Jane Cooper, a poet and teacher who often wrote about her own life and the challenges of being a female writer, has died. She was 83.
A longtime faculty member at Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxville, N.Y., Cooper died Oct. 26 of complications from Parkinson's disease, the school announced. She died at Pennswood Village retirement community in Newtown, Pa.
In her more than 50-year career, Cooper wrote six books of poetry. Her first, "The Weather of Six Mornings" (1969), was the Lamont Poetry Selection of the Academy of American Poets. Her most recent book, "The Flashboat: Poems Collected and Reclaimed," was published in 2000.
"I have boxes more," she said of her many unfinished works in a 1996 interview with the Times Union of Albany, N.Y. "Some are quite publishable," she added, but they were not yet up to her standards. "I've always been a rather slow writer," she said.
"Jane Cooper had a beautiful smile, an innocent presence, but at the same time she was as exacting as a surgeon," said poet Catherine Bowman, who is director of the creative writing program at Indiana University and a former student of Cooper.
Bowman said Cooper's poetry was "spare, vernacular and very direct. She used concise imagery and explored aspects of feminism."
From her early years as a poet, Cooper was sensitive to the restrictions faced by female writers. The female "poets I read about were generally not known for their rich, stable sexual and family lives," Cooper explained in a 1974 essay.
In her 1994 book, "Green Notebook, Winter Road," she approached the issue from a positive point of view in several poems about female artists who remained faithful to their calling.
"Vocation: A Life" pays tribute to novelist Willa Cather, whose best-known work, "Death Comes for the Archbishop," is set in the Southwest. Cooper links author and setting in the poem, as if they had become inseparable. She refers to the "gold of a desert morning/light by which the writing/was composed."
One of Cooper's autobiographical poems, "Clementene" is set in Jacksonville, Fla., where she spent part of her childhood. Clementene was an African American seamstress who sometimes worked for Cooper's family. She was rumored to be the daughter of a man from a "fine" family. Cooper portrays her as a woman caught between two cultures.
"I always thought she was white," the poem begins. Clementene, with "her high-bridged nose, coin-perfect profile," kept to herself and "joined neither white in the dining room nor colored in the kitchen," Cooper wrote.
The poem's honesty is not comforting. "It's awareness I'm interested in," Cooper said of her writing in 1996. "A poem has to be totally aware of our real life."
Cooper was born Oct. 9, 1924, in Atlantic City, N.J., and reared in Jacksonville and Princeton, N.J.
She earned a bachelor's degree at the University of Wisconsin and a master's degree at the University of Iowa, where her teachers included poets John Berryman and Robert Lowell.
She joined the Sarah Lawrence faculty in 1950 and, along with short-story writer Grace Paley, poet Muriel Rukeyser and others, helped build the school's highly regarded creative writing program. Cooper retired from teaching in 1987 and was the school's emeritus poet in residence.
Among her awards and honors, she was named the State Poet of New York for 1996-97.
Cooper, who never married and had no children, is survived by her brother, John C. Cooper III of Tucson; five nephews; two nieces; and three grandnieces.