August Kleinzahler was born in Jersey City, New Jersey, in 1949, and raised in Fort Lee, New Jersey. For six years, he commuted everyday, from New Jersey to New York, to attend the Horace Mann School in the Bronx. After high school, he attended the University of Wisconsin as an East Asian Studies major. He dropped out of Wisconsin, and finished his studies at the University of Victoria in British Columbia where he majored in English and studied with Basil Bunting, whom he considered a great hero.
He published his first book of poetry, A Calendar of Airs, in 1978. Since then, he has published seven others. In 2003, Farrar, Straus and Giroux published The Strange Hours Travelers Keep, which won the 2004 Griffin International Poetry Prize. His most recent collection of poetry, Sleeping It Off in Rapid City, won the 2008 National Book Critics Circle Award. He is also the author of two books of prose, Cutty, One Rock: Low Characters and Strange Places, Gently Explained (FSG, 2004) and Music: I-LXXIV (Pressed Wafer, 2009), and the winner of the 2008 Lannan Literary Award for Poetry. Kleinzahler currently lives in San Francisco. He has held a variety of jobs, including working as a locksmith, cabdriver, lumberjack, music critic, and building manager. While living in Alaska, he designed educational kits for native children at the Alaska State Museum. He has taught writing at Brown University, the University of California at Berkeley, and the Iowa Writers' Workshop, as well as workshops for homeless veterans in the Bay Area.
"August Kleinzahler's verse line is always precise, concrete, intelligent and rare—that quality of 'chiseled' verse memorable in Basil Bunting's and Ezra Pound's work. A loner, a genius."
You'd figure the hawk for an isolate thing,
commanding the empyrean,
taking his ease in the thermals and wind
until that retinal flick, the plunge and shriek—
cruelly perfect at what he is.
With crepe myrtle igniting the streets
and flowering pansy underfoot
I'd get out there just after dawn each day,
before the sun made it over the mesquite and honey locust.
cliff swallows rocketed low over grass,
dragonflies darted above:
every day, on the heels of first birdsong, juice-heads
sleeping rough by the culvert.
Before the heat,
before the ebb and flow of cicada whir swallowed the world,
when the crepe myrtle was still in bloom,
when it was the flowering pansies' time in the park and untended lots,
and still a touch of cool in the air.
I remember once, a redtail perched close by
on a branch or utility pole.
Maybe he came down for a better look,
but I think it was so that I might better see him,
who reigned over these few acres and beyond
and what it was about him so overmastering.
An ugly sheen encouraged some gold in his russet mantle.
His belly was white.
Look at me, he seemed to be insisting.
Behold, a pure wild heartless thing,
beautiful and horrible, nothing in between.
I one day saw him tearing at his prey:
he was in the crook of a tree, low and close at hand,
fixed on it, drunk with it, mercilessly at it,
the sound like a cleaver tearing through meat,
cruelly what he was, nothing else.
But on another day, not long after, I heard him,
perched high on a branch, calling out,
crying out in distress, piteously,
panicked or wounded, terrible in his dismay,
until, suddenly, from some other corner of sky
another hawk flew down to join him,
not right there on the same branch but on another, close by.
And soon after that, off they flew together,
drifting, spiraling, higher and higher
in partnered loops, wheeling and diving,
enraptured by all they were, were able to do,
not as separate beings, but as two.