Monday, July 23, 2018

Q&A with Judith Barrington


Judith Barrington is the author of the new poetry collection Long Love: New & Selected Poems, 1985-2017. Her other books include The Conversation and Horses and the Human Soul, and her work has appeared in a variety of publications, including Creative Nonfiction and Prairie Schooner. Born in England, she lives in Portland, Oregon.

Q: How did you choose the poems to include in your new collection?

A: Choosing the poems to include in Long Love: New & Selected Poems was actually quite fun. I wanted to include a few poems from each of the four collections I had published, going back to the first one in 1985.

My dilemma turned out to be whether to choose the poems I considered to be “the best” —that is, the most technically accomplished, or alternatively to use the sequence to present a kind of chronological narrative.

In the end I used a mixture of the two approaches, noticing how my subject matters often recurred in slightly new versions, but also how I acquired more skills with which to handle them.

I also tried to include examples of the three or four major themes that haunt all four previous books: feminism; horses and my relationships with them; the natural world, particularly the switch from my early British landscape to the new Oregon environment; the ocean; and moving through early lesbian shame into the era of same-sex marriage. 

Q: The poems in the collection span the period from 1985-2017. Do you think your writing style has changed at all over that period, or has it remained fairly consistent?

A: I think over the span of years covered by the book, my style evolved from somewhat didactic and straightforwardly narrative, to more subtle in its use of musical language, some traditional forms, and homages to some of my favorite poets, seeking echoes of their forms.

An example of this is “The London Bombs” which borrowed the structure of Auden’s poem, “September 1, 1939.” 

Q: How was Long Love (also the name of one of the poems in the collection) chosen as the title of the book, and what does it signify for you?

A: In looking for a title, I scanned all the individual poems’ titles and kept stopping at “Long Love.” For a collection that spanned a long time, it seemed appropriate, and, although the poem of that title refers to my relationship with Ruth, it could also read, I think, to mean a long love of poetry.

To me it signifies both meanings, and is something I feel strongly about acknowledging, as I move into being an elder in a long marriage within the lesbian community. 

Q: Which poets do you especially admire?

A: Poets I admire: Adrienne Rich, Maxine Kumin (who was also a friend), W.H. Auden, Seamus Heaney, and contemporaries: Robin Becker and Paul Merchant. 

Q: What are you working on now?

A: At the moment I am working on a nonfiction prose piece of linked memoirs told through relationships to the major oceans in my life. 

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: I have become somewhat disabled in the past couple of years and am reading my way through works by disabled writers such as Kenny Fries and Stephen Kuusisto. Some of my physical adventures found their way into the “new” section of this selected book, and I imagine that will become a new theme to explore.

--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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