Marie Ponsot was born Marie Birmingham in Queens, New York. Her father, William Birmingham, was a partner in a wine importing company. Her mother, Marie (Candee) Birmingham, was a schoolteacher. Marie began publishing her writing as a child, in The Brooklyn Eagle. She received a bachelor of arts degree from St. Joseph’s College for Women in Brooklyn, then earned a master’s degree with a concentration in seventeenth century literature from Columbia University. She has often spoken of how her parents stimulated her love of literature.
After World War II, Marie Birmingham went to Paris for postgraduate studies, where she met artist and painter Claude Ponsot. They were married in 1948. Together they had seven children, one daughter and six sons. They divorced in 1970. Marie Ponsot met Beat poet and publisher Lawrence Ferlinghetti while they were fellow passengers on a boat. He published her first collection, True Minds, through City Lights Books in San Francisco in 1956.
Ponsot has had an extensive teaching career. When her second collection was published, she was an English professor at Queens College, from which she retired in 1991. She has also taught in graduate programs at Beijing United University, New York’s YMHA Poetry Center, New York University, the New School, and Columbia University.