Lines of Defense: Poems (Paperback)

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“[Stephen Dunn] has taken his place among our major, indispensable poets.”—Miami Herald


In his seventeenth collection of poetry, Pulitzer Prize winner Stephen Dunn confronts the lines we fight against and the ones we draw for ourselves. Lines of Defense poignantly captures the absurdities of modern life, expectations derailed, the lived life juxtaposed to the imagined life, and the defenses we don to make do. The poems in Lines of Defense are wry and elegiac, precisely observed and wide-reaching. As with the best of Dunn’s work, they take stock of the quotidian aspects of life, of the essential comedy of getting through the day: finding a lost cat; not being invited to a party; taking a granddaughter to a carnival. The lines of defense are the lines of the verse itself, as poetry forms a stronghold against mortality. This essential volume showcases a poet writing at the height of his powers.

From “Before We Leave”:


Where are we going?

It’s not an issue of here or there.

And if you ever feel you can’t

take another step, imagine

how you might feel to arrive,

if not wiser, a little more aware

how to inhabit the middle ground

between misery and joy.



About the Author


Stephen Dunn (1939—2021) was the author of nineteen poetry collections, including the Pulitzer Prize–winning Different Hours. His poems have appeared in The New Yorker, Atlantic, and American Poetry Review, among many other publications. He was a distinguished professor emeritus at Richard Stockton University and received an Academy Award in Literature, among many other honors.

Praise For…


Stephen Dunn’s fresh batch of poems teaches us that ‘to tell’ is just as good as ‘to show’ if you have something worth telling. These are smart, forceful, meticulously spoken poems that tell us some vital truths about how to conduct our lives.
— Billy Collins

Stephen Dunn’s newest poems—retrospective, elegiac, comic, quotidian, tactful, and transcendent—true the self’s comprehensions of its own stories as a sawyer’s jig, file, and hammer true a saw, yet without ever sacrificing tenderness for sharpness (or the reverse). Lines of Defense reconfirms Dunn’s long-held place as one of our most necessary American poets: if he did not exist, we would have to invent him. But—what luck— exist he does.

— Jane Hirshfield

Over a lifetime richly invested in poetry, Dunn has mastered his signature take on an artfully colloquial voice that, in the guise of plainspeaking, slyly lampoons our daily pretensions, tenderly empathizes with our daily disappointments, and reminds us that the day-to-day can serve as the gateway to otherness. Lines of Defense is an admirable addition to that life-work, its difficult honesties and wrestlings with conscience lurking under beckoningly, entertainingly casual surfaces.

— Albert Goldbarth


Product Details
ISBN: 9780393350722
ISBN-10: 039335072X
Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company
Publication Date: March 2nd, 2015
Pages: 96
Language: English