Ellen Bass

Indigo, the newest collection by Ellen Bass, merges elegy and praise poem in an exploration of life’s complexities. Whether her subject is oysters, high heels, a pork chop, a beloved dog, or a wife’s return to health, Bass pulls us in with exquisite immediacy. Her lush and precisely observed descriptions allow us to feel the sheer primal pleasure of being alive in our own “succulent skin,” the pleasure of the gifts of hunger, desire, touch. In this book, joy meets regret, devotion meets dependence, and most importantly, the poet so in love with life and living begins to look for the point where the price of aging overwhelms the rewards of staying alive. Bass is relentless in her advocacy for the little pleasures all around her. Her gaze is both expansive and hyper-focused, celebrating (and eulogizing) each gift as it is given and taken, while also taking stock of the larger arc. She draws the lines between generations, both remembering her parents’ lives and deaths and watching her own children grow into the space that she will leave behind. Indigo shows us the beauty of this cycle, while also documenting the deeply human urge to resist change and hang on to the life we have, even as it attempts to slip away.

ISBN: 9781556595752

Format: Paperback

Listen to Ellen Bass read the titular poem from Indigo (recorded by Jim Helman for Voetica by David Juda):


About the Author

Ellen Bass’s newest book is Indigo (2020). Among her previous books are Like a Beggar (2014) which was a finalist for the Paterson Poetry Prize, the Publishing Triangle Award, the Milt Kessler Poetry Award, the Lambda Literary Award, and the Northern California Book Award, The Human Line (2007), and Mules of Love (2002), which won the Lambda Literary Award. She co-edited the first major anthology of women’s poetry, No More Masks! (1973). Among her other honors are three Pushcart Prizes, …

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“Bass’s work—about marriage and parenting, illness and recovery, small daily pleasures—cultivates an exuberance that’s born of, and balanced by, close watchfulness.” —The New York Times

“What I love most about this book is its subtleties, the ways it plants in any reader the need to turn the page, to know more even if it means more heartbreak. You [will] hold in your hands the work of a sorceress at the height of her powers.” —Jericho Brown, author of The Tradition

“A bold and passionate new collection… Intimacy is rarely conveyed as gracefully as in Bass’s lustrous poems.” —Booklist

“The poetry of Ellen Bass, if there’s a way to capture such expansive, startling, and honest work, is like that: something as primary as water suddenly sounding its newest blessing because you chose to pay attention; were, for a moment, willing to hear it on its own terms… Even as it treads through deeply difficult subject matter, [Indigo] manages to be celebratory, extravagant, and often erotic; a matrix of intense noticing that makes it possible to understand how we live through and past all the difficulties of our lives.” —World Literature Today

“Extraordinary… Indigo is in dialogue with the meat of mortal existence—birth and death, mourning and desire—and Bass holds these polarities, often within a single poem, illustrating how they link us not only to each other, but also to the inexorable revolutions of the natural world of which we are only a small part.”—The Adroit Journal

“Bass’s work continues to deepen in its power. She expresses complex experiences in the world with beauty and joy. In Indigo, ample poems are quintessentially Bass; her poems demonstrate the power of lesbian sexuality and exuberantly celebrate life in the body, richly observed, deeply felt, joyful even—or especially—as the body ages.”—Lambda Literary

“This fantastic collection will be a welcome gift to poets and non-poets alike, one to be passed around and shared in times of happiness we want to celebrate and in times of darkness, as now, when we need a little comfort.” —Women’s Voices for Change

“…A lustrous artifact… [F]or all their measured pacing, these are urgent lyrics that place the sensual in one hand, the sacred in the other.” —VIDA: Women in Literary Arts

“[A] genius for detail shines through Indigo—an iridescent thread that gives pleasure over and over, no matter the subject of the poem… Indigo engages the reader with its willingness to face the contradictions of being a human being head-on.” —Los Angeles Review of Books

“The poems in Indigo flow in ways that only Bass’s can—stopping the world with their movements, both rapturous in their celebration and exultant in their heartbreak.” —BOMB Magazine

“Any reader looking to be challenged, comforted, questioned, enveloped, and seen needs to pick up a copy of Indigo immediately. It will certainly be hard to put back down again.”—New York Journal of Books

“[Bass’s] poems have a startling range. They’re funny, poignant, sad, distraught, angry, tender—a whole range of emotions. In short, they’re very human and affirm our common humanity. When you read her poems, you feel as if you’ve walked, as she has, though many lives unflinching at what they have to offer us about our humanity. She is one of our major poets for a good reason. Not just because she’s a deft craftsman but because she is what one of my favorite children’s book—The Velveteen Rabbit—calls the rabbit once it has arrived at being fully itself—she’s real.”—The Los Angeles Review

Awards & Honors

Finalist, Publishing Triangle Audre Lorde Award for Lesbian Poetry, 2021

Finalist, Paterson Poetry Prize, 2021