Restlessly seeking but attentively observed, the poems of Linda Gregg seek to trace the grief of living to its full and beautiful flower. Here, desire and longing, shot through with lucid observation and luminary grace, are as monumental, as sacred, as joy and fulfillment. Says W.S. Merwin of her poems, “They are inseparable from the surprising, unrolling, eventful, pure current of their language, and they convey at once the pain of individual loss, a steady and utterly personal radiance.”
Gregg’s work rings with the musicality of lived experience, of having traveled to where her poems lead and offering back an electric and intimate account of those journeys. With energy and insight drawn from, rather than brought to, the exploration of the inscrutable and inconsolable, Gregg works through grief and solitude with radiant dignity and quiet public grace. William Arrowsmith praises her for “an always observant eye, a disciplined musical sense, the true craftsman’s knowledge of her material,” and Gerald Stern says, “Linda Gregg brings us back to poetry. She is original and mysterious, one of the best poets in America.”
Things and Flesh is Gregg’s sixth collection of poetry; a new collection is due out from Graywolf press in Spring 2006. As Luci Brock-Broido put it, “Linda Gregg continues to the builder of beautiful contraptions, poems built steadfastly by real life, bright and stark, truths told tranquil in unblinding light.” Gregg is the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship, a National Endowment for the Arts grant, a Whiting Writer’s Award, and several Pushcart Prizes. Her poetry has appeared in The New Yorker, the Paris Review, the Kenyon Review, and the Atlantic Monthly, and she has taught at the University of Iowa, Columbia University, Princeton University, and the University of California at Berkeley. She lives in New York City.
Poetry Center Reading:
Eight deer on the slope
in the summer morning mist.
The night sky blue.
Me like a mare let out to pasture.
The Tao does not console me.
I was given the way
in the milk of childhood.
Breathing it waking and sleeping.
But now there is no amazing smell
of sperm on my thighs,
no spreading it on my stomach
to show pleasure.
I will never give up longing.
I will let my hair stay long.
The rain proclaims these trees,
the trees tell of the sun.
Let birds, let birds.
Let leaf be passion.
Let jaw, let teeth, let tongue be
between us. Let joy.
Let entering. Let rage and calm join.
Let quail come.
Let winter impress you. Let spring.
Allow the lost ocean to wake in you.
Let the mare in the field
in the summer morning mist
make you whinny. Make you come
to the fence and whinny. Let birds.
From CHOSEN BY THE LION (Graywolf Press, 1994)
Fish Tea Rice
It is on the Earth that all things transpire,
and only on the Earth. On it, up out of it,
down into it. Wading and stepping, pulling
and lifting. The heft in the seasons.
Knowledge in the bare ankle under water
amid the rows of rice seedlings. The dialogue
of the silent back and forth, the people moving
together in flat fields of water with the patina
of the sky upon it, the green shoots rising up
from the mud, sticking up seamlessly above the water..
The water buffalo stepping through as they work,
carrying the weight of their bodies along the rows.
The wrists of the people wet under the water,
planting or pulling up. It is this Earth that all
meaning is. If love unfolds, it unfolds here.
Here where Heaven shows its face. Christ’s agony
flowers into grace, spikes through the hands
holding the body in place, arms reaching wide.
It breaks our heart on Earth. Ignorance mixed
with longing, intelligence mixed with hunger.
The genius of night and sleep, being awake
and at work. The sacred in the planting, the wading
in mud. Eating what is here. Fish, bread, tea, rice.
From THINGS AND FLESH (Graywolf Press, 1999)
There is a modesty in nature. In the small
of it and in the strongest. The leaf moves
just the amount the breeze indicates
and nothing more. In the power of lust, too,
there can be a quiet and clarity, a fusion
of exact moments. There is a silence of it
inside the thundering. And when the body swoons,
it is because the heart knows its truth.
There is directness and equipoise in the fervor,
just as the greatest turmoil has precision.
Like the discretion a tornado has when it tears
down building after building, house by house.
It is enough, Kafka said, that the arrow fit
exactly into the wound that it makes. I think
about my body in love as I look down on these
lavish apple trees and the workers moving
with skill from one to the next, singing.
From THINGS AND FLESH (Graywolf Press, 1999)