Born in 1952 in Troy, New York, Alice Fulton attended Catholic schools in her hometown. She began writing poetry during the 1970’s. In 1978, she earned a bachelor of arts degree in creative writing from Empire State College in Albany, New York, and, in 1982, a master of fine arts degree from Cornell University, where she studied with A. R. Ammons. She married artist Hank De Leo in 1980.
In 1983, she became an assistant professor of English at the University of Michigan, where she remained until 2001. Fulton has also been a visiting professor of creative writing at Vermont College; the University of California, Los Angeles; Ohio State University; and the University of North Carolina, Wilmington. During the 1990’s, Fulton served as a judge for many poetry prizes, including the National Book Award, the Lamont Poetry Selection, the Akron Poetry Prize, and the Walt Whitman Award. In 2002, she joined the faculty of Cornell University, becoming the Ann S. Bowers Professor of English in 2004.
Alice Fulton has often been called the postmodern heir of Emily Dickinson, thanks to her fresh use of diction and technical elements and her astute consideration of complex subject matter in her poetry. She is a native of Troy, New York, the daughter of John R. Fulton, a businessman, and Mary (Callahan) Fulton, a nurse. In June of 1980, she married the artist Hank DeLeo. Fulton received her B.A. degree from the State University of New York, Empire State College, in 1979 and her M.F.A. in 1982 from Cornell University. Her career as a student at both institutions was marked by awards and scholarships, including a Sage Graduate Fellowship at Cornell.
While at Cornell, Fulton studied with the poet and critic A. R. Ammons, who deeply influenced her work. Ammons encouraged her to see the creative value in imperfection, which provided a healthy counterpoint to Fulton’s perfectionist tendencies. It was Ammons who suggested to Fulton that it is those moments when balance is lost that are interesting moments. The title work of Fulton’s first full-length collection, Dance Script with Electric Ballerina, is an example of a poem that explores this theme. The book won the Associated Writing Program Award in 1982 and was reissued by University of Illinois in 1996.
During her undergraduate years in the late 1970’s, Fulton worked briefly as an advertising copywriter in New York City. After gaining her M.F.A., she began a residency at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, Massachusetts. Shortly thereafter, she accepted a position at the University of Michigan, where she taught in the creative writing department for nineteen years, ultimately achieving the rank of full professor. At Michigan, she received the Henry Russel Award for promise of distinction in writing and excellence in teaching, an Excellence in Research Award, and two individual grants in literature from the Michigan Council for the Arts. She was also awarded the William Wilhartz endowed chair for junior faculty. While teaching at Michigan, she also served as visiting professor of creative writing at Vermont College (1987) and the University of California (1991).
The critically acclaimed Dance Script with Electric Ballerina was followed by a second volume, Palladium, which received the Society of Midland Authors Poetry Award and was the winner of the National Poetry Series Award. Her third collection, Powers of Congress, was published in 1990 by Godine. In each of these volumes, Fulton employs a dazzling array of linguistic devices. Although the poems in these books contain some biographical detail, Fulton is not a confessional poet. Rather, the majority of her poems explore complex themes such as the relationship of science to language, of the sacred to the profane. This focus on themes rather than on autobiographical detail leads the reader away from any preoccupation with the author and instead toward the sort of shared experiences that connect with human vitality.
In her fourth collection, Sensual Math, Fulton employs a wide variety of diction, ranging from the elevated language of the lyric to the more vulgar diction of such enterprises as pig slaughtering and advertising. A recurring image in the poems of Sensual Math is the veil, or covering, that represents a certain tension between the human desire at once to reveal the self and to protect the self. In 1999 Fulton published her first collection of critical essays, Feeling as a Foreign Language. In this volume she explores a variety of critical issues, notably the concept of “fractal poetics,” an open-ended aesthetic based on chaos theory and the concept of fractal patterns.
In addition to the influence of her mentor, Ammons, Fulton has been inspired by the poetry and letters of Emily Dickinson. In her fifth collection of poems, Felt, she makes numerous references to Dickinson’s life and work, such as in the title of one poem, “Split the Lark,” which is derived from one of Dickinson’s posthumously published poems. The title of Felt refers to both the verb “to feel” and the fabric that is made by compressing fibers together forcibly. This, to Fulton, suggests a metaphor for the interconnectedness of all things that is at the heart of twentieth century complexity theories. Felt was chosen by the Los Angeles Times as one of the Best Books of 2001 and was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Award in Poetry. In 2002 Fulton returned to Cornell as a professor, to inhabit the office that her mentor, Ammons, had occupied for more than thirty years.
She has received fellowships from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Ingram Merrill Foundation, the Guggenheim Foundation, the Michigan Society of Fellows, and the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown. Her many awards include the Elizabeth Matchett Stover Award from The Southwest Review, the Rainer Maria Rilke Award, the John Atherton Fellowship in Poetry at the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, the Associated Writing Programs Publication Award in Poetry, a Pushcart Prize, the Bess Hokin Prize, and the Emily Dickinson and Consuelo Ford Awards from the Poetry Society of America.
Fulton’s work has been included in five editions of The Best American Poetry series and in the tenth anniversary edition of The Best of the Best American Poetry, 1988-1997, edited by Harold Bloom. Her thirty-nine-page sequence of poems called “Give” was included in the anthology After Ovid: New Metamorphoses. Her poems have been widely anthologized and have appeared in the United States’ most prestigious literary journals, including Poetry, The New Yorker, Parnassus, The Paris Review, The New Republic, and The Atlantic Monthly.