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Michigan poet Linda Gregerson highlights 40 years of work in her first collected volume

Ryan Grimes

Linda Gregerson’s poems explore a wealth of themes from parenting to social inequality, the environment, illness, and so much more.

She has won a wide array of honors, from Guggenheim Fellowship to finalist for a National Book Award. She is Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets and a professor at the University of Michigan.

And now, she’s out with her first collected volume: Prodigal: New and Selected Poems, 1976-2014. The collection includes 10 new poems and 50 poems pulled from some 40 years of writing.

Gregerson tells us she was initially apprehensive about which 50 poems to include from her past works, but in the end the experience was “not as brutal” as she expected it to be.

“The problem varied, of course, from volume to volume. There were some volumes where it was painful to leave out certain poems,” she says. “My first volume was a different problem because it was written long ago, it was written before I made what I consider a sort of formal or stylistic breakthrough, and I was very anxious that I’d go back and couldn’t find anything I thought worthy of inclusion.”

But when she did revisit that early volume, Gregerson tells us she was pleasantly surprised with what she found.

“Not that the poems are what I would hope them to be entirely,” she clarifies, “but that a lot of the thinking and the concerns and some issues of technique … were actually in place, I just … hadn’t found the right pacing.”

Gregerson feels that poetry plays an important role in helping us understand the world around us. “We hear every day news that is simply overwhelming in its scale, most often about suffering in the world,” she says, explaining that more often than not we simply “become a little numb” in our attempt to cope.

“Well, it behooves us to take in that information at a different level. And one of the things poetry can do – not by preaching, please, no, never by sort of feeding something to a reader who is regarded as simply passive – but by trying to tangle with these things, can grant it for a moment the human scale. And I think that is immensely urgent work.”

In our conversation above, Linda Gregerson shares one of the 10 new poems included in her first collected volume and talks more about her experience with poetry.

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