November 12, 1943 |
Flushing, New York
|Occupation||Poet, fiction writer, playwright, editor, translator|
|Alma mater||University of Michigan|
Lyn Coffin (born November 12, 1943) is an American poet, fiction writer, playwright, translator, non-fiction writer, editor.
Coffin was born on Long Island, New York. She graduated from Buckley Country Day School in 1957. She graduated Phi Beta Kappa from the University of Michigan in 1965. She holds an M.A. and an M.S.W. from the (University of Michigan, an M.A.T., Master of Arts in Teaching from Columbia University. She developed a doctoral thesis on the poet Radcliffe Squires but never defended it to receive her Ph.D. She has an honorary doctorate from the World Academy of Arts and Culture (UNICEF).
While a student in Ann Arbor, Michigan, she won Major and Minor Hopwood Awards in every category. She was later Associate Editor of the Michigan Quarterly Review and taught English at the University of Michigan, the Residential College, Detroit University, and Mando Technical Institute.
Coffin is the author of fifteen books: four of poetry, one of poetry/fiction/non-fiction (published in Georgian translation), one of poetry/fiction/drama, and nine of translation. She has published fiction, poetry and non-fiction in over fifty quarterlies and small magazines, including Catholic Digest and Time magazine. One of her fictions, originally published in the Michigan Quarterly Review appeared in Best American Short Stories 1979, edited by Joyce Carol Oates. Her plays have been performed at theaters in Malaysia, Singapore, Boston, New York (Off Off Broadway), Detroit, Ann Arbor, and Seattle. She has given poetry readings with Nobel Prize winners Joseph Brodsky and Czesław Miłosz, and Philip Levine, among others. She is a member of Washington Poets' Association, PoetsWest, Seattle Playwrights' Studio, and Dramatists' Guild.
Coffin currently resides in Seattle.
- Human Trappings, Abattoir Editions (1980)
- Elegies by Jiří Orten, CVU Press, (1981). Translation from Czech.
- The Plague Column by Jaroslav Seifert, CVU Press (1981). Translation from Czech used by the Nobel Committee in granting Seifert his prize.
- The Poetry of Wickedness, Ithaca House (1982)
- Poems of Akhmatova, W.W. Norton (1983). Translation from Russian. Reviewed in The New York Review of Books.
- Crystals of the Unforeseen, Plain View Press (1999)
- More than One Life, by Miloslava Holubova, Northwestern University Press (2000). Translation from Czech, with Zdenka Brodska, and Alex Zucker.
- Islands in the Stream of Time, by Germain Droogenbroodt, (2008). Translation from Dutch, with the collaboration of the author.
- White Picture", by Jiri Orten (2011). Translation from the Czech, with Eva Eckert, Zdenka Brodska, Leda Pugh. Night Publishing, UK, (2011).
- "East and West", poems (and Mongolian translations), with Bavuudorj Tsog. Ulaanbataar, (2012).
- "მე ორივე ვარ" ("I Am Both"). Poetry, fiction, non-fiction, translated into Georgian by Gia Jokhadze, Mertskuli (Tbilisi), 2012.
- "Joseph Brodsky was Joseph Brodsky," Levan Kavleli Publishing, 2012 (This book was reviewed by Judith Roche, in Big Bridge, 2013)
- "Georgian Anthology of Poetry". Translation from Georgian, ed, by Dodona Kiziria, with the help of Gia Jokhadze. Slavica (Indiana University), September, 2013.
- "Animalarky," by Zaza Abiadnidze. Translation from Georgian, September, 2013.
- "Miniatures," poetry by Giorgi Kekelidze. Translation from Georgian, October, 2013.
- "Still Life with Snow", by Dato Barbakadze. Translation from Georgian, with Nato Alhazishvili. Forthcoming, 2013 (This book received a $2000
translation award from the Georgian Ministry of Culture and Monuments.)
- "Fiberglass and Other Stories," short fiction. Forthcoming, Siesta Publishing, 2014.
- " აჩრდილი მომავლიდან," short fiction. Forthcoming, Siesta Publishing, 2014.
- "A Marriage Without Consummation," poetry, with Givi Alkhazishvili. English and Georgian. Forthcoming, 2014.
- "The Knight in the Panther Skin," by Shota Rustaveli, poetry. Translation from Georgian. Nato Alhazishvili. Forthcoming, 2014.
- "The Second Page", Catholic Digest, 1968.
- "Falling Off the Scaffold", Michigan Quarterly Review, 1978. Reprinted in Best American Short Stories of 1979 (ed. Joyce Carol Oates).
- "Lesson in Black and White", "Ball State Forum", Winter 1981
- "Front Towards Enemy", Michigan Quarterly Review, Winter 1981
- "Shooting into the Light," "Point of View Problems," "The Psychiatrist's Second Wife," "Wind Eyes Anthology", Plain View Press, 1997
- "The Gift Horse", "The Bridge: Journal of Fiction & Poetry", Winter 1998
- "Her Political Body", Rackham Reports, University of Michigan, 1999?
- "The Auction", Golden Handcuffs Review, 2004
- "A Ghost from the Future", short story, in Departed Family and Friends (Haunted Encounters series). "Atriad Press", 2005
Individual Poetry Publications
- "Five Poems", Aspen Leaves, Spring 1973
- "To You Again", Michigan Quarterly Review, Fall 1973
- "To Yevtushenko, Name Enough", New Orleans Review, Spring 1974
- "The Death of Allen Ginsberg", Aspen Anthology, Winter 1976
- "Salmon", New Orleans Review, Spring 1976
- "Before This Was a Jungle", National College Poetry Review, Spring 1979; reprinted in Pegasus, Fall 1979
- "The Plane and the Watcher", Iowa Review, Fall 1979
- "Bank of America", Andover Review, Fall 1979.
- "A Little Girl's Drawing", Michigan Quarterly Review, Fall 1979
- "Four Poems", The Great Writers, University of Michigan, Summer 1979
- "The Blackbird Looks Back", and "Cow, Drowning in Mud", Bits, 1980
- "The Dream", Poetry Now, 1980
- "Inheritance", Dakotah Territory, 1980
- "Motel Aubade", Concerning Poetry, 1980
- "Retail Outlets" and "Orpheus", Descant, 1980
- "Genealogical Allegory", Poet Lore, Spring 1980
- "Three Poems", Descant, Spring Summer 1980
- "Initiation", Southern Humanities Review, Summer 1980
- "Elegy #3" by Jiri Orten, TLS, International Poetry Review, Spring 1980
- "The Thassos Kouros", Southern Humanities Review, Fall 1980
- "A Statue of the Sacred Heart", Wind, 1980
- "Oedipus and the Sphinx", Michigan Quarterly Review, Summer 1980
- "Orton's Elegy No. 7", tr., Denver Quarterly, Spring 1980
- "Crossing the Bridge", Kansas Quarterly, Fall 1980
- "Force of One", Hollins Critic, October 1980
- "The Affair is Over" and "You're Odysseus (But I'm the Hottentots)", Ball State University Forum, 1980
- "In the Study, Just Before Lunch", "The Artwork on the Backs of Gargoyles", and "Good Friday, Going Hungry", Poet Lore, Winter 1980
- "Brilliant Alliance", Literary Review, 1980
- "The Dish Ran Away With the Spoon", Descant, Fall 1980
- "When I was Crazy", and "Halfway Between Drownings", Descant, Winter
- "Mirror Woman", Northeast Review, Winter 1981
- "The Baby and After" and "Ezra", Green River Review, 1981
- "A Life", Southwest Review, 1981, Poet Lore, Winter 1981
- "Numbs", Hollins Critic, December 1981
- "The Dark Facts", "A Day of the Pavement", "Emily Dickinson Meets Ogden Nash", and "Bedtime", The Portland Review, Winter 1981
- "Stone Boat", Hollins Critic, December 1981
- "Rousseau: A Mirror Sonnet" and "An Old Snapshot", Green River Review
- "Another Life", Poet Lore, 1981
- "Floating Women", and "Duel", Wind, 1982
- "Guess Who", "Rhapsody on Terry", "Shadow Children", and "On His Deathbed", Webster Review, Spring 1982
- "Pigs on Pilgrimage", Focus/Midwest, 1982
- "Lady Psychologist, Leaving Home", Aspen Leaves Anthology, 1982
- "Escape from the Locker Room", Poetry Now, 1982
- "Colors Like Spokane", Southern Humanities Review, Spring 1982
- "Riverbeds in Times of Drought", Literary Review, Spring 1982
- "Sick and Tired of Marriage", "Fox Vita", "Days of the Week", and "Relatives", Green River Review, 1982
- "Stone Wine", Poet Lore, 1982
- "Armored Girl", Focus/Midwest, 1982
- "Amelia and John", Hiram Poetry Review, Fall/Winter 1982
- "Shadow Children", Webster Review, 1982
- Jiri Orton's Elegies, tr. Cross Currents, 1982
- "Stepfather", and "Surfacing", Chiaroscuro, 1983
- "Opium Fields in Time of War", Poet Lore, 1983
- "An Old Bachelor", Kansas Quarterly Review, January 1983
- "The Empty House" and "Sea of Children, Prairie Schooner, 1983
- "In Memory of Roethke" and "Ezra", Green River Review, 1983
- Two Poems by Nezval, Cross Currents, 1983
- "Me and Me", Northeast Review, 1983/1984
- "Deathbed/Childbed", Hollins Critic, April 1983
- "Ending End", Hollins Critic, December 1983
- "Cold Venus at the Typewriter", Poet Lore, 1983
- Seifert's "The Plague Monument", tr. Cross Currents, 1983
- Three Poems by Jarostav Seifert, tr. Concerning Poetry, 1984
- "To the King from the Candle", The Blackbird Looks Back", "Mad Poem", and "In the Dance Studio", Paunch, January 1984
- "The Blank Baby", Michigan Quarterly Review, Winter 1984
- "The Poet Falls in Love", Poultry, 1984
- Rilke translations, Cross Currents, 1984
- "Gingerbread Men", Blue Ox Review, 1985
- "She Longs For Her White Lover", Hollins Critic, December 1985
- "Milking the Cow of Your Dreams" and "Dream Corder", New Collage, Spring 1985
- "Another Life", New Collage, Summer 1986
- "Molto Vivace", Confrontation, Spring/Summer 1986
- "Unwrapped Gifts", Footwork, 1986
- "Pigs On Pilgrimage", Midwest Review
- "The Widower Grows Lustful", Mid-American Review, 1986
- "The Plague Monument", and "Ivanescence", Seifert tr. Cross Currents
- Brodsky's "Lithuanian Nocturne", tr. Cross Currents, 1986
- "The Pope in South America", "Our Resident Executioner", Bernini's St. Theresa", and "Father/Daughter", Gryphon, 1986
- Collection of Poems by Uwe Kolbe, tr. with B. Walker, Cross Currents
- "Wherever You Go There You Are", Cross Currents, 1987
- "Bedtime", The Blue Ox Review, Fall 1987
- "Sister Mary Algebra", "Me and Me", "Reading by the Brass Lamp", "Marilyn", The Blue Moon Review, 1998
- "What is Prohibited", "Black Picture", "Snowflakes", "What Are We?", and "Screaming", The Virginia Quarterly, 2007
- "The Chute," Stone Telling, "", 2012
- "Another Passage" (a script-in-hand reading at Arts West as part of Seattle Playwrights' Studio's Showcase, 2012 by Barbara Lindsay (dir. by Bill Selig)
- "Vera's Red Hat" (performed at Stone Soup Theater, Seattle, summer, 2011)
- "Lutefisk" (performed in New York, spring, 2010 and Nordic Museum, summer, 2010)
- "Rodin's Girl Friend" (performed at TaDa! Theater in New York, part of "One Woman Standing," spring, 2010.)
- "His Russian Wife" (performed at Boston University's Playwright Theater, as part of their Russian Festival, February, 2010.)
- "Seabird," "The Box," "The Museum," "The Tomcat" (performed at Where Eagles Dare Theater in New York, summer, 2009)
- "Lutefisk" (performed at Odd Duck Studios in Seattle, Washington, as part of Seattle Playwrights' Collective's Showcase, 2009.)
- "The Table" (performed in Singapore, as part of Short + Sweet, summer, 2009.
- "The Only Pretty Thing in the Room" (performed at ArtsWest in Seattle, Washington, as part of Seattle Playwrights' Studio's Showcase, 2009.
- "The Difference Between Altoona and Alpena" (performed at ArtsWest in Seattle, Washington, as part of Seattle Playwrights' Studio's Showcase, 2008.
- "Thin Walls" (performed at the Craft Theatre in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and the Attic Theatre in Detroit, Michigan, 1987)
- "Nocturnal Emissions" (performed at the Performance Network Theatre in Ann Arbor, Michigan)
- "The Characters are Anyone, The Place Anywhere" (performed at The Performance Network Theatre in Ann Arbor, Michigan, 1986)
- "Two Square Meals" (performed at the Performance Network Theatre in Ann Arbor, Michigan, 1985, and at the Trueblood Theatre at the University of Michigan.
- "This Side Up" (performed at the Performance Network Theatre in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and at the Craft Theatre, Ann Arbor, Michigan, as a special performance to benefit St. Joseph's Hospital Cancer Fund, 1985)
- "Halfway Measures" (performed script-in-hand at the Performance Network Theatre in Ann Arbor, Michigan, 1985)
- "A Stone's Throw" (read at the Attic Theatre in Detroit, Michigan, 1982)
- "The Atomic Weight of Potassium" (read at the Performance Network Theatre in Ann Arbor, Michigan, 1983)
- "The Atomic Weight of Potassium" (performed at the Performance Network Theatre in Ann Arbor, Michigan, 1983)
- "Acting Out" (performed script-in-hand at the Performance Network Theatre in Ann Arbor, Michigan, 1983)
- "Straws in the Wind" (read and performed at the Performance Network Theatre in Ann Arbor, Michigan, 1983)
- "Genie in a Klein Bottle" (performed script-in-hand at the Performance Network Theatre in Ann Arbor, Michigan, 1984)
- "The Maze in the Aquarium"
- "Fries in a Wineglass"
- "Tonsils and Adenoids"
Essays and articles
- "Guantanamo in Tacoma," "The N Word," and other short essays, speakwithoutinterruption.com, 2010-2013
- "On Jaroslav Seifert", Concerning Poetry, international issue, vol. 17, no. 2, 1984
- "A.R. Ammons", Encyclopedia of World Literature in the Twentieth Century, vol. 1, A-D, 1981
- "The Inside is Outside; A Review of Six First Books of Poetry", Michigan Quarterly Review, Fall 1978
- "Benjamin Britten's War Requiem", Generation, 1964
- "Dear Ron: A Review of Ron Sukenick's stories", Golden Handcuffs Review, Fall 2007
- "So Many Windows-- A Review of Judith Roche's The Wisdom of the Body", Big Bridge, 2008
- "Shooting into the Light", "Point of View Problems", and "The Psychiatrist's Second Wife", fiction, and "The Music Box", "Mother's Note Home: A Self-Portrait", "Chant for Nicole", "Crystals of the Unforeseen", poetry, in Wind Eyes: A Woman's Reader and Writing Source, an anthology of work by eight women writers. Plain View Press, 1997. Edited by Susan Bright and Margo LaGattuta.
- Wild Turkeys, poetry slam chapbook, 1998.
- "Ned's Aria", "Rapunzel", "Paradelle on Love", "Dying in the Hospital", "After the Funeral", and :Eurydice's Motivations", in ' 'Limbs of the Pine, Peaks of the Range, an anthology of Pacific Northwest Poets, Rose Alley Press, 2007. Edited by David Horowitz.
- "When I Was Crazy," "103 Degrees","The Easy Miracle", "Gulf War", in ' 'Many Trails to the Summit", an anthology of Pacific Northwest Poets, Rose Alley Press, 2010. Edited by D. Horowitz.
- Major and Minor Hopwood Awards in every category (Drama, Short Fiction, Long Fiction, Poetry, and Essay).
- First prize in Translation from the Academy of American Poets for her translation of Orten's Elegies.
- First prize in the International Poetry Review for "Selected Orten Translations," Spring, 1980.
- Finalist in the Actor's Theatre of Louisville Short Play Competition (for "Tonsils and Adenoids").
- Recipient of a National Endowment for the Humanities grant
- Second place winner of the Porad Haiku Award (2004)
- First prize, Jeanne Lohmann Poetry Award (2004)
- "Best Poems and Poets of 2005", poetry.com
- Winner, Bart Baxter Performance Poetry Award (2006)
- Runner-up, Genghis Khan Poetry Prize (World Congress of Poets, Mongolia) 2006
- Winner, Gandhi Poetry Prize (World Congress of Poets, India) 2007
- first Playwright in Residence, Lorgean Theater, Bucharest, Romania, Spring/Summer, 2012
- "The Reception Line" was part of a visual art (Edge) exhibition at The Seattle Convention Center, August to October, 2012.
Readings and Performances
Coffin has given many readings in Tbilisi, Georgia and Bucharest, 2012; Kuala Lumpur, Ann Arbor, Boston and the Seattle area, most notably as part of the Its About Time Writing Series, Seattle Public Library, Ballard branch on Nov. 10, 2011 (# 265) with Mac McClure, Mitra Lotfi Shemirani + Bill Carty, and Dec. 10, 2009 (#244) with Oliver De La Paz and Matt Briggs.
Style and Literary Influences
Coffin's work is characterized by its focus on interpersonal relationships, specifically romantic relationships between men and women and relationships between family members. In his introduction to Crystals of the Unforeseen, Laurence Goldstein says that her writing, like that of other women writers, often describes "survival and (less often) victory in the war between the sexes."
Coffin is a versatile writer, drawing on multiple genres, and has been recognized for the wide diversity of her works. Her pieces tend to be short; many of the plays are one act in length, and Coffin has written flash fiction and haiku. She clearly enjoys playing with structure—she has written sonnets, acrostics, sestinas, and villanelles—as well as language; her pieces are filled with puns, "one-liners", and a multiplicity of metaphors. Here, Goldstein calls attention to her notable wordsmithing:
"That's what it all comes back to – the timbre of speech, the astonishing succession of tropes that capture our attention. Aristotle said that the talent for figures of speech is the one kind of rhetoric that cannot be learned. And what a pleasure it is to read an author with such mastery over metaphors. The writing sparkles with them:
You know where you’re headed after you arrive – an empty station where a wind like the desert sighing drifts in one door and out the other, and the remains of windows are glass daggers stuck like teeth in wooden gums…
After we arrive at the end of the poem, we appreciate better the thematic function of such images, how they form a network that articulates a capacious vision of human experience. But in the process of reading we simply enjoy them for their originality, their superiority to the quotidian language confronting us on the street, in the office, in front of the TV. And the fiction and plays offer us the same pleasures: "a Slavic accent that had clearly been through a British wringer;" "At night he plies on blankets. I’m keeping you under wraps, he says." "I bet you can’t name me a single red-blooded American guy who had even a fraction of a childhood." One could quote forever the one and two-liners that punctuate Coffin's Crystals of the Unforeseen."
Coffin's writing is sprinkled with literary allusions (the result no doubt of her graduate education and a career spent teaching English). She has said that she "love[s] to muck around in the loam of language" and that she sometimes prefers to begin with "the 'edges' of a poem fixed" by confining herself to a particular form.
Coffin's work contains intimate (and sometimes uncomfortable) revelations and is chiefly focused on inward perception and self-exploration—if not of the author herself, certainly of her characters. Literary influences would include Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson, but also the confessional poets such as Anne Sexton. Coffin's pieces are frequently autobiographical, drawing on personal experience. In a review for the back of Crystals, Alice Fulton calls attention to "the veracity with which [Coffin] pursues her demons and delights."
The recurring themes to be found in Coffin's writing of death, sex, and mental illness are also typical of the confessional school. For example, in "Me and Me", Coffin describes a suicide:
Looking only in the glass, I put knife to
flesh as pen to paper, drawing a fine line
from shoulder blade to shoulder blade and then
another down the spine. A thin cross of blood
sprang into view and I relaxed, knowing
police would soon be dancing blue attendance.
Coffin's pieces contain many dark notes. Pain is often paradoxically mixed with humor or conveyed in a sing-songy, deceptively childlike voice that is reminiscent of Sylvia Plath. In "Amelia Mealy Mouth", Coffin writes:
When I dreamed, I dreamed I was a doll.
She knew my whole story but she'd only
tell me the start. This is you, she said, You're in
bed. This is Amelia--She looks like me.
You love Amelia for her bright red hair, and
feel sad, but Amelia feels nothing at all.
The images and tone of voice in Coffin's poem "Zombie" are also Plathlike:
...My zombie blood, slick
with oil, sometimes caught fire and burned all night.
I spoke in riddles, and was known to mutter
to myself. At meals, I kept pats of butter
cooling on my tongue like lozenges.
Goldstein writes that Coffin "reads the tradition as one that virtually excludes a woman writer like herself... the situation of the woman writer... is something like the position of women in [her] poems and stories... it is precarious, contingent, often dependent on men for favors." Coffin usually portrays events and people from a woman's perspective, and her work has been featured in an anthology of women's voices.
There is less emphasis placed on plot in Coffin's writing; or, rather, the plot is principally psychological and verbal. There are rarely more than two (central) characters in her poems, stories, and plays, and most of these are driven by interior monologues and searching dialogue or witty banter rather than physical action.
- Coffin was part of a four-person team (the only woman) representing Ann Arbor at the 1998 National Poetry Slam in Austin, Texas.
- Coffin's show, "Food, Dreams, and a Pi Table" was featured at Bumbershoot 2004, in Seattle.
- Coffin was the featured poet at the February 17, 2006 meeting of the Public Safety, Government Relations, and Arts Committee Meeting of the Seattle City Council.
- Coffin's entry in PoetsWest Directory of Northwest Poets
- Coffin's entry at SeattlePoetPopulist.org
- Bio of Coffin at bigbridge.com.
- "Last night, I dreamed about Aunt Percy." Poem featured at the February 17, 2006 Seattle City Council meeting.
- "Goodbye, Godot." Poem featured at the August, 2013 Seattle City Council meeting].
- "Reading with Judith Roche,"