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Nathaniel Tarn (born 1928) is an American poet of Anglo French origin.

Nathaniel Tarn was born in 1928 in Paris of a British father and a French mother with many links to the U.S.: the American side of the family were the Shuberts of Broadway (though he never met them). Tarn was brought up in France and Belgium and reached England a week before World War Two. He survived the Blitz, went up to Cambridge University early aged 18, studying History and English literature. He returned to France in 1948 to be a French poet, working in journalism and radio. He discovered anthropology and was trained at the Musee de l'Homme, the Sorbonne and the College de France. This was followed by a Smith-Mundt-Fulbright scholarship to the University of Chicago via "orientation" at Yale with a year's research in Guatemala under Robert Redfield and a postdoctorate life at the London School of Economics. In 1959, after eighteen months' research in Burma, he joined the School of Oriental and African Studies as Assistant Professor of S.E.Asian Anthropology (1959-1967). A first marriage, to Patricia Cramer, in the U.K. resulted in two children and four grandchildren.

His first poetry book was published by Jonathan Cape, London and Random House, New York in 1964. He started re-building the Cape poetry list in that year. In 1967 he left academic life to found and edit the international and interdisciplinary Cape Editions and the Cape Goliard Poetry Press at Cape and Richard Grossman,New York(1967-1970).

Tarn's poetic life had begun at age 5. In 1970, more interested in American poetry than in British, he moved to the U.S. as Visiting Professor at Princeton and eventually became a citizen. After this, he worked as Professor of Comparative Literature at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey with stints at the Universities of Pennsylvania (Folklore); Colorado (Literature); New Mexico (Literature); Jilin (P.R.China:American literary theory); the Institute of American Indian Arts, etc, also reading his work, publishing, translating all over the U.S. and abroad. Tarn took early retirement in 1984 and began living north-west of Santa Fe, N.M.with his second wife Janet Rodney, poet and artist.

As a young man, Tarn was inspired by Abraham Lincoln and the American pioneers, later by Guillaume Apollinaire, Surrealism, Claude Lévi-Strauss. His earlier poetry is highly influenced by symbolist and surrealist images and ideas.

In the seventies and eighties,his poetry took on more sparse, pared down images, inspired by structuralist anthropological studies. Tarn's poetry of this era is deeply concerned with psychological investigations into notions of mind and nature, male and female.Since the eighties, Tarn's poetry has become more experimental as he wrestled with the theoretical issues of that time period (deconstruction and post-structuralism). His tone is often very eclectic, mixing the use of fragments, hesitations, long unpunctuated passages, prose and verse, song like passages, and technical language.

The poetry has been published in some 35 books and booklets to date by major publishers and little presses, some 30 anthologies and hundreds of literary magazines. It has been translated into some ten foreign languages, with a full length book in Italy; representation in a Gallimard American anthology and a forthcoming French "Selected Poems." The work has appeared in Mexico, Peru, Chile, Cuba etc.; in France, Belgium, Germany,Holland, Scandinavia, Russia, the Czech Republic, Hungary,etc., Japan, China, India etc. There is a "Descriptive Bibliography" by Lee Bartlett published by McFarland Jefferson, N.C. & London

As a translator, Tarn is mainly known for his versions of Pablo Neruda and Victor Segalen, as well as many younger poets working in French and Spanish. He has participated since the Sixties in the Ethnopoetics movement. As an editor, he brought many authors to the Cape general list: Levi-Strauss, Barthes, Octavio Paz, etc and was responsible for a substantial Kenneth Patchen anthology. He has held &/or holds many editorial and consulting positions: Conjunctions New York; Po&sie Paris; Courrier du Centre d'Etudes Poetiques Brussels; Modern Poetry in Translation London; Tyuonyi Santa Fe, NM; First Intensity Lawrence,KS; Cross-Cultural Poetics Minneapolis, etc. In criticism, he has been mainly interested in indisciplinary works in comparative aesthetics, especially anthropology/literature/visual arts. His essays have appeared in Critique Paris; Nouvelle Revue Francaise Paris; Vindrosen Copenhagen;Raster Amsterdam; Times Literary Supplement London;New York Times Book Review New York; Alcheringa Boston U; Montemora New York; Sub-Stance U.of Wisconsin; Sulfur Los Angeles; New Literary History U.Virginia;Poetics Journal Berkeley; Heat Sydney; Boxkite Melbourne among others. The University of New Mexico Press and Stanford University Press have published collections of the essays. Tarn is a pilot and amateur aviation historian as well as a keen gardener and bird watcher.

Travel had always been of great importance in Tarn's life since he feels he writes best when in movement.He has been to most European, Asian and Latin American countries as well as every State in the U.S. Recent concerns are in acculturation; occupational changes due to ecological issues and the fates of indigenous arts: Bali,Java,Philippines (2004); Borneo (2005); New Guinea and Australia (2006). In 2007 he has studied the influence of tourism on wildlife in Antarctica.

Tarn's archives are housed in the Special Collections of the Stanford University Libraries.

Recent Publications

  • Scandals in the House of Birds: Shamans & Priests on Lake Atitlan, Marsilio New York, 1997
  • Selected Poems 1950-2000 (Wesleyan University Press, 2002)
  • Recollections of Being (Salt Publishing, 2005)
  • The Embattled Lyric: Conversations and Essays in Poetics and Anthropology (Stanford University Press, 2007)
  • Avia (Shearsman Books, Exeter, U.K. 2008)
  • Ins and Outs of the Forest Rivers (New Directions, New York,2008)

Selected References

External links



Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

Nathaniel Tarn (born 1928) is a British poet. Born in 1928 in Paris of British parents and educated in France, Belgium and England, he is a trained anthropologist. He has travelled widely, in Europe, Asia and the Americas, and has a more cosmopolitan outlook than most British poets. He is often regarded as one of the Group.


  • I speak from ignorance.
    Who once learned much, but speaks from ignorance now.
    • Poem Last of the Chiefs
  • Where there's no stop and go
    a thought may wet your face,
    a breath arreat your stare.
    • Poem Markings
  • The death-of-the-author thematics, as commonly adapted, are another inanity: when society does its very best to homogenize us, what is wrong with a strong, knowledgeable, and responsible ego crying in the darkening wildnerness?
    • "Octavio Paz, Anthropology, and the Future of Poetry" (1999) in The Embattled Lyric (2007)

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