Eleanor Wilner was born in 1937 in Ohio. She earned a BA from Goucher College and a PhD from Johns Hopkins University. Active in civil rights and peace movements, Wilner is known for writing poetry that engages politics, culture, history, and myth. Wilner typically avoids poetry that focuses on the self, preferring instead to work from what she has described as “cultural memory.” In an interview, Wilner stated that she “saw the ways in which collective vision always began with a communal crisis and an individual who, in essence, dreamed for the community. This is what I think a poet does, and I think our culture has made us shallow and dreamless by inculcating the myth that the individual is defined and set apart by his or her own personal experience.”
Writing in Poetry, Christian Wiman commented, “Thought occurs in her poems, and her poems have definite subjects, not infrequently the sort of big-game themes that wreck lesser writers: war, environmental degradation, justice, sexism.” Wiman continued, “it is a relief to come across work in which a moral intelligence is matched by aesthetic refinement, in which the craft of the poems is equal to their concerns.” Wilner has received numerous awards and honors for her work, including the Juniper Prize, two Pushcart Prizes, and fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the MacArthur Foundation.
—Poem from Reversing the Spell: New and Selected Poems, Copper Canyon Press, 1998