Michael Sowder

Called by David Bottoms, "one of our finest spiritual poets," Michael Sowder, poet, scholar, essayist, former Buddhist, and long-time yoga practitioner, writes about wilderness, landscape, fatherhood, yoga, and spirituality. He is a Professor of English at Utah State University, where he teaches poetry writing, and an Affiliated Faculty Member of Yoga and Religious Studies, where he teaches the history and philosophy of yoga.

Born in Cincinnati, Ohio, in 1956, Sowder moved with his family to Birmingham, Alabama, when he was nine. He graduated from the University of Alabama and studied law at the University of Washington. After clerking for a federal judge, he worked as a lawyer in Atlanta, where he obtained his MFA in poetry writing at Georgia State University with the poet David Bottoms. He subsequently enrolled at the University of Michigan where he obtained his Ph.D., writing a dissertation on Walt Whitman and American religion.

Sowder’s poetic influences have been the world’s spiritual poets: Walt Whitman, Kabir, Rumi, Hafiz, Mirabai, St. John of the Cross, St. Teresa of Avila, Du Fu, Li Po, and Rainier Maria Rilke. Other influences include poets Sylvia Plath, Ted Hughes, David Bottoms, Pattianne Rogers, James Wright, and Li-Young-Lee.

Diane Wakoski chose his first full-length poetry collection, The Empty Boat, to win the 2004 T.S. Eliot Award. Wakoski praised the way Sowder “takes the crow myth of Ted Hughes and the wish for Electra's retribution in Plath, creating his own personal mythology out of American reclamation and spiritual revelation.” Sowder’s most recent collection, House Under the Moon, explores the challenges of living a contemplative life in the contemporary world. Also noteworthy is his chapbook, A Calendar of Crows, which won the inaugural 2001 Diagram/New Michigan Press Award.

You can find Sowder’s poems and essays in such literary venues as Ted Kooser’s American Life in Poetry, Five Points, Green Mountains Review, Poet Lore, Sufi Journal, New Poets of the American West, Pilgrimage, The New York Times Online, Shambhala Sun, and elsewhere.

Sowder’s scholarly book, Whitman's Ecstatic Union (Routledge UP, 2005), explores Whitman’s poetry within the context of religious experience and mystical discourse within nineteenth-century American religion.

He is currently working on a new poetry collection, On Learning Sanskrit, in which each poem is based on a character of the Sanskrit language. He is also working on a prose book, Nine Gates to Enlightenment: Lessons from Yoga, Buddhism, and the World’s Contemplative Traditions.

Trained as a yoga teacher in a tantrik tradition in the late 1970s, Sowder has been a lifelong student of the world's contemplative traditions. He travels frequently to India to study yoga, Sanskrit, Indian literature and religion and work on his writing. In 2014, he was a Fulbright Scholar to India.

Sowder is the founder of Amrita Yoga, a nonprofit dedicated to teaching the practices of yoga and other wisdom traditions. He lives at the foot of the Bear River Mountains with his partner, the writer Jennifer Sinor, and their two boys.

Works

Bibliography

  • House Under the Moon, Kirksville, Missouri: Truman State UP, 2012
  • Whitman’s Ecstatic Union: Conversion and Ideology in Leaves of Grass, New York: Routledge, 2005
  • The Empty Boat, Kirksville, Missouri: Truman State University Press, 2004
  • Café Midnight, Pocatello, ID: Blue Scarab Press, 2003
  • A Calendar of Crows. Grand Haven, MI: New Michigan Press, 2001