The Daily

In Memoriam

Deborah S. Pease, 1943–2014

August 20, 2014 | by

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A detail of the cover of The Paris Review’s Summer 1977 issue, which marked Deborah Pease’s first appearance in the magazine. Cover painting by William Copley, “Untitled,” 1977.

The Paris Review was saddened to learn that Deborah S. Pease—a poet, our former publisher, and a longtime supporter of the magazine—died in Boston earlier this week. She was seventy.

Pease was The Paris Review’s publisher from 1982 to 1992. She was a generous benefactor: in addition to her work with the Review, she supported Poets House and the Poetry Society of America, and she went on to help found A Public Space, whose editors write, “For her one of the truest ways to value art was to share it.”

An accomplished poet, Pease found a home for her work in the Review as early as 1977, and she returned to these pages often over the next decades; her work could be found in The New Yorker, AGNI, and Parnassus, among others, and in 1999 collected her poems in Another Ghost in the Doorway. She was precocious, too—a short story, “Doubt,” appeared in The New Yorker when she was only twenty-three, and her novel, Real Life, came not long afterward, in 1971.

Below is her poem “Self-Portrait in Iceland,” published in our Summer 2010 issue.

The face is featureless,
As though bound in tight gauze,
And therefore presents a mien
Of deadly restraint, and for a moment
It terrifies, this visage
Shorn of expression, the first impulse
Is to recoil from what appears
To be willful, if bloodless and unscarred,
Mutilation, but somehow
The set of the head, its angled tilt,
Imparts a liveliness to the sitter
That defies a nullity because it captures
Light from an unseen window
And reflects from an unseen radiance
A sanguine assertion of self
Drawn from tones of glacial tides
And roseate pumice stone.
The hands, extremities at rest
In the sitter’s lap just over the knees
And crossed at the wrists, are nearly convivial,
Inward-cupped, not articulated but nonetheless
Eloquent in their assured capacity
For labor, the lack of delicate modeling
Suggests a readiness
To take hold, to lend themselves
To tasks at hand, but the rudimentary
Aspect reveals no crudeness of character
In the sitter, no vulgarity, on the contrary
The hands are free from guile and coarse use,
They echo the face in elemental probity,
Holding in quick, almost offhand fashion
Gulps of sun,
Chunks of flame
In the shade of bleached volcanoes.

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