Field was born on 7 June 1924 in Brooklyn, New York, and grew up in Lynbrook, Long Island, New York, where he played cello in the Field Family Trio, which had a weekly radio program on WGBB Freeport. He served in World War II in the 8th Air Force as a navigator in heavy bombers, and flew 25 missions over Germany.
He began writing poetry during World War II, after a Red Cross worker handed him an anthology of poetry. In 1963 his book, Stand Up, Friend, With Me, was awarded the prestigious Lamont Poetry Prize and was published. In 1992, he received a Lambda Award for Counting Myself Lucky, Selected Poems 1963-1992.
Other honors include the Shelley Memorial Award, a Prix de Rome, and an Academy Award for the documentary film To Be Alive, for which he wrote the narration. In 1979, he edited the anthology A Geography of Poets, and in 1992, with Gerald Locklin and Charles Stetler, brought out a sequel, A New Geography of Poets.
He and his partner Neil Derrick, long-time residents of Greenwich Village, have written a best-selling historical novel about the Village, The Villagers. In 2005 the University of Wisconsin Press published his literary memoirs The Man Who Would Marry Susan Sontag and Other Intimate Literary Portraits of the Bohemian Era, the title of which refers to the writer Alfred Chester. His most recent book After the Fall: Poems Old and New was published by the University of Pittsburgh Press in 2007.
Poetry and essays in The New Yorker, New York Review of Books, Gay & Lesbian Review, Partisan Review, The Nation, Evergreen Review, New York Times Book Review, Michigan Quarterly, Raritan Quarterly Review, Parnassus, and Kenyon Review.