Trinity University Press

Insane Devotion

On the Writing of Gerald Stern

Mihaela Moscaliuc (editor)

Fourteen writers and critics examine the craft of a legendary American poet

Gerald Stern has been a significant presence in the literary constellation of his generation and an impassioned and idiosyncratic voice in twentieth- and twenty-first-century American poetry. In this retrospective of Stern's career, fourteen writers, critics, and poets examine the themes, stylistic traits, and craft of a poet who has shaped and inspired American verse for generations. 

The essays and interviews that make up Insane Devotion paint a broad picture of a man made whole by the influence of the written word. They touch on the contentious and nuanced stance of Judaism in the breadth of Stern’s work. Another recurring theme is Stern’s capacious memory and his use of personal history to illuminate our common humanity. What is revealed is a poet of complexity and heart, often tender, often outraged. As Philip Levine writes in his lyrical foreword to the book, Stern is both sweet and spiky, “a born teacher who can teach me to see the universe in an acorn & hear the music of the lost in an empty Pepsi can.”

The contributors characterize Stern as a poet of bold romanticism and “reckless” nostalgia, a writer in service to the sublime, and a voice with affection for the voiceless and the discarded. They examine his ethical inquiries, his urban sensibility, his love of trees and rivers, and his dedication to philosophers and prophets and other poets, all of which inform his inimitable voice. The critical essays range from lyrical to scholarly, with some providing close readings of one or two poems and others taking on more extensive analyses that weave in personal reflections, historical and literary contextualization, or interdisciplinary perspectives, engaging with other scholarship on Stern’s work. 

Judith Vollmer sifts to find meaning in Stern's words while Edward Hirsch deconstructs a lifetime of knowing Jerrys” work. The final two pieces are interviews. Lia Purpura covers the entire range of Stern’s work, and Dean Young focuses his discussion on Stern’s prose writing, in particular Stealing History, a freewheeling memoir that reads like the diary of a brilliant mind.

Now ninety years old, Gerald Stern has been recognized as a poet who has unalterably changed the landscape of American poetry, and Insane Devotion acts as a road map to his genius. When his first major collection, Lucky Life, was published in 1977, Stern broke out with a stunningly original voice, and he has held the literary world rapt with his outpourings of words ever since. As a teacher at many universities, including the Iowa Writers Workshop, Stern has educated and influenced an untold number of poets. At the same time, his own work has developed, reinventing itself brilliantly from book to book.


  • J. T. Barbarese
  • Dara Barnat
  • Lucy Biederman
  • Michael Broek
  • Darla Himeles
  • Edward Hirsch
  • Tony Leuzzi
  • Laura McCullough
  • Alicia Ostriker
  • Lia Purpura
  • Ira Sadoff
  • Michael Waters
  • Judith Vollmer
  • Dean Young


    “Gerald Stern is one of those writers whose style insinuates itself into your consciousness like a catchy tune, so that you find your thoughts echoing its rhythms, bopping from one to another, back and forth, like thought and language doing a jitterbug.”

    Philadelphia Inquirer

    Insane Devotion cover
    • Price: $29.95 buy »
    • Pages: 240
    • Size: 6 X 9
    • Published: Jun 2016
    • Status: Available
    • ISBN: 9781595347688
    • Price: $29.95
    • Status: Available
    • ISBN: 9781595347695


    Language Arts, Poetry, Literature