John Felstiner

John Felstiner

Can Poetry Save the Earth?

Stanford, California 94305-2087

Professor Emeritus

Department of English


After three years on the USS Forrestal in the Mediterranean and four more at Harvard for his PhD, John Felstiner came to Stanford in 1965. His first book, The Lies of Art: Max Beerbohm's Parody and Caricature (1972), has to do with parody as a critical, creative, and comic form. Since then his teaching and writing have dealt mainly with modern poetry. Teaching North American poetry in Chile in 1967-68 led to Translating Neruda: The Way to Macchu Picchu (1980), which won the Commonwealth Club of California Gold Medal, and to an ongoing concern with the practice of literary translation, along with its interpretive, creative, and theoretical implications. The British Comparative Literature Association gave 1st and 2nd prizes to his Pablo Neruda and Paul Celan translations.

During the 1970s John developed critical approaches to poetry by civilians and soldiers from the Vietnam era, and after teaching at the Hebrew University in Israel (1974-75), he began studying the literature, art, photography, and music that emerged from the European Jewish catastrophe. His book on the German-speaking Jewish poet, Paul Celan: Poet, Survivor, Jew (1995), was a Finalist for the National Book Critics Circle award and the MLA's James Russell Lowell prize, and won the Truman Capote Prize for Literary Criticism.

Selected Poems and Prose of Paul Celan (Norton, 2001) won the Modern Language Association's biennial Lois Roth Award for Translation of a Literary Work, the American Translators Association's biennial award for German translation, PEN West's prize for literary translation, and was runner-up for American PEN's translation award, the Helen and Kurt Wolff Prize, and the British Society of Authors' Schlegel-Tieck prize.

John co-edited the Norton anthology, Jewish American Literature (2000). He has held Guggenheim, Rockefeller, NEH (2x), and NEA (2x) fellowships, taught literary translation twice at Yale, and is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

This Dust of Words, John's memoir of his brilliant late-Sixties student Liz Wiltsee, inspired a documentary film that is being screened at various festivals:  

After retirement, Mary Felstiner and John taught two Stanford courses, to undergrads and adults, on "creative resistance." That is, writings such as graffiti, letters, poetry, diaries, journals, chronicles, also art and photography, and music of all sorts, all emerging from victims throughout Nazi-occupied Europe. He is currently on Stanford Hillel’s Board of Directors.

In writing Can Poetry Save the Earth?: A Field Guide to Nature Poems (2009), on poetry and environmental urgency, John worked at the Stanford Humanities Center and the Yaddo, MacDowell, Millay, Djerassi, Mesa Refuge, and Jentel artists colonies. American Poetry Review ran six essays from this book, and NPR's Morning Edition featured it:. Poets House in Manhattan focused on his book's theme in '09-'10.

Preceding Brazil’s Rio+20 Conference on Sustainable Development, the U.N.’s Society of Writers held a conference, “Can Poetry Save the Earth?”—in the New York Security Council room. John’s summary keynote is “The Future We Want”:

Having received a foundation grant, John is currently visiting high schools around the country to share the environmental awareness that poems can awaken in the next generation. 'Save the Earth' Poetry Prize is offered for the second year, in 2013, for 11th & 12th grade high school students. (See JF site)


 Turn of the Screw and Other Stories by Henry James (Scholastic Book Services, New York, 1966), edited with an introduction, biography, and notes by John Felstiner.

The Lies of Art: Max Beerbohm's Parody and Caricature (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1972; London: Victor jGollancz, 1973), 320 pp., 58 illus.

The Dark Room and Other Poems, by Enrique Lihn, co-translator John Felstiner (New York: New Directions, 1978; 2nd ed. forthcoming).

Translating Neruda: The Way to Macchu Picchu (Stanford University Press, 1980; paperback, 1986), 284 pp., 8 illus.

Paul Celan: Poet, Survivor, Jew (Yale University Press, 1995; paperback 1997; Nota Bene [trade] edition, 2001); Verlag C.H. Beck, Munich, 1997, pocketbook, 2001; Editorial Trotta (Madrid), 2002; Nepheli Editions (Athens), 2008; Fonghong [phoenix] (Beijing), 2009; Wydawnictwo Austeria (Krakow, Poland), 2010.

Heights of Macchu Picchu / Alturas de Macchu Picchu (Neruda), with photographs by Edward Ranney (Limited Editions Club, 1998).

Jewish American Literature: A Norton Anthology, Co-editor (W.W. Norton, 2000).

Selected Poems and Prose of Paul Celan, Editor and translator (W.W. Norton, 2001; paperback, 2001).

Deathfugue / Todesfuge (Celan), with photogravure by Gisele Celan-Lestrange (Limited Editions Club, 2001).

Fugat-mavet / Todesfuge (Celan), Zvi Lachman, artists book (Even Hoshen, Jerusalem, 2005).

Can Poetry Save the Earth?: A Field Guide to Nature Poems (Yale University Press, 2009; paperback, 2010).