Linda Gregerson's latest collection of poems Magnetic North, was a National Book Award finalist this year. In the spring David Baker interviewed the poet for Kenyon Review, which has published some of her work. Here are Baker's introductory remarks and the first two exchanges from the interview:
Linda Gregerson is one of the most original and vibrant of contemporary American poets. Born in 1950 and raised in Cary, Illinois, she received her B.A. from Oberlin College, M.A. from Northwestern University, M.F.A. from the University of Iowa Writers Workshop, and her Ph.D. from Stanford University. Currently she holds the Frederick G. L. Huetwell Professorship at the University of Michigan and teaches in the M.F.A. program for writers at Warren Wilson College. She also teaches frequently at the Kenyon Review Writers Workshop, in Gambier, as well as at the Bread Loaf Writers Conference.
Gregerson's poetry collections include Fire in the Conservatory (Dragon's Gate, 1982), The Woman Who Died in Her Sleep (Houghton Mifflin, 1996), Waterborne (Houghton Mifflin, 2002), and Magnetic North (Houghton Mifflin, 2007). For her poetry she has been awarded fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts, an Academy Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and she has received the prestigious Kingsley Tufts Poetry Prize, the Levinson Prize from Poetry magazine, and many other distinctions.
In addition to the contributions of her poetry, she is an influential literary scholar. Her The Reformation of the Subject: Spenser, Milton and the English Protestant Epic, appeared in 1995 from the Cambridge Studies in Renaissance Literature and Culture, and Negative Capability: Contemporary American Poetry, was published in 2001 as part of the Poets on Poetry series from the University of Michigan Press.
David Baker: Linda, thanks so much for the chance to talk about your two poems in the new Kenyon Review. They are splendid poems, both of them, and we are very glad for the opportunity to print them. I'd also like to use this occasion to talk about your forthcoming book of poems, Magnetic North, and to range further into other interests of yours, like teaching, Renaissance poetry and scholarship, the theater, more.
But let's start with "Over Easy." This is one of my favorite new poems of yours. I have a few specific questions about this poem, but I wonder if there's anything you wish to say about it first-about its origin or impetus or whatever you might wish to say to begin.
Linda Gregerson: Well, in the first place, you are very kind to overlook the speaker's comments on the Ohio landscape, not to hold them against me, I mean. And I should also say I regard that landscape - northern Ohio, northern Illinois, southern Wisconsin, southern Michigan, not the lushness and lovely elevations of points further south and north, but the sectioned-off flatness of farmlands and shopping malls-as my unerasable imaginative home. But yes, the origins: a car trip, and perhaps the purest sensuous incitement I've ever tried to get down on paper. At which I flatly failed, by the way. It was that radiant sliver of limpid tangerine: I could taste it in the back of my throat, and it brought such pure enchantment. Midwestern Proust. I spent ages trying to identify the sense-memory, which was multiple and mildly mortifying: a dress I had in high school, a pair of fishnet stockings, a lipstick (it was the sixties, remember; we all looked ghastly!), and a sort of sherbet-on-a-stick we used to call a "Push-Up." Quite a farrago, and of course I had to ditch it all. But I tried to keep the impetus, that primitive thing that comes before speech and way before aesthetic judgment.
DB: There are things in "Over Easy" that resonate with your larger body of work-the family narrative, the voice concurrently tender and intellectual, the persisting turn toward conscience or toward something like social connection or civic adhesion. But rarely in your poems is the speaker, simply, moving. Have you noticed? Here she's in her car with her daughters, blasting the stereo, as they range across those "scabrous fields" of Ohio. Your poems are nearly always underscored by a tension between velocity and impediment, to be sure; but the velocity is usually intellectual. In "Over Easy" it's also literal, physical. She is on the move.
LG: Ah, you don't overlook the comment on the landscape! But you're right about the movement, and I'm afraid it doesn't speak well of me that I'm so rarely able to imagine a speaker in physical motion. I suffer from the can' t-chew-gum-and-walk syndrome: it takes something remarkable to make me notice the world if I'm trying to move through it. The beginning of the poem is meant to be more than a little at my own expense.
Read the entire interview.