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Like a Beggar

4.51  ·  Rating details ·  282 ratings  ·  46 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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4.51  · 
Rating details
 ·  282 ratings  ·  46 reviews

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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
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.
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.
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
Apr 05, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Good poet.
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.
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."
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.
Cathlina Bergman
Jun 15, 2017 rated it liked it
Heard her read tonight! It was fascinating to hear about her writing process!
Natalie Serber
Dec 13, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Gorgeous, real. Ellen Bass makes me feel known.
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.
April Bennett
Sep 05, 2017 rated it it was amazing
She's ruthless and illuminating.
Jun 21, 2017 rated it it was amazing
First read: June 21, 2017, Wednesday
Aug 13, 2018 rated it it was amazing
So moving. Thank you Ellen Bass.
Kelan Koning
Aug 28, 2017 rated it really liked it
A collection that begs to be revisited. Some achingly true pieces here.
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.
John Taylor
Feb 27, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: poetry
Ellen Bass is so wonderful. These poems are alive.
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
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
Dec 03, 2014 rated it it was ok
I bought this book solely for Bass's poem "The Morning After," which I read on its own and fell in love with - with the melding of ferocity and subdued suburban life. That poem is great, and appealed to me because it contained elements that I could relate to, despite the differences between Bass and myself. The rest of the book, however, is not so much my wheelhouse. Bass is an older woman - she's writing about aging and her changes in sexuality and harking back to her youth, and it's not the st ...more
Patti K
Jul 05, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: poetry
This 2014 book of poetry by the talented Ellen Bass is an enjoyable
one. The epigraph is by Rainer Maria Rilke, "But these dark, deadly, devastating ways,/
how do you bear them, suffer them?/ --I praise." This sets the tone of the serious and
rich enquiries into sorrows and light. One of the beautiful poems here is "The World
Has Need of You" and then there is a refreshing poem called "Ode to the God of Atheists"
whose answer is the natural world. There are also gay love poems to her partner that
Oct 29, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: poetry
Poem after poem stopped me in my tracks. Except of course I was just sitting; but I had to stop reading, sit even stiller, and stare. These poems feel real. And full of the evidence of our lives. They are scary and lovely and sexy. The way she wrote about Dr. Ladd (and her black slit skirt) is the way I want to (somehow revealing and respecting a boundary). What an eye, what a memory, what skill at making music.
Nov 20, 2014 rated it it was amazing
This is my first introduction to Ellen Bass's poetry, and I really loved it. It's conversational and witty without being cliche. This collection really speaks to a couple things: being a mother and taking care of elderly parents. There is also plenty in there about sex. This is one of those I think I will go back to again and again.
Apr 19, 2015 rated it it was amazing
So lovely! I know I'll be reading these poems over and over for years to come.

"But beyond the cliffs / a blue whale sounds and surfaces, cosmic / ladle scooping the icy depths. An artery so wide, / I could swim through into its thousand-pound heart."
-from "Ode to the Fish"
Angela Brinskele
Jun 30, 2014 rated it it was amazing
I love poets and writers that make you feel less alone in the world. You know, the ones who write so well and are so intuitive that you relate to much or all of what they have to say? You got it right here!
Feb 05, 2016 rated it really liked it
If the poet's job is to make you see what you're looking at differently, then these poems fit the bill. Bass makes the ordinary extraordinary with images of love and nature. Would have been 5 stars but in some of these poems the images go on too long.
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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.”
“This choreography of ruin, the world breaking
like glass under a microscope,
the way it doesn’t crack all at once,
but spreads out from the damaged cavities.
Still for a moment it all recedes.
The backyard potatoes swell quietly
buried beneath their canopy of leaves.
The wind rubs its hands through the trees.”
More quotes…