“5 Questions”: An Interview with Debora Greger

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Debora Greger is an American Poet and artist. Raised in Richland, Washington, she went on to receive education from the University of Washington and the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. She has published multiple books, such as “By Herself” and “Men, Women, and Ghosts”. Greger has also won various awards for her pieces, such as the Award in Literature from the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters and the National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship. She was a professor at the University of Florida, but is now retired. Greger currently resides Gainesville, Florida and Cambridge, England with her husband, William Logan, who is also a poet. I was first intrigued by Greger when I stumbled across her poem “Eve in the Fall” which was included in my 2009 novel of “Best American Poetry”. This poem caught my attention as fall is undoubtedly my favorite season, and how she manages to write about a part of life for most people.

 

Cara Malizia: What inspired you to write “Eve in the Fall“? Do you consider yourself to be a religious person? How big a role does the allusion play in this poem?

Debora Greger: A number of poems I’ve written in first person over the years have, during or after composition, been given a title that puts them in the voice of Eve after the Fall, and in the present, rather than in my voice. That said, this one comes out of one of the falls we spent in Cambridge, England.

I went to Catholic school through eighth grade, back in the ’50s. The religion didn’t stick but the arcana did. I hope the poem gains from the extra, odd, unexpected layer of the identity of the speaker.

 

CM: Are there any physical surroundings that help your productivity while writing?

DG: I’m extremely fortunately to have a life on both sides of the Atlantic: winters in Florida, summers in England. In the winters, I’m poet-in-residence at the Harn Museum of Art, Gainesville, which affords all kinds of inspirations. My home there is the Asian Wing.

In the summers, I’ve found that sheer physical distance from my US life has let things there be seen more clearly, brought the past into sharper focus.

 

CM: The Poetry Foundation stated that you have a unique “ability to make unexpected yet revealing connections by overlapping the orbits of myth, history, and our daily commute”.
Do you feel this is accurate? How do you go about writing poems that address all of these varying subjects?

DG: The Poetry Foundation said that, huh?! The late critic Randall Jarrell said something like “You don’t ask a pig to judge a bacon contest.”  I do what interests me, as well as I can. Someone once explained to W.C. Fields, who juggled, how he did he did it, and then he couldn’t. About the “daily commute,” solutions to poems I’m working on come sometimes to me at red lights.

The residency at the art museum has afforded subjects I wouldn’t have come across. Exhibits get me curious about background. An ekphrastic poem can be approached in various ways, something the residency has allowed me to explore. My years there coincided with the deaths of my parents, so a number of ekphrastic poems turn to them. That got me thinking of museums as mausolea, in a way.

 

CM: As someone who has taught at three different universities, what advice do you have for incoming freshman (such as myself)?

DG: Acceptance into college is what all your years of school till now have been aiming toward. Take the teacher, not the course: find out who the great teachers are and take whatever they’re teaching. (Rate My Professor.com) A good teacher makes any material life-changing. A bad teacher ruins material you love.

 

CM: What has been your favorite subject to teach at these schools? Have you taught any poetry?

DG: I was a professor of poetry writing. I especially loved teaching undergraduate poets–they were more adventures on the page than grad student poets. We would read from poetry anthologies in addition to student poems. We went on field trips on campus on occasion, to wildlife lectures, to exhibits. When a classroom opened at the art museum, I used it so we could just walk upstairs and be surrounded by art.

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