Although known primarily as a poet, John Ciardi translated Dante’s Divine Comedy, wrote several volumes of children’s poetry and directed the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference in Vermont. John Ciardi was born in Boston in 1916 and after the death of his father in 1919 was raised by his mother and three older sisters. He studied at Tufts University in Boston under the poet John Holmes, graduating in 1938. The following year he completed his master’s degree at the University of Michigan. He published his first book of poetry Homeward to America in 1940, which was well received. Although he had hoped to concentrate only on his writing he was forced to take a job as an English instructor at Kansas State University.
In 1942 Ciardi enlisted in the Army Air Corps and served as a gunner aboard a B-29 in the aerial offensive against Japan, flying 16 missions; he was transferred to desk duty in 1945, assigned to write medal commendations and letters of condolence. He was decorated with the Air Medal and oak-leaf cluster and discharged with the rank of Technical Sergeant in October 1945. In 1947 he published Other Skies, a collection based on his wartime experiences.
After the war he returned briefly to Kansas State before moving to Harvard University and eventually Rutgers University. In 1961 he left academia to devote himself full time to his writing.
He was the poetry editor of the Saturday Review from 1956 to 1972 and wrote the 1959 poetry textbook How Does a Poem Mean.
John Ciardi’s Poems
Resources for John Ciardi
Saipan: The War Diary of John Ciardi, University of Arkansas Press, 1988