Marie Birmingham Ponsot was a natural-born writer.
As a child, Ponsot started her career penning poems in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle. She went on to become an award-winning author of several collections of poetry and translated more than five dozen books from French to English.
A 1940 graduate of St. Joseph’s, Ponsot was the inspiration for the school’s Writer’s Foundry M.F.A. program. Her mark on SJC Brooklyn will always be remembered.
Ponsot died on July 5 at NewYork–Presbyterian Hospital. She was 98.
The poet laureate last visited SJC Brooklyn on Founders Day in 2016 — two days after the college’s official centennial birthday. During a session of Brooklyn Voices — a literary series hosted by Greenlight Bookstore and SJC Brooklyn that gives local published authors the chance to present and hold discussions about their work — scores of poets honored Ponsot in Tuohy Hall.
Ponsot was accompanied by her daughter, Monique, as she read from Collected Poems, a book that gathers her stunning lifework in one volume, covering six decades years of poetry from 1956 to 2016. She, unsurprisingly, brought the entire audience to its feet.
A Life Filled With Literature and Love
Ponsot was born in Brooklyn, but spent most of her childhood growing up in Jamaica, Queens. Her name was Marie Estelle Birmingham until she married Claude Ponsot, a French painter. The couple had seven children before divorcing.
Ponsot, who mainly wrote about relationships and family, crafted much of her work as a single mom of seven children. Her poetry was known for its syntactical complexity and verbal precision.
The poet already had a way with words when she began her venture into higher education at just 15. During her time at St. Joseph’s College for Women, Ponsot thrilled her classmates with scintillating prose in the school magazine Loria and on the pages of Footprints, the College’s yearbook.
She continued to collect accolades for her writing as she fine-tuned her craft.
With The Bird Catcher, Ponsot was a finalist for the 1999 Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize and the winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award. She also earned the Delmore Schwartz Memorial Award, the Robert Frost Poetry Award, the 2013 Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize from the Poetry Foundation and the 2015 Aiken Taylor Award for Modern American Poetry.