Linda Gregg is a wandering poet, capturing landscapes (literal and emotional) as she travels across them. To read her poetry is to travel with her for a while, to trust her as she tells you what she sees and what she feels.
Born in Suffern, New York, in 1942, Gregg was raised in Marin Country, California, and educated at San Francisco State University. Over the last four decades, her poetry has moved across Texas, Greece, and returned to New York.
Myths and concrete images build seamlessly together to create Gregg’s world—a place where grief is given as much attention and care as beauty. Over seven poetry collections and nearly four decades, Gregg’s poetry has been “accumulating with a quiet, slow-burning majesty,” one critic writes. Her first book, Too Bright to See, was published in 1981. Other volumes include Alma, Things and Flesh, In the Middle Distance, and most recently, All of It Singing (2008), for which she won the William Carlos Williams Award. She is also the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship, a Lannan Literary Foundation Fellowship, a Whiting Writer’s Award, several Pushcart Prizes, and the PEN/Voelcker Award for Poetry, and most recently the Jackson Poetry Prize.
“Poetry is not made of words. / I can say it’s January when / it’s August…. / It is possible to be with someone / who is gone,” Gregg writes in “The Presence in Absence.” There is longing in her lines, but there is also a willingness to let the past exist as it is and as she remembers it. The months, rocks, trees, moonlight, and Greek statues that appear in her poems serve as the backdrop for, and sometimes the cause of, her timeless questions and quiet responses to the coming and going of life.
Gregg “continues to be the builder of beautiful contraptions, poems built steadfastly by real life, bright and stark, truths told tranquil in unblinding light,” a critic writes. Beloved among poets, Gregg is often referred to as quiet, mysterious, haunting, and an acolyte of beauty in all of its forms. Her words have an assumed closeness to her subject material, often addressing an event or person intimately known, giving her readers the sense that they, too, can know this person, place, or feeling if they listen. Reviewers return to the building analogy consistently: “Gregg ushers us into [her poems] carefully,” one claims, “with measured calm, as into a shelter she has built.” Her flights of longing, her ethereal descriptions, her movement from the present into the past and back again, are all grounded in careful craftsmanship and an astounding skill with language.
She has taught at the University of Iowa, Columbia University, and the University of California at Berkeley. She currently teaches at Princeton University and lives in New York City.
The Generosity of Engagement
In the beginning the memory
turned loose in the now turned loose
in the memory of the word winnowing,
winnowed, that I believe in, believe in
in the long going summer of my remembrance
remembering. A faith in the flowers, a faith
in the chosen masters of saving
what to keep and what to throw away.
I learned what to say, hidden and saved.
My recumbent lesson of what is long lost
and saved. The magical unity made
out of what is holy, happy, and clean made.
Blessed by the occasion of my being.
Holy, holy, holy. Saved, saved, saved
in the memory under the turning over of
all things turned under, turned under, under.
Me being jerked away. A pleasing thing
on the strip of wet sand, pausing or walking
or dancing or what the world that hour said.
The generosity of engagement of the ecstatic
in the quiet normal over and over again.
Tidal in the hurry of the last hour.
Each day jerked, junked from the folds originally.
Then torn away a different time
because of the difficulty of the accomplishment.
Of the way so cleanly served, seen, or heard about
later by others in a den a different mauling.
The danger waves might make.
I never endangered myself in the ocean waves
but was unguarded when people came.
Now the beginning of memory.
The cawing of gulls outcalling the calling of men.
Covering the quiet within.
All of It Singing (2008), William Carlos Williams Award
Things and Flesh (1999)
Chosen by the Lion (1994)
Recordings of poet Linda Gregg, with an introduction to her life and work. Recorded 2008, New York