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Stephen Berg, 79, poet, teacher, editor

Stephen Berg, 79, of Philadelphia, an acclaimed poet, teacher, and editor and the driving force behind the American Poetry Review, died Thursday, June 12, at Pennsylvania Hospital.

Stephen Berg
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Stephen Berg, 79, of Philadelphia, an acclaimed poet, teacher, and editor and the driving force behind the American Poetry Review, died Thursday, June 12, at Pennsylvania Hospital.

The cause of his death was pending, said his daughter Margot Berg. Mr. Berg had battled cancer and complications from a fall, but he told a friend his writing "had never been better."

In 1972, Mr. Berg founded with several friends the American Poetry Review, a widely read poetry magazine published in Philadelphia. He remained an editor until his death.

He defined the magazine's mission - to make contemporary poetry "a more public and accessible art," the journal's staff wrote on its website.

"He loved poetry and felt that so many times, it was an elitist thing," said his friend Linda Richardson, who serves on the magazine's board of directors. "Anything that could help everyday people enjoy poetry was important to Steve. He also wanted to give a voice to the many, many poets out there that are writing and struggling."

Long immersed in examination of self, the world around him, and the life of the writer, Mr. Berg was a prolific publisher. His collections of poetry include The Daughters (1971), Grief (1975), In It (1986), New & Selected Poems (1992), Shaving (1998), and 58 Poems (2013).

Raina von Waldenburg, a writer for the online journal CrossConnect, described Mr. Berg as "friendly, responsive, down-to-earth, and slightly electric" when she interviewed him. Asked "What is it that gives you faith?" he replied: "Poetry doesn't give me faith. Not faith but tenacity. I keep working. I know life is very fragile. I have faith [in my family and friends]."

One short poem, written when Mr. Berg was 37, mirrors his sense of himself as an artist.


I was born in Philadelphia 37 years ago.

Men don't embrace here, I have never seen one cry.

Women have grown ashen and furious, they stare.

Nevertheless I write what I can anywhere,

knowing it kills time, and at this desk,

alone, feel infantile and God-like.

In addition to his books, he edited two anthologies with Robert Mezey: Naked Poetry (1969) and The New Naked Poetry (1976). He also edited a collection of essays, My Business Is Circumference: Poets on Influence and Mastery.

Over the years, he received a Guggenheim Fellowship, a Rockefeller Fellowship, a Pew Fellowship, a PEN Translation Fellowship, and the Frank O'Hara Prize.

He taught at Temple, Princeton, and Loyola Universities, Haverford College, and, starting in 1967, at what is now the University of the Arts in Philadelphia. At the time of his death, he was a professor at the latter.

In 1991, Mr. Berg was commissioned by the Fairmount Park Art Association to collaborate with painter Tom Chimes on the public art project Sleeping Woman, a 1,200-foot-long unpunctuated line of poetry sealed in glaze atop the stone retaining wall along the Schuylkill.

Mr. Berg attended the University of Pennsylvania and other colleges before graduating from the University of Iowa in 1959 with a bachelor of arts degree.

In 2013, he founded Zig Zag Press publishing. His last two books were published in April. They are Here (Sheep Meadow Press) and Steam Rising From a Full Bowl of Rice: Zen Master Dogen: Versions (Zig Zag Press).

In addition to poetry, he enjoyed being a community volunteer, running, and cycling. He loved jazz - which was always playing, loud, at his home - and collecting contemporary art and Japanese tea bowls.

Mr. Berg met Millie Lane in Iowa City in 1959, when she was studying speech and dramatic arts and he was participating in a writers' workshop. They married and raised a family in Spring Garden and Society Hill.

Surviving, in addition to his wife and daughter Margot, are daughters Clair Berg-Meyerowitz and Emily Sutton and four grandchildren.

A memorial service will be at 3 p.m. Thursday, June 26, on the 17th floor of the University of the Arts Terra Building, 211 S. Broad St., Philadelphia. Burial is private.

The American Poetry Review will feature a memorial to Mr. Berg's writing and publishing achievements in its September/October issue, the staff posted on its website,