Authors: John Ciardi

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

American poet and editor

Author Works


Homeward to America, 1940

Other Skies, 1947

Live Another Day, 1949

From Time to Time, 1951

As If: Poems Newand Selected, 1955

I Marry You: A Sheaf of Love Poems, 1958

Thirty-nine Poems, 1959

In the Stoneworks, 1961

In Fact, 1962

Person to Person, 1964

This Strangest Everything, 1966

Lives of X, 1971

The Little That Is All, 1974

Limericks: Too Gross, 1978 (with Isaac Asimov)

A Grossery of Limericks, 1981 (with Asimov)

Selected Poems, 1984

The Birds of Pompeii, 1985

Echoes: Poems Left Behind, 1989

The Collected Poems of John Ciardi, 1997 (Edward Cifelli, editor)


How Does a Poem Mean?, 1959, revised 1975

Poetry: A Closer Look, 1963

Dialogue with an Audience, 1963

Manner of Speaking, 1972

For Instance, 1979

A Browser’s Dictionary, and Native’s Guide to the Unknown American Language, 1980, 1983, 1988 (3 volumes)

Good Words to You, 1987

Ciardi Himself: Fifteen Essays in the Reading, Writing, and Teaching of Poetry, 1989

The Selected Letters of John Ciardi, 1991 (Edward Cifelli, editor)


The Divine Comedy, 1977 (The Inferno, 1954, The Purgatorio, 1961, and The Paradiso, 1970; of Dante’s La divina commedia)

Children’s/Young Adult Literature:

The Reason for the Pelican, 1959

Scrappy the Pup, 1960

I Met a Man, 1961

The Man Who Sang the Sillies, 1961

You Read to Me, I’ll Read to You, 1962

The Wish-Tree, 1962

John J. Plenty and Fidler Den, 1963

You Know Who, 1964

The King Who Saved Himself from Being Saved, 1965

An Alphabestiary, 1966

Someone Could Win a Polar Bear, 1970

Fast and Slow: Poems for Advanced Children and Beginning Parents, 1975

Doodle Soup, 1985

Edited Text:

Mid-Century American Poets, 1950


John Anthony Ciardi (CHAHR-dee) was an accomplished and prolific poet who wrote for both adults and children, but he gained his greatest recognition as an editor, translator, and critic. He and his three sisters were born in Boston, Massachusetts; his parents, Carminantonio and Concetta Ciardi, had been born near Naples, Italy. Ciardi was only three years old when his father was killed in an automobile crash. Echoes of his upbringing in a traditional Catholic-Italian family, the clashes of the old ways and the new, and his longing for a father he never knew are found throughout his work.{$I[AN]9810002053}{$I[A]Ciardi, John}{$I[geo]UNITED STATES;Ciardi, John}{$I[tim]1916;Ciardi, John}

After graduating from public high school in 1933, Ciardi spent a year working to earn money for college. He then enrolled at Bates College in Maine but failed most of his courses and left after one year. When he tried again at Tufts University, he encountered the professor John Holmes, who inspired and encouraged him as a student and as a poet. Ciardi graduated magna cum laude in 1938, and that fall he began graduate study at the University of Michigan. He chose that university in part because of the Avery Hopwood Awards; Ciardi hoped to win the award for poetry, as much for the money as for the recognition, and he won the award in 1939. A year later he published his first volume of poetry, Homeward to America, a well-received collection of lyric poems exploring the immigrant son’s search for self-identity.

Ciardi accepted a position as English instructor at the University of Kansas City. Over the next twenty years, with only a period during which he served in the Air Force during World War II, he taught English literature and creative writing at the University of Kansas City, Harvard University, and Rutgers University. He also taught at, and for many years directed, the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference.

Other Skies, a collection of poems about Ciardi’s war experiences, received mixed reviews, and in the next volume, Live Another Day, many individual poems were praised highly, though the collection was criticized for not being cohesive. That same year Ciardi became an editor for Twayne Publishers, where he initiated an “Annual Twayne First Book Contest” to encourage new poets.

In 1950 he edited the anthology Mid-Century American Poets. More than just a collection of famous works by famous poets, the anthology was carefully assembled to show the diverse strengths of American poetry. Six years later Ciardi began a long stint as poetry editor for the Saturday Review, where his exacting standards drew attention. He refused to praise everything; instead he harshly criticized work by such popular poets as Anne Morrow Lindbergh and Rod McKuen. Some readers objected, but many critics and poets admired Ciardi’s strong stance. Many of his reviews and responses from readers were gathered into two volumes, Dialogue with an Audience and Manner of Speaking.

During the 1950’s Ciardi published four more volumes of poetry, including As If: Poems New and Selected, which showed the range of his emotion and the depth of his craftsmanship, and I Marry You: A Sheaf of Love Poems, a deeply felt collection of poems about his relationship with Judith Hostetter Ciardi, whom he had married in 1946. The latter was among the most successful and popular of his twenty volumes of poetry.

For many readers Ciardi is known as a translator of Dante. His translation of The Inferno was well-received and widely used in college classes. He continued the project with The Purgatorio, The Paradiso, and a one-volume The Divine Comedy, and used the occasion to debate the requirements of poetry translation. Ciardi’s translations, accompanied by summaries, notes, and glosses, offer English readers a reliable way into Dante’s world.

Children made up another important audience for Ciardi. Between 1959 and 1986 he published thirteen volumes for young readers, including The Reason for the Pelican; You Read to Me, I’ll Read to You, which contains the frequently anthologized “My Cat, Mrs. Lick-a-Chin”; Someone Could Win a Polar Bear; and Fast and Slow: Poems for Advanced Children and Beginning Parents.

Toward the end of his life Ciardi was still looking for new directions for his writing. He collaborated with Isaac Asimov on Limericks: Too Gross and A Grossery of Limericks, and he continued to publish volumes of serious poetry. A lifelong fascination with words led him to linguistic research. The result was A Browser’s Dictionary, and Native’s Guide to the Unknown American Language. At his death from a heart attack on March 30, 1986, this prolific writer, translator, critic, editor, and reviewer left behind a large body of poems, diaries, and essays, many of which have been published posthumously.

BibliographyCiardi, John. The Selected Letters of John Ciardi. Edited by Edward M. Cifelli. Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 1991. Collection of correspondence with various literati including Isaac Asimov, Theodore Roethke, Muriel Rukeyser, and John Frederick Nims. Includes an index.Cifelli, Edward M. John Ciardi: A Biography. Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 1997. Cifelli, an expert on Ciardi’s work, chronicles the rise and fall of the poet’s fortune from his high profile in the 1940’s and 1950’s to his relative obscurity when the Beats and the confessional poets arrived.Clemente, Vince, ed. John Ciardi: Measure of the Man. Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 1987. This collection of essays is essential for any student of Ciardi. Authors as varied as Isaac Asimov and Maxine Kumin comment on Ciardi’s multifaceted life and writing career. Covers Ciardi’s work as a poet, a science-fiction writer, and an author for children.Krickel, Edward Francis. John Ciardi. Boston: Twayne, 1980. A valuable introduction to the work of Ciardi. It contains a brief biography and an analytic overview of the body of his work. Supplemented by a thorough primary and secondary bibliography and an index.Nims, John Frederick. “John Ciardi: The Many Lives of Poetry.” In John Ciardi: The Measure of the Man, edited by Vince Clemente. Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 1987. Nims addresses Ciardi as a poet and reveals his poetic bias when he praises Ciardi as a man of the world who gave up his career to write. Ciardi’s experience informed his poetry, which was rich and varied.White, William. John Ciardi: A Bibliography. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1959. Contains a statement by Ciardi. The bibliography is not complete, but it is useful, as it lists the first publication dates of many of Ciardi’s works that do not appear in book collections or periodical guides. It dramatizes Ciardi’s amazing versatility by showing that he wrote in many different literary genres.Williams, Miller. “John Ciardi: ‘Nothing Is Really Hard but to Be Real.’” In The Achievement of John Ciardi, edited by Williams. Glenview, Ill.: Scott, Foresman, 1969. Williams edited a selection of Ciardi’s poems published from the mid-1940’s to the mid-1960’s. Williams’s essay on Ciardi is one of the best available. Suitable for all students.
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