The Catholic University of America

Rosemary Winslow, associate professor, English, was featured in a July 28 Examiner.com Q-and-A about Green Bodies, her book of poems. See the article below.



Rosemary Winslow talks about her book Green Bodies

From: Examiner.com
Date: July 28, 2009
Author: Serena Agusto-Cox

Rosemary Winslow's latest book of poems, Green Bodies, is a highly emotional book looking at some of the deep, dark emotional secrets grieving family members carry with them.

Winslow is on the faculty of the Catholic University of America, where she teaches writing and literature, and where she has directed writing programs for 19 years.

1. The title of your book of poems is Green Bodies, but there isn't a poem in the volume with the same title. How did you come up with the title and what is its significance?

The manuscript had a different title, one that was too close to a book title the press had published the previous year. Having to find a different title was actually fortuitous, as I like Green Bodies better--it's richer, more suggestive in a positive, life-renewing way.

The title comes from a line in "Transport," a poem toward the end of the book in which two hummingbirds are watched in a meditation on the ephemeral nature of ecstasy. The bodies in most of the poems are "green"--inexperienced--but also full of vitality.

One reviewer of the book in Valparaiso Poetry Review noticed that the color green was everywhere in the poems of the last section. She commented on the color's significance as forgiveness, overcoming the pervasive cold white of the first two sections. The book's movement is through trauma to forgiveness, and I saw green as sheer life renewing itself in the face of so much experience of death.

2. The cover art for your book features a number of dancing figures or figures in various poses, which was created by John Winslow. How does this cover reflect the scope of your poetry and do you think it accurately represents your work?

John Winslow is my husband, and I fell in love with the painting as it was being painted in the studio upstairs in our home. That was about a year before the book was selected for publication by The Word Works. The idea for using that painting came at the time I first hit on using the title, Green Bodies. I choose the painting because it was green, with areas of yellow-gold and black.

The woman in the black jumpsuit in the front is strong and reaching up, arranging the connecting lines among the figures in space. Two leaping women express the joy of dance, and the large bodies behind them are turned toward each other in mutual support.

The title, "Prayer-Web II," chimes with the opening poem, and the joy overcoming grief in the last poem. Of course I didn't see all this right then, it was more a felt resonance, a fitness. It is also true that I loved the idea of a kind of collaboration of picture and word with my husband. I see his work in progress, and he is the first to see my drafts, so naturally we are often on the same wave length in our work.

3. When writing poetry, do you find that stronger emotions like grief or anger inspire you to write more or do you find that you need to distance yourself from those emotions before you write?

That's a question I would have answered differently six months ago.

In the past, I had to wait a long time, for the emotions to resolve and settle, before I could bring any coherent finish to the work. Most of the poems in the book were 12 to 15 years in coming because it took that long to come to terms with childhood experience and the aftermath.

I could have written outraged poems, graphic poems, but I did not want to add more pain to the world. I wanted to wait until I had something positive to offer. And, from an artistic standpoint, angry poems had been done quite a lot. No one had yet written on the subject from a point of trying to convey the accuracy of a small child's felt experience and the journey to understanding and resolution, where a fuller complexity of human feeling and love are available.

A change happened last winter when my mother died. I stayed at her bedside the last two days and nights, and that experience seems to have brought an immediate fuller engagement along with an immediate distancing--larger and stronger feeling and simultaneously a distancing mind that accepted what was occurring and allowed the emotional flowings as if in a larger space of steady peaceful love.

I'm not describing it very well, but this same sense is now available to me, affording both strong emotion and distance when I write. I was very surprised when I first sat down to write poems about my mother's last days. Surprised because I had never been able to write so soon about anything. I use both the strong emotion and the distancing from it, which doesn't diminish the strength, rather allows a fuller being-there and passing-through of the emotion.

Kay Ryan said in an interview in Newsweek recently that she has to write at the "front edge" of experience, not in the midst. For me, I'd say I write at the front edge of diving into it again, while keeping a distance of space around the experience. I don't know if that's what Ryan meant. I think poets have all manner of dealing with these two essential stances. And they may not remain the same process, as they haven't with me.

4. Who are 5 of your favorite contemporary poets and what 5 poetry books would you recommend?

That's some task! -- choosing only five out of the dozens of contemporary poets I count as my favorites. I've decided to give you five each of whom stand out, for me, for a different aspect of poetry.

The great Irish poet Eamon Grennan is the writer I go to for the kind of lyrical music and precision that is closest to my own sensibility now, and for the compositions of highly concentrated attentiveness on immediate experience. His poems have an accuracy and intensity of catching a moment in the world on the wing and holding it still in the poem that is unmatched in poetry today.

Up next to Grennan's spiritual poems connecting the human with nature and intimate others, I frequently turn to Adrienne Rich's work for the accuracy and depth of understanding human family and political relations.

I'm very much interested in what Natasha Trethewey is doing, both with the range of historical, political, familial, and self-delving she is doing, and also the revitalization of traditional forms. She often achieves dazzling and profound expression in astonishing alterations of such forms as the ghazal, sonnet, villanelle.

For capturing the sheer energy of contemporary life in the United States, Barbara Ras is unbeatable. And the opposite pole--the older rhythms and sensibility, I have long kept Galway Kinnell's books at hand. I grew up on the poetry and thought of the King James Bible, loved it, struggled with it, and can't entirely leave it behind. It's too deep and early in my consciousness. Kinnell's a poet of deep understanding of the complexities of love for nature, family, self, country, and humanity, and the first poet I understood tenderness from, which has been so necessary to my growth as a person and poet.

These are the five books I recommend because they can teach about craft and the importance of poetry to the deepest parts of us:

1. What Matters by Eamon Grennan, his most recent book, stunning light-filled movement through small bits of time. If this were next year, I might recommend the second of his collected poems, to be soon published.

2. The Volcano Sequence by Alicia Ostriker, poems on the grieving of her mother in a female prophetic voice that goes up against the male-voice Psalms successfully.

3. Elegy by Mary Jo Bang, austere, utterly astonishing language and composition, poems on grieving for a lost adult son.

4. Argument & Song by Stanley Plumly, the book of criticism from which I've learned more about writing poems as well as teaching poems than any other book I've read.

5. The Poetry Life by Baron Wormser, a collection of ten fictional essays in which each character meditates on the work of a different poem from whom she (or he) draws forth from the poems life-sustenance. Wormser has developed a new genre, the fictional critical essay, in which he explores the necessity of poetry in the lives of individuals. It's a kind of criticism that has been disparaged for a century--the value of each human life. My guess is that it's a kind of response most poets would find offers the greatest reward, at least when they have had a taste of rage at the dying of light.

For more information about Rosemary Winslow's book, Green Bodies, check out this review on Savvy Verse & Wit and if you would like to learn more about Rosemary, please check out her interview with 32 Poems.