With the University of California's publication of Sarah Gridley's Green is the Orator, her recent nomination for a Carl F. Wittke Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching, and a recipient of a $20,000 Creative Workforce Fellowship from Cuyahoga County's Community Partnership for Arts and Culture, the Case Western Reserve University poet and assistant professor of English says 2010 is off to a good start.
Green is the Orator follows five years after her first publication, Weather Eye Open (2005). The public will have the opportunity to hear Gridley read selections from her two volumes of poems during Writer's Week on Monday, April 19, from 8-9:30 p.m. in Guilford House Parlor.
Titled Writing Home: Eco-poets of Maine, Montana, and Ohio, and funded by the Helen Buchman Sharnoff Endowed Fund for Poetry, the reading features work by Gridley and two visiting poets: Melissa Kwasny, the author of The Nine Senses (forthcoming), Reading Novalis in Montana, Thistle, and The Archival Birds; and Richard Miles, the author of Boat of Two Shores.
In Reading Novalis in Montana, Kwasny, who lives outside Jefferson City, Montana, carefully sorts out the overlaps and disconnects between book knowledge and direct perceptions of the natural world. In Boat of Two Shores, Miles, a professional stonemason, explores the borders of selfhood in rural, coastal Washington County, Maine.
Gridley returned to her hometown of Cleveland four years ago to become a visiting lecturer in poetry at CWRU. After living near woods and ocean in Maine for six years, under the "big sky" of Montana for two years earning her MFA, and in Iowa farmland for six months while a visiting professor at the Writers' Workshop at the University of Iowa, she says a top priority was locating the city's green spaces.
She found a nearby "gem" — Lake View Cemetery. Situated on an escarpment overlooking Lake Erie, rich in geological and horticultural wonders, the cemetery contains an old Ohio bluestone quarry site, and trees dating back to the founding of the city over 200 years ago.
Gridley says the green space offered her a place of solitude and reflection, and that one poem in the book was directly inspired by a geological walking tour she took there with Joe Hannibal, a curator at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History.
In writing Green is the Orator, Gridley says she became fascinated with Normandi Ellis's translation of the Egyptian Book of the Dead, Awakening Osiris — especially the line, "I am blessed by mortality."
During the writing of the new book, Gridley experienced a series of deaths and found her poems becoming "intersecting sites of eulogy and elegy — of praise and grief for a finite life."
Attracted to the word "green" for its double sense of vitality and naïveté, she derived her title from a line in Wallace Stevens' poem, "Repetitions of a Young Captain": "The choice is made. Green is the orator/Of our passionate height. He wears a tufted green,/And tosses green for those for whom green speaks.//Secrete us in reality. It is there/My orator. Let this giantness fall down/And come to nothing. Let the rainy arcs//And pathetic magnificences dry in the sky."
In the world of academia where the general objective is to produce one book after another, Gridley says she tries to remember what drew her to poetry in the first place (its resistance to hurry), and to pace her writing according to slower rhythms and deeper instincts.
She hopes to impart this sense of concentration and attention to her students, she says, adding they generate a lot of energy and inspiration for her own work.
Teaching and writing complement each other well, Gridley says, but in her practice of poetry, retreat plays an important role.
"Kwasny and Miles provide great models for conserving and articulating 'green solitude' — for making time and space for the more-than-human world — and that is why I so wanted to bring them into contact with my students."
Gridley hopes to use her Creative Workforce Fellowship toward a leave in the fall — to open up some space for her next writing project and to think creatively about future course offerings and teaching practices.
Go online for more information about the Poetry Reading on April 19.
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