Entry in The Oxford Companion
to Modern Poetry
STEELE, Timothy (1948- ) was born in Burlington, Vermont, where he attended the local public schools. He was educated at Stanford and received his Ph.D. from Brandeis, where he was strongly influenced by his teacher J.V. Cunningham. He returned to Stanford as a Wallace Stegner fellow, and has lived in California through the Seventies and Eighties, teaching at Stanford and UCLA. He currently lives in Los Angeles and teaches at that campus of California State University.
Among the most notable of the New Formalists, he is also the poet who most successfully embodies the tenets associated with Cunningham and Winters (whose legacy at Stanford was still strong long after his death in 1968), which include strict adherence to traditional, usually iambic metre and to the plain style of Ben Jonson, with an emphasis upon paraphrasable intellectual argument and on reason controlling emotion. In his two books of poetry, Uncertainties and Rest (Baton Rouge, LA., 1979) and Sapphics against Anger and Other Poems (New York, 1986), he writes with quiet authority, passion, and wit about the landscapes of Vermont (“Incident on a Picnic,” “Learning to Skate,” “The Sheets”) and California (“California Street, 1975-76,” “Near Olympic,” “Will Rogers Beach”), as well as about such abstractions as culture, faith, and friendship. Both books contain a sequence of epigrams in the tradition of Cunningham and Auden, as well as classically restrained yet delicately sensual love lyrics, including “Last Night as You Slept,” “An Aubade,” and “Love Poem.” His belief that poetic form should reflect the reasoned balance of strong passions is concisely stated in “Sapphics against Anger.” His critique of modernism, MIssing Measures: Modern Poetry and the Revolt against Meter (Fayetteville, Ark, and London, 1990), is a carefully argued and lucidly written work of scholarship as well as being the strongest defense yet of the New Formalists’ return to metered verse. See also All the Fun's in How You Say a Thing: An Explanation of Meter and Versification (Ohio University Press, 1999). His first two collections, reprinted as Sapphics and Uncertainties: Poems 1970-1986 (University of Arkansas Press, 1995), have been followed by two more: The Color Wheel (Johns Hopkins University Press, 1994) and Toward the Winter Solstice (Ohio University Press, 2006).
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