while visiting Long Island in April. She was awesome, beginning with the first poem in the volume, RELAX. As always, her poems are wry, moving and extremely accessible.
Edgar Trevizo
Sep 27, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Absolutely espectacular. It is a glorious poem collection by a fine and beautiful poet with a keen sense of the connections between everything. I loved it deeply.
Oct 27, 2014 rated it it was amazing

“Poetry is such a good medium for coming to terms with expectations and disappointments. That is how we connect with other people. We need that. All of our suffering is not so different from each other’s. The first poem in Like a Beggar, begins: “Relax. Bad things are going to happen.” And it ends with eating a strawberry.”
Ellen Bass, interview with Kendall Poe from Tin House

Ellen Bass’ third collection of poetry is ripe with beginnings and endings, in a large, metaphorical sense as well as spe
Mar 08, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: poetry
I was fortunate to hear Ellen Bass read last week, then went home to start this collection. She often writes of the inevitability of bad things happening, but she also believes in the rejuvenating joy that can catch us unaware:

“…For a moment
it seems possible that every frailty, every pain,
could be an opening, a crack that lets the unexpected
reach us.”

Bass finds inspiration everywhere. Here are just some of the grand topics and small studies she captures in this book: telescopes, microscopes, mu
Jul 03, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: books-we-love
Emma Komlos-Hrobsky (Assistant Editor, Tin House Magazine): Ellen Bass charmed the socks off me when she read “At The Padre Hotel In Bakersfield, California” at the Writers @ Work conference in Alta, Utah. I loved its slyness and honesty, its willingness to walk right up to the real stuff of this world. I immediately bought Bass’s collection Like a Beggar and read it in happy fits and starts on the plane ride home, then the subway going to and from work, meting it out carefully poem by poem so a ...more
Sep 14, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Ellen Bass writes so honestly about aging, sex, desire, motherhood, caring for her aging mother. Her images are so fresh - "a blue whale sounds and surfaces, cosmic/ladle scooping the icy depths" ("Ode to the Fish"). Her line breaks turn meaning delightfully on its head - "If you've managed to do one good thing,/the ocean doesn't care" ("The World Has Need of You").
Sometimes I had questions about what happened in the stories of the poems (what did she tell her in "Restaurant"? What's going on in
Nov 21, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
Ellen Bass is my favorite poet. At last, I've read through this entire book, in order. I prefer her comical poems, but Bass does not write any poems I do not adore. The poems in Like a Beggar are lively and full of images – and entirely unpretentious. The first of her poems I ever read, "Waiting for Rain" (conveniently featured in this book!) has been massively influential on the way I use language in my own poetry.

Finally, the character of this Bass's (seemingly autobiographical) speaker(s) def
Max Potthoff
Oct 06, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites, poetry
"So here's the view, the breeze, the pulse / in your throat. Your wallet will be stolen, you'll get fat, / slip on the bathroom tiles in a foreign hotel / and crack your hip. You'll be lonely. / Oh, taste how sweet and tart / the red juice is, how the tiny seeds / crunch between your teeth."

I fell in love with Ellen Bass after hearing Nicole Sealy read "Indigo" on a podcast. Such a treat to be at the front end of reading her work.
Oct 22, 2019 rated it it was amazing
A beautiful expanse of grief, joy, odes to the ordinary becoming extraordinary.

"And I was at the enter of our tiny
solar system flung out on the edge
of a minor arm, a spur of one spiraling galaxy,
drenched in the light."
-from Pleasantville, New Jersey 1955

The final poem, "Let's," explodes with life.
Anatoly Molotkov
May 31, 2018 rated it it was amazing
"One morning/ one of us will rise bewildered/ without the other and open the curtains./ There will be the same shaggy redwood/ in the neighbor's yard and the faultless stars/ going out one by one into the day." Moving and personal.
Nov 04, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: poetry
Heart-stopping, masterful, observations and connections in this collection. "For a moment / it seems possible that every frailty, every pain, / could be an opening, a crack that lets the unexpected / reach us."
R.W. Moore
Feb 04, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I don't have a lot in common with Ellen Bass and yet, judging by how much her poetry spoke to me, we might have a lot in common after all. She's a gifted writer to be sure, but beyond that, she's a beautiful soul who has endured a lot and yet still finds beauty (though at times forced) in the world around her. The hard task for her, and for myself, is in accepting what is as the true gift of being alive. This little book is a journey that I felt privileged to take, and one that was stay with me ...more
Odette C.
Aug 14, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Ellen Bass has written some compelling pieces about life, adult children, living and loving your spouse, relating to parents. Each poem in this collection really resonates. A great read and definitely a book of poems that I will refer to in the future.
Cathlina Bergman
Jun 15, 2017 rated it liked it
Heard her read tonight! It was fascinating to hear about her writing process!
Jun 21, 2017 rated it it was amazing
First read: June 21, 2017, Wednesday
Kelan Koning
Aug 28, 2017 rated it really liked it
A collection that begs to be revisited. Some achingly true pieces here.
April Bennett
Sep 05, 2017 rated it it was amazing
She's ruthless and illuminating.
Aug 13, 2018 rated it it was amazing
So moving. Thank you Ellen Bass.
Karen Boyle
Nov 14, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I loved this book of poems because of her courage in word choice and in topics.
Natalie Serber
Dec 13, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Gorgeous, real. Ellen Bass makes me feel known.
Miriam Rose
Oct 31, 2019 rated it really liked it
I have no words. I really liked this.
Lisa M  Lane
Aug 08, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
Simply brilliant poetry, spoke to me through the plain language and themes of love and the end of life.
Mar 10, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: poetry, 2017
I loved several of the poems, especially the first poem, Relax, which I still think about. The others ranged from very good to ok, but this was a great foray back into reading poetry after it had dropped off my radar for awhile.
Oct 16, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: poetry
This is the book I bought after hearing Ellen Bass and Kevin Young read at the local Grand Valley State University Fall Arts Celebration event which took place on October 3. It was a good purchase and I am glad I own it as I will be going back and dipping into it again and again.

I love her poetry. For me it is very personal and warm and human. I realize that the persona in a poem is not necessarily the author but much of Bass's poetry seems like snippets from her own life or experiences.

John Taylor
Feb 27, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: poetry
Ellen Bass is so wonderful. These poems are alive.
Sarah Schantz
Nov 25, 2015 rated it it was amazing
I'd stumbled serendipitously across Bass's "Ode to Repetition" on The Poetry Foundation website (I believe) after having recently discovered Marie Howe's poetry, and as I'd fallen in love with Howe, I also instantly fell in love with Bass's "Repetition," and especially with the one line the ode boasts about the rhododendrons blooming spring after spring in "pink ceremony," so I immediately ordered the collection from which it had come from. Coincidentally, the title of this collection also takes ...more
May 01, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Oh, how I love Ellen Bass’ poetry. In her latest volume, she tackles the usual little subjects--life, death, love--but she does so in a way that gives the reader a new perspective, so fresh and bright with images, insights and honesty that it’s almost too much to take in. So much is implied in the ordinary details of daily life. In the opening to “The Morning After,” for example, she writes, “You stand at the counter, pouring boiling water/over the French roast, oily perfume rising in smoke./And ...more
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Ellen Bass is an American poet and author.

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When You Return

Fallen leaves will climb back into trees.
Shards of the shattered vase will rise
and reassemble on the table.
Plastic raincoats will refold
into their flat envelopes. The egg,
bald yolk and its transparent halo,
slide back in the thin, calcium shell.
Curses will pour back into mouths,
letters un-write themselves, words
siphoned up into the pen. My gray hair
will darken and become the feathers
of a black swan. Bullets will snap
back into their chambers, the powder
tamped tight in brass casings. Borders
will disappear from maps. Rust
revert to oxygen and time. The fire
return to the log, the log to the tree,
the white root curled up
in the un-split seed. Birdsong will fly
into the lark’s lungs, answers
become questions again.
When you return, sweaters will unravel
and wool grow on the sheep.
Rock will go home to mountain, gold
to vein. Wine crushed into the grape,
oil pressed into the olive. Silk reeled in
to the spider’s belly. Night moths
tucked close into cocoons, ink drained
from the indigo tattoo. Diamonds
will be returned to coal, coal
to rotting ferns, rain to clouds, light
to stars sucked back and back
into one timeless point, the way it was
before the world was born,
that fresh, that whole, nothing
broken, nothing torn apart.”
“It's a hard time to be human. We know too much
and too little.”
More quotes…