Keith Waldrop, a renowned poet, translator, artist, and professor at Brown University, passed away on July 27 at the age of 90. Waldrop’s poetry collection, “Transcendental Studies: A Trilogy,” won the National Book Award in 2009, 40 years after being a finalist for the same award. Brown University announced his death without providing details of the location or cause.
Waldrop was more than just a poet; he was also widely respected as a translator of French poetry and prose. In addition, he was an accomplished artist whose collages were exhibited in solo and group shows. Alongside his wife, Rosmarie Waldrop, who is also a poet, he ran a small press. Over the course of his career, he published numerous volumes of poetry that were known for their infusion of emotional and intellectual depth.
The judges who awarded Waldrop the National Book Award commended his use of language and stated that he had invented a form of “transcendental immanence” in his work. They praised his ability to bridge disparate thoughts and experiences, moving from the Romantic to the postmodern. Waldrop’s poetry was characterized by vivid imagery that was both unsettling and beautiful.
In a 2009 interview, Waldrop discussed how his poems were crafted similarly to his visual collages, although he saw them as two distinct creative processes. While he acknowledged that the poems and collages may not go together, he enjoyed working on both.
Waldrop was born on December 11, 1932, in Emporia, Kansas. Raised primarily by his mother, he became interested in theater after his father took him to see a production of “G.I. Hamlet” as a child. This experience sparked a lifelong passion for theater, and Waldrop became involved in creating theater groups during his time at the University of Michigan and later as a faculty member at Brown.
Waldrop’s mother, who was deeply religious, shaped his early education by moving him and his siblings around the Midwest and the South in search of the “right” fundamentalist congregation. Although Waldrop initially read comic books and the Bible, he began exploring poetry in high school and eventually pursued advanced degrees in comparative literature.
In the early 1960s, Waldrop co-founded Burning Deck, a literary journal that later transformed into a press, with his wife and others. They used an old letterpress printer and relocated it when they moved to Connecticut. Waldrop joined the faculty at Brown University in 1968 and retired in 2011.
Waldrop’s wife, Rosmarie, survives him. They published their first poetry volume, “A Windmill Near Calvary,” in 1968, which became a finalist for the National Book Award the following year. Despite his literary achievements, Waldrop and his wife maintained a low-key approach to their success. For the award ceremony, Rosmarie decided to attend the opera instead of the presentation, but Waldrop contemplated joining her.
Keith Waldrop’s contributions to poetry, translation, and the arts were profound and will continue to inspire future generations of artists and writers.