Five Minutes With Linda Gregerson

HH: In one of my final five minute interviews, I talked to Linda Gregerson, an American poet. She is widely published with six collections of poetry and two of criticism. She has also won numerous prizes for her work, including an award from the Poetry Society of America.

 She will be reading in our final event on Sunday at 2pm on Sunday alongside Ian Duig.

 I first came across Linda’s work when the list of poets was announced for the festival. Since then I have picked up her collections and enjoyed them hugely. I was very excited to ask Linda the set of questions below.


HH: How long do you tend to sit and write for on an average day?

 LG: That question never fails to fill me with anxiety!  I’m afraid I have no average days. When I’m either blessedly free or insanely panicked because of a writing deadline (I write criticism as well as poetry), I might write from early morning until mid-evening when I can no longer see straight.  On days when I have an unrelenting series of other commitments (classes to teach, meetings to attend, appointments with students or colleagues), I’m lucky to snatch ten minutes for writing.  I’m a great believer in those ten minutes, though: far better to stay in touch with a poem or an essay in progress by paying a brief daily visit to the unfinished page than to let the barrier of distance harden. 

HH: If you had to choose one poet who has influenced your writing who would they be and why?

LG: Ah, there are so many! Without overthinking it, though, let me name Wallace Stevens. The poems are unabashedly sensuous, both musically and imagistically, and they are marvelously playful. But they are also committed to strenuous philosophical inquiry.  I don’t share Stevens’ passion for abstract thought, but I deeply admire the capaciousness of his poetic project.

HH: What do you do if you get writers block?

LG: I try to launch something reckless, to outwit self-censorship by beginning a poem with pieces of “received language” – language not my own.  These might be phrases I overheard on the bus that morning, or a remembered bit of homiletic from my childhood, or an unusual regional turn of speech I encountered in conversation with a friend, or some outrageous piece of hypocrisy uttered by a politician on the morning news.  I leave the computer behind and write on actual paper with an actual pencil (ink would be far too much of a commitment) so that everything feels safely provisional.

HH: What is your earliest memory of writing?

LG: I have a horrible memory of writing a very dreadful poem when I was in primary school. It very nearly put me off poetry forever. 

HH: Do you have any tips for young writers?

LG: Read read read. Take an interest in the world. Be one of those who *notices*.

SALT – Linda Gregerson

Because she had been told, time and
>>>>not to swing on the neighbors’ high hammock,

and because she had time and again gone
>>>>>>>>>>back, lured
>>>>by the older boys and their dangerous

propulsions, because a child in shock (we
>>>>>>>>>>didn’t know
>>>>this yet) can seem sullen or intran-

sigent, and because my father hated his life,
>>>>>>>>>>my sister
>>>>with her collarbone broken was spanked

and sent to bed for the night, to shiver
>>>>>>>>>>through the August
>>>>heat and cry her way through sleep.

And where, while she cried, was the life he
>>>>Gone before she was born, of course,

gone with the river-ice stored in sawdust,
>>>>>>>>>>gone with the horses,
>>>>gone with the dogs, gone with Arvid Anacker

up in the barn. 1918. My father was six.
>>>>>>>>>>His father thought Why
>>>>leave a boy to the women. Ole (like “holy”

without the h, a good Norwegian
>>>>Ole had papers to sign, you see,

having served as county JP for years–
>>>>would have chosen him too, he was salt

of the earth–and Arvid’s people needed to cut
>>>>>>>>>>the body down.
>>>>So Ole took the boy along, my father

that is, and what he hadn’t allowed for was
>>>>>>>>>>how badly
>>>>Arvid had botched it,

even this last job, the man had no luck.
>>>>>>>>>>His neck
>>>>not having broken, you see, he’d thrashed

for a while, and the northeast wall of the barn–
>>>>>>>>>>the near wall–
>>>>was everywhere harrows and scythes.

It wasn’t–I hope you can understand–
>>>>blood or the blackening face,

as fearful as those were to a boy, that forty
>>>>>>>>>>years later
>>>>had drowned our days in whiskey and dis-

gust, it was just that the world had no
>>>>>>>>>>savor left
>>>>once life with the old man was

gone. It’s common as dirt, the story
>>>>>>>>>>of ex-
>>>>pulsion: once in the father’s fair

lost field, even the cycles of darkness cohered.
>>>>>>>>>>Arvid swinging
>>>>in the granular light, Ole as solid

as heartwood, and tall . . . how
>>>>>>>>>>could a girl
>>>>on her salt-soaked pillow

compete? The banished one in the story
>>>>all that might save him by all

that’s been lost. My sister in the hammock
>>>>>>>>>>by Arvid
>>>>in the barn. I remember

that hammock, a gray and dirty canvas
>>>>I never could make much of it.

But Karen would swing toward the fragrant
>>>>>>>>>>branches, fleshed
>>>>with laughter, giddy with the earth’s

sweet pull. Some children are like that,
>>>>>>>>>>I have one
>>>>myself, no wonder we never leave them alone,

we who have no talent for pleasure
>>>>>>>>>nor use
>>>>for the body but after the fact.

From The Woman Who Died In Her Sleep (Houghton Mifflin, 1996)

2 comments on “Five Minutes With Linda Gregerson

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Skip to content