CHESTER — Things are almost never what they seem. Hence, the title of Suzanne Levine’s second book of poetry, “Grand Canyon Older Than Thought,” in which she examines the difference between appearances and reality in her own life, in the lives of others, and in our environment.
The best-selling novelist Amy Bloom says, “Suzanne Levine’s new collection is wry. Moving. Surprising. A little autumnal (in a Parisian way). Like Szymborska, Levine is a poet of consciousness, loving the world while seeing every dark and light inch of it. You can peer in Grand Canyon for a long time and be glad of it.”
The public will have a chance to do this as the poet reads from her book in a free Books & Bagels program on Sunday, April 23, at 9:30 a.m. at Congregation Beth Shalom Rodfe Zedek. (No tickets or reservations required.)
Levine’s first book, “Haberdasher’s Daughter,” also published by Antrim House, was a finalist for the Eric Hoffer Award and she has contributed to many literary publications since earning her MFA at Vermont College.
For many years, the poet lived in Chester, and now resides in New Haven, where she answered questions about poetry and her work.
How did you get interested in poetry?
Middle School was the eye opener for me after we read Homer’s “Odyssey” and the next year Chaucer’s “Canterbury Tales” in Middle English. Those were the days when memorization of passages was required and I loved to recite Chaucer’s tongue twisting Prologue,
Whan that aprill with his shoures soote
The droghte of march hath perced to the roote,
And bathed every veyne in swich licour
Of which vertu engendred is the flour.
Still I did not realize these works as poetry per se but I felt the words and recognized their lyrical value. Words began to matter to me and I felt a definite kinship with them and with their power when used purposefully.
Who are your mentors, heroes?
Because I am now writing in a form of only 100 words to tell an entire “story” my mentors are Emily Dickinson and Lydia Davis and Anne Carson but I always return to Robert Pinsky, James Wright, W.C. Williams, Billy Collins, Wislawa Szymborska, Sylvia Plath for their awesome ability to ignite emotion even in the hearts of those who are afraid of poetry.
Was the rigor and expense of the MFA worth it all?
For me yes, definitely, those two years studying the craft and reading over one hundred books of poetry and poetics and then presenting a dissertation as well as teaching a class on Yeats gave me a firm foundation on which to stand in the world of writing. I know that I am qualified to offer my opinion in workshops and other situations because of the excellent education I received regarding the craft of writing.
What does poetry offer that prose doesn’t?
Nowadays nothing as they are often indistinguishable from one another
What surprises you most when you read in public?
What surprises me probably surprises most presenters, that people actually show up! Every time I read aloud and actually hear my words versus reading them on the page I see them anew and also see where I could have chosen a better word or changed a line ending and I make note to revisit the work.