Lyn Lifshin was born Rosalynn Diane Lifshin in Burlington, Vermont, to a middle-class, nonobservant Jewish family. She grew up in Middlebury, Vermont, where her father, with whom she was never close, worked in the family dry-goods store. The first poem she wrote, as she “skipped and slid from first grade to third,” was about apple trees, the introduction of a motif that has figured in the title of several of her books. She learned to read prior to entering the first grade and was introduced to poets such as John Milton, William Blake, and William Wordsworth by an enlightened teacher who also “had us write lots of poems.” Feeling that “I wasn’t popular, sexy, grabbable or longed for” in high school, she decided to try to gain attention by painting, acting, and winning science contests, at which she excelled. Her mother encouraged her theatrical inclinations, but Lifshin instead chose English as her main interest, both for the study of literature and for the writing of poetry.
One of Lifshin’s favorite stories concerns Robert Frost. The venerated poet lived in her family’s town and frequently shopped at the dry-goods store. One day, her father showed him one of his daughter’s poems, “Disillusions.” Frost wrote a note on the poem, “Very good sayeth Robert Frost,” and asked to see more. Lifshin was overwhelmed by Frost’s response, calling his words “staggering,” and wishing she had more poems to show to Frost at the time.
Lifshin began at Syracuse University as a drama major, switching to English with a minor in radio and television and art history, graduating in 1964 with a bachelor of arts degree. She entered Brandeis University intending to write an master’s thesis on Dylan Thomas, “whose reputation and mythic tours intrigued me almost as much as his poetry.” Her first published poem, “Jonathan,” was accepted by the poetry periodical Kauri in 1966, her initial venture into small-press publishing.
A crucial moment...
(The entire section is 818 words.)