Chase Twichell's poetry is marked by a strong identification with the natural world, one that exceeds any with other human beings. There's a dissociation born of a rough childhood, which only the later poems address head-on, though many earlier ones circle around it. Central early concerns are the heartbreak of love between men and women, the ecological decimation of our planet, and the nature of the human mind. Horses Where the Answers Should Have Been shows the evolution of a distinctive voice in American poetry through several collections written over 35 years. Beginning with "Perdido" (1991), each of her collections has had a distinct centre of gravity, with each poem contributing to a whole larger than the sum of its parts. Perdido probes the relationship between love and death. "The Ghost of Eden" (1995) grieves and rails against our poor stewardship of the earth. "The Snow Watcher" (1998) chronicles the early years of her study of Zen Buddhism - a crucial influence on all her later work - and begins to address a central fact of her childhood: early sexual abuse at the hands of a "family friend", and a lifelong battle with depression.
"Dog Language" (2005) continues to explore these themes, and also the dementia and death of her father from alcoholism. In the background, questions regarding the human self continue to arise. The new poems of "Horses Where the Answers Should Have Been" are much more frontal in their treatment of these evolving, interlocked concerns, forthrightly taking on childhood sexual trauma, mental illness and substance abuse. But the heart of the book is the poems' focus on Twichell's continuing, deepening enquiry into the nature of the self as seen through the eyes of Zen. What is most interesting (and problematic) about these poems is that just as poetry goes where prose cannot, so Zen goes where language cannot. Thus the poems become sparer and sparer as they approach saying what cannot be said.
'Suppose you had Sappho's passion, the intelligence and perspicacity of Curie, and Dickinson's sweet wit, all mixed into a brilliantly shifting connectivity of ideas, scenes, creatures, phantoms, moods, and suspicions, and set her in the life we know we live. Then you would have the poems of Chase Twichell, which are so splendid and astonishing' - Hayden Carruth. 'They are full of sharp observation, both of the world and herself, unsentimental poems with a sinewy intellectual toughness - they open out into a stark, sometimes bewildered clarity' - Robert Hass, Washington Post.
Chase Twichell was born in 1950 in New Haven, Connecticut, and educated at Trinity College (Hartford) and the University of Iowa. She lives in the Keene Valley in the Adirondacks, where she spent many summers and vacations during her childhood and where her father's family had gone for many generations. The two greatest influences on her life and work have been this early intimacy with wilderness followed by her years as a Zen Buddhist student of John Daido Loori at Zen Mountain Monastery in the Catskills. Her poetry books include Northern Spy (University of Pittsburgh Press, 1981), The Odds (University of Pittsburgh Press, 1986), Perdido (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, USA, 1991; Faber & Faber, UK, 1992, Poetry Book Society Choice), The Ghost of Eden (Ontario Review Press, USA, 1995; Faber & Faber, UK, 1996, Poetry Book Society Recommendation), The Snow Watcher (Ontario Review Press, USA, 1998; Bloodaxe Books, UK, 1999); Dog Language (Copper Canyon Press, USA, 2005; Bloodaxe Books, UK, 2006, Poetry Book Society Recommendation); and Horses Where the Answers Should Have Been: New & Selected Poems (Copper Canyon Press, USA, 2010; Bloodaxe Books, UK, 2010). The Lover of God (by Rabindranath Tagore, co-translated with Tony K. Stewart) was published by Copper Canyon Press in 2003. She also co-edited The Practice of Poetry: Writing Exercises from Poets Who Teach with Robin Behn (HarperCollins, 1992). She has received fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Artists Foundation, the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, the New Jersey State Council on the Arts, and a Literature Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. In 1997 she won the Alice Fay DiCastagnola Award from the Poetry Society of America for The Snow Watcher. She received a Smart Family Foundation Award in 2004. From 1976 to 1984 she worked at Pennyroyal Press, and from 1986 to 1988 she co-edited the Alabama Poetry Series, published by University of Alabama Press. After teaching for many years (at Hampshire College, the University of Alabama, Goddard College, Warren Wilson College, and Princeton University), she resigned in 1999 to start Ausable Press, a non-profit, independent literary press that she operated until it was acquired by Copper Canyon Press in 2009.