Deena Linett’s Translucent When Fired: New & Selected Poems, forthcoming from Tiger Bark Press in Fall, 2016, adds new poems to work from three previous collections. An early poem, “The Power of Place,” which appeared in Harvard Magazine, prefigures the importance of place for Linett.
Fellowships to Hawthornden Castle, Scotland, led to her first two volumes of poetry, Rare Earths, composed primarily of fictive letters in the voices of Scottish island women over 250 years, and Woman Crossing a Field, in which many of the poems respond to her work in Belfast, and explorations in the Orkneys and the Western Isles of Scotland. The third poetry collection, The Gate at Visby, grew from her experiences at The Baltic Centre for Writers and Translators on Gotland, an island in the Baltic Sea off Sweden.
While earning her doctorate at Rutgers University, Linett had the first of two fellowships to Yaddo, where she completed her first novel, On Common Ground, co-winner of the Associated Writing Programs Award Series in the novel. The second Yaddo fellowship led to the completion of her prize-winning novel, The Translator’s Wife.
Born in Boston, Linett grew up on the Gulf coast of Florida. She lived for many years in northern New Jersey (where from her windows she could see New York, and the smoke when the Towers fell), and taught at Montclair State University. She lives now in Indiana.
The Natural Element
You have no choice. This is as natural as breathing.
You let down into it or are drawn. Like heartbeat
it does not care what you think. Generated
in the salty marrow of your bones, radiant
with chemistry and synapse, old as seas, desire
wells up out of mystery and all proportion,
impersonal as history but sweeter, and close
as your own smells. It surges, swells
to take the shape of its container and spilling,
offers no apologies. It is not here for you
but uses you as it moves through, like music,
as insubstantial, as absolutely real.
Now we know the people who made us
were merely children, afraid
we would find out how little
they were sure of, and like children
grown bored with their toys,
they have gone. We are the charms
they turned from and forgot.
If there were words to keep them
they've been lost. The wind picks up.
Hills and trees that slowed it are removed.
This is what we've always known:
they'd go out after dinner and not come home,
leaving us alone like small clay dolls
on the vast plain of the world. Now the draft
before the wide dismissive sweep
that one day will wipe us all away
the way a child's hand clears off a tabletop.
From “Erotics of Place,” an essay, The Georgia Review:
Crossing the little strait between Gotland and Fårö, light's insubstantial coruscations moving on the deep blue, I understood I was in the presence of something that in some sense told me who I am, and at the same time changed me.
Great gifts do not sit around like house-cats in pools of sunlight. Nor do they repeat. It's many years since I first climbed hills in Scotland, struggled, gasping, through deep glens, strode fields ablaze with poppies, prickly wildflowers and stinging nettles, hauled myself through long slick grasses across steep fields tilted and angled and studded with pink and white and blue and yellow blooms in sunlight.
Glory, here on Earth.
(Which is handy, as I don't believe in an afterlife.)
On Orkney I climbed the Brough of Birsay, a tidal island so steep the path to the top is cut along a wall of earth which climbers need to lean against for balance in the wind. We lay at the edge so we wouldn't be blown into the sea by winds that scour trees to scrub, to watch currents pouring down from the Pole tossing spume and foam against the rocks, the ocean purple and blue with yellow lights, bright green around the islands. Leaving, we crossed a channel strewn with house-sized slabs of fractured heaved pink stone mindful of the tides: when the sea comes in, the stones go under the sea.
Readers are saying —
...poems with the small, relentless power of nature
“The pure enjoyment of unpacking Rare Earths’ mysteries, many of which defeat resolution, is [a] tantalizing pleasure... [The poems’] dexterity and complexity glitter like gemstones cut with facets to mirror one another...” — on Rare Earths
“[T]he poet’s exquisite human grace and artistic purity successfully fuse the physical, the metaphysical, the intellectual, and the erotic landscapes — and skyscapes — of experience. Deena Linett is writing poetry like stained glass. The light of ’everything that happens, grain by grain,’ shines through it.” — on Woman Crossing a Field
Simon Spelling on Amazon.com
Prize-winning novelist Deena Linett’s collection of poems “Rare Earths” has made me fall in love with poetry all over again. Deliberate and delicate, Linett’s ambitious work weaves a precise and unique spell on even the casual poetry reader by creating a mysterious universe haunted by the ghosts of women, and the result is a book of poetry that can be read as a novel or as a collection of icy verse gems that sends shafts of light into the deep morass of the soul...“Rare Earths” was a semifinalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award for poetry in 2002. In a world of slam poetry and lazy words masquerading as verse, Linett’s work (call it a collection of poem, a fragmented novel or a hybrid of both) rewards the demanding reader by haunting them like the ghosts of the desolate island of St Kilda. Last word: read this immediately!
“In The Translator’s Wife, as we delve further and further into Vida’s past, we come to realize that the unfolding [of “this amazing narrative resembles memory itself”, and] leads us back to... the very beginning, which is where this beautifully constructed novel both begins and ends.”
K. C. Frederick, on Amazon.com
[The Gate at Visby] is a terrific collection of poems, exhibiting great range and building... to an impressive vision. These poems convey a hunger to know, to see, to experience everything, past, present, & future, there’s a constant reach that’s jolting and exhilarating, so that in the end the reader has been momentarily loosed from the grip of gravity and taken to a place where it’s possible to glimpse the arc of life, the connectedness of everything.
George Messo, from his blog
Deena Linett is one of the most compelling poets I’ve read in years.
And from Messo’s essay in PN Review (# 207; United Kingdom )
Deena Linett’s best work gives generously and rewards repeated close readings. It is rich and complex in ways that are seldom obvious. And that in itself is a testament to her craft, to [her] unhurried precision... Linett’s prosody has the alchemical properties so necessary to her vision, animating the insensate: ...substance is the living flesh, physical and spritual, of experience, memory and transcendence.
Lisa Rae Cunningham, from Amazon.com
Of The Gate at Visby: Linett... is utterly aware of our common humanity, and a masterful storyteller of the gorgeous, brutal truth. This collection of poems illustrates the pitches of human nature across a universe vast beyond our reckoning. Linett intuits this depth and distance to create brilliance... At once a work of art and a time capsule, The Gate at Visbydeliverse science, history and personal discovery with the intricacy and magic of music.
Michael Steffen, on Amazon.com
The poems in [The Gate at Visby] are…expansive and personal, the language imaginative, heartfelt... If the words are memorable, I say they go into our collective consciousness. That’s exactly where this book is headed...
Judith Harris, on The Gate at Visby
[The poems yield a world that] shimmers like mirrors of legend and reality, sparkling and blazing with intensity and insistent momentum... Mature, bittersweet, sensual, Linett’s The Gate at Visby is a book of unusual ardor and poetic achievement.
Barnes & Noble.com
In Rare Earths, poet and novelist Deena Linett has created an intriguing and suspenseful story in verse. Mairi MacIntyre, a young archaeologist, travels to the desolate North Sea Island of St. Kilda where-in journal excerpts and letters-she comes to terms with her own repressed longings and inner life, and her ties to the women who once inhabited the island.
Deena Linett has published two prize-winning novels, On Common Ground and The Translator’s Wife. Her poetry has been widely published in literary journals including The Missouri Review, in which ten poems from Rare Earths appeared in the 20th Anniversary Issue.
From 100 Great American Novels You’ve (Probably) Never Read
Writing about The Translator’s Wife, Karl Bridges says “Linett’s daring approach... abandon[s] the linear flow of time... Linett’s talent for dialogue and eye for description make her literary technique work in an effective and dramatic matter [sic]. ...In quantum physics, one principle is that in any given moment, multiple possibilities exist. It is only when the actual observation of events is made that these multiple opportunities, or waves of possible futures, collapse into a fixed and immutable present. In The Translator’s Wife Linett expresses this idea in a compelling and innovative novel.”
Over the years I’ve collected words that seem to enlarge the ways I think about writing; here’s a sample. I hope you’ll enjoy reading them.
"[W]riters are archaeologists of the present."
-- Jean McNeil
You can’t be a lyric poet and love adverbs…
Anthony Hecht reading, "A Hill," begins to say what it’s about. He interrupts himself to say "but the mind wanders, of course, as the poem continues."
I once heard a Georgia writer say, "You don’t just walk out the woods speakin’ a villanelle. You got to know what that sucker is."
W.S. Merwin: the poem has to surprise [the maker] "right to the very end."
Overheard at a writers’ conference: If you want to communicate, use the telephone.
Hugo Williams (in the TLS, 2011): "Though I feel tired of life at the moment I seem not to be tired of London", which seems to me equally true of New York or Boston. You could never use them up. Also Paris, Rome...
Between poems and stories, and in the long times before editors respond, I sometimes think
This is how my life goes, tilting, riven,
episodic in ways unacceptable in a novel,
long stretches when nothing happens.
From "Above Half-Moon Bay" in Woman Crossing a Field.
Louise Bogan in 1936 to Rolfe Humphries: An organization of writers for the defense of culture seems to be a rather tendentious scheme. If culture is going to be overthrown, it will be, in any case. No puny organization of writers is going to stop it. Perhaps it is best for culture to get knocked on the ear from time to time. It always has been knocked on the ear, before now, and the disguised rubble built into the wall has gone down, and remained, rubble, and the beautiful incised stones and the headless statues and the partial stanzas and the bronze garlands and the pure speech and the rational thought have come through, in any case. Why worry? Why ask for the world without ruins? Why ask for a world in which art never changes or fails or is partially erased? The Fascists burn the books, and the Communists bar the heterodox, and what difference is there between the two? I must say I would just as soon die on the barricades for Mozart’s music as not: if someone walked in this minute and said, Louise, if you don’t go out and get shot, they’ll take Mozart’s music and throw it down the drain, I’d put my hat right on and go out and take it. But the thought of spending years moping along with a lot of other writers, defying anti-cultural forces: No. For culture isn’t saved that way. Nothing is saved that way.
Louise Bogan to Wm Maxwell: "I simply can’t first-name people until I’ve known them quite a while: a provincialism, no doubt. I have always shrunk up inside when casual acquaintances begin Louising me right away."
The satisfactions in experiencing art are kinetic.
You start by writing so as to live, and you end up by writing so as not to die.
—Carlos Fuentes, August ’84
"Kavanagh walked into my ear like an old-style farmer walking a field." —Seamus Heaney
Something is left over after
Everything else has been taken away.
— Edward Kleinschmidt
"Berlioz thunders in the background…unheard by all in the known universe but me. just ended: silence unheard by any but me. In [silence] we meditate and cherish the news sent across the galaxy of your fall out of the fallen world & into the truer world of fiction, inspiring to a prisoner who sometimes feels he’ll be punished into silence for sins lamentably undreamed as well as unperformed. the free world cheers at the news: paris is liberated!! vive la france and may your cavalry dash across the countryside like mounted & crazed angels, bent on freeing us all every last one of us from the drab dreariness of the ordinary & into art." From an e-mail to me by K.C. Frederick
John Russell on Soviet censorship & its sequelae (’91): "To mutilate the collective memory…is not simply a crime against society as a whole. It takes away a vital leaven in individual self-awareness. The black square of the painter Kasimir Malevich, the sound world of Schnittke, the poetry of Marina Tsvetaeva, the glorious up-front clarity of design in the work of Rodchenko are aspects of this century to which no Russian should be denied access. And we in the West should remember, in that context, what the widow of Osip Mandelstam said about the status of poetry in Russia — that "it is a healing, life-giving thing. People can be killed for poetry here — a sign of unparalleled respect — because they are still capable of living by it."
Eliade says that the sacred, in all times, is "the revelation of the real, an encounter with that which saves us by giving meaning to our existence."
Because Rhyme remains the parentheses of palms
shielding a candle’s tongue, it is the language’s
desire to enclose the loved world in its arms.
— Walcott, Omeros
On the whole the capacity for recognizing the significant is a gift…it may help to be a slow deep thinker rather than a brilliant facile one.
You will look back at us with astonishment. You will wonder at passionate struggles that accomplished so little; at the, to you, obvious paths to attain our ends which we did not take; at the intolerable evils before which it will seem to you we sat down passive; at the great truths staring us in the face, which we failed to see; at the truths we grasped at, but could never quite get our fingers round. You will marvel at the labor that ended in so little; - but, what you will never know is how it was thinking of you and for you, that we struggled as we did and accomplished the little which we have done; that it was in the thought of your larger realisation and fuller life, that we found consolation for the futilities of our own.—Olive Shreiner
The novelist…is an explorer feeling his way in an effort to reveal some unknown aspect of existence [and] is fascinated not by his voice but by a form he is seeking, and only those forms that meet the demands of his dream become part of his work.
There’s a certain grain of stupidity that the writer of fiction can hardly do without, and this is the quality of having to stare, of not getting the point at once.—Flannery O’Connor
The novelist’s real passion: the drama of daily living.
"[S]ounding natural is a stylistic achievement."—Seamus Heaney
Art curbs my restlessness — Lucian Freud
The end of art is peace. — Heaney
A gifted novelist is almost necessarily a moral psychologist.
[F]orm – the architectural blueprint of a work, is something the writer bears within him as an obsession; it is an archetype, the irreducible pattern of his personality.
Wherever I live I am in the writer’s condition: Work is pleasure and pleasure is work. — Bogan
"It is only through fiction and the dimension of the imaginary that we can learn something real about individual experience. Any other approach is bound to be general and abstract." — Nicola Chiaromonte
"Theory is autobiography." — Paul Valery
"…the immutable violence of new beginnings"
A writer’s visible life and the root of imagination do not connect above ground.
Which of the two is public property?
Miró says "the painting rises from the brushstrokes as a poem rises from the words. The meaning comes later." That is as lucid and lovely as one could wish. Picasso makes a charming comment on computers: "But they are useless. They can only give you answers." I confess to feeling the study of language does not help much. The mind and the intentions behind it are far subtler than the verbal makeshifts and stuttering formulas with which we try to define its devious workings. — unattributed
Heaney on Yeats: "He had this marvelous gift for beating the scrap metal of the day-to-day life into a ringing bell."
The work itself rested me. — Steinbeck
Appreciation is the currency of love. — Kuttner
The picture is the information.
Composition is the psychological truth of relation.
Play like the light of the sun on the Earth, like God’s love upon the world. — Marcel Moyse, flutist.
On the difference between making prose and poetry: "One feels like making a house, and the other feels like making a piece of jewelry." — H. Berglund
"Emily Dickinson poems are about solitude and the corridors of the mind. They last forever. I don’t know whether I will last or not last. All I know is that I want to write about something that has no fashion and that does not pander to any period or to a journalistic point of view. I want to write about something that would apply to any time because it’s a state of the soul." — Edna O’Brien
"[L]ife…running past, indifferent, ungrateful, treacherous, mocking, meaningless, alien — marvelous, marvelous, marvelous." — Tatyana Tolstaya
An act of imagination is an act of self-acceptance. — Richard Hugo
Everything is potential.
Unreality…is the necessary condition of art. — Borges
The immortality associated with writing lies in the writer’s daily visit to an internal eternity.
All art is failure. — Richard Hugo
Another man’s soul is darkness. … Russian proverb
A key aspect of classical Chinese esthetics [:] There is the "power of emptiness," for instance, which can make the blank spaces in a painting or poem count for as much as what is actually bodied forth, and the assumption that an artist’s role is not to provide a facsimile of nature but to enter into and manifest its essential spirit.
"The chorus to the ‘stolen child’ sums it up – That it is not the poetry of insight and knowledge but of longing and complaint – the cry of the heart against necessity. I hope some day to alter that and write poetry of insight and knowledge." — W.B. Yeats
The distinction between poetry and prose is a vulgar error. — Shelley
Henry Miller: I commenced quietly, on my own, to prune [his first novel], to mutilate it, to reduce it to skeletal strength. Jesus, I’m getting a masochistic pleasure out of it. I wipe out whole pages — without even shedding a tear. Out with the balderdash, out with the slush and drivel, out with the apostrophes, the mythologic mythies, the sly innuendoes, the vast and pompous learning (which I haven’t got!).
Out – out – damned fly-spots. Here I am, and I am only beginning to recognize it a very plain, unvarnished soul, not learned, not wise, no great shakes any way you look at me – particularly "comme artist." What I must do, before blowing out my brains, is to write a few simple confessions in plain Milleresque language. No flapdoodle about the sun going down over the Adriatic! No entomological inquests, no moonlight and flowers. After all, I only know a few things… — Henry Miller
Carver cuts to the bone because he’s afraid of sentimentality — DL
To a chemist, nothing on earth is unclean. A writer must be as objective as a chemist. [And:] The business of the writer is but to describe. The artist should not be the judge of his characters and their conversations, but only an unbiased observer. — Chekhov
I am terribly sorry if my extensive cuts are causing you any disappointment, but I am sure you will understand that after all I am almost exclusively a writer, and my style is all I have. — Nabokov, 1965
[And] I am greatly distressed and disgusted by my unprepared answers – by the appalling style, slipshod vocabulary, offense and embarrassing statements and muddled facts. — Nabokov, 1965
About my work, my friend Chet’s, others’: It’s braver to do it without irony. — DL
Chekhov, in a letter: You are right in demanding that an artist should take an intelligent attitude toward his work, but you confuse two things: solving a problem and stating a problem correctly. It is only the second that is obligatory for the artist.
"The game is organizing states of feeling, and states of feelings become questions of light, color, weight, solidity, airiness, lyricism, whatever." — Motherwell
She had accepted the fact that it was of no importance whether her work went on or not; it was enough to work. She was the nurse who tends the sick who never recover; she was the priest who perpetually renews the office before an altar to which no worshipers come. — of the Abbess, The Bridge of San Luis Rey
Load every rift…with ore. — Keats
Imaginatively is the only way we can know others’ lives. — DL
Make your study the unregarded floor.
Sink every impulse like a bolt. Secure
The bastion of sensation. Do not waver
Into language. Do not waver in it.
— Seamus Heaney, from "Lightenings," Seeing Things
"Anyone who knows a novelist or poet very well has probably figured out that they are not dealing with a true intellectual. Intellectuals have a compulsion to be right and this urge is inimical to what John Keats called ‘negative capability,’ the capacity a poem or novel must have to keep afloat a thousand contradictory people and questions in order to create the parallel universe of art."
"Of course, the raw meat on the floor, the mystery, is how to manage to convincingly enter another’s voice."
"I tend to think of art as essentially androgynous and that gender is a biological rather than a philosophical system."
"I suspect that the source of so much feminine anguish in political and social terms is the same for anyone who is purposefully misunderstood. From birth to death someone is always yelling a name in your face that is not your own." — Jim Harrison, NY Times Magazine 16 May 1999, 99 et seq.
Art is an antidote to bureaucracy. — DL
"My analyst’s name is Royal Portable (noiseless) the 3rd."
Hemingway to Lillian Ross
Quoted in "Hemingway Told Me Things,"
by Lillian Ross in The New Yorker, May 24, 1999"
is a debasement
of a text…
God is the text. — Li-young Lee, "The Clearing"
The odd word, the "mistake," is the footprint of what you haven’t written yet. — DL
"We are defined by the line we choose to cross out or to be confined by." … Byatt
There is a growing sense of anxiety [for the reader]
that takes a turn [when the poem takes a turn.]
All fictions are possible. … K. C. Frederick
The accidental becomes necessary. — DL
Think only of the jump! — Virginia Woolf
"I arrive at the light only after painting it, not by aiming for it." — Richard Diebenkorn, to Michael Kimmelman, New York Times, 1992
Take the marginal and center it." — Jon Klimo
Variant: Take the marginal and enter it. — DL
Readers ask if the writer "put all that in" on purpose. I always think of sugar or flour, some white floaty or sweet substance poured into batter to make cookies or a cake the right texture and taste.
At least two separate events drive any story I’m writing. One is the events of the narrative, or the characters — usually the characters. The other, perhaps more important, is a technical problem. Each story seems to come with its own technical problems, as if they were the DNA of that particular fiction.
Another question about elements in stories: Did the writer mean to say X, or did the writer intend that the reader understand X or Y? My own writing has taught me It’s all deliberate but it’s not all conscious. — DL
No poem is about one of us, or some of us, but is about all of us. It is part of a long document about the species. — Mary Oliver
Plain rendering lets people in. — DL
Every word cut keeps another reader with you. — Peter Elbow
Imagination is the muscle of the soul. — Nabokov
The function of art is to make that understood which in the form of argument would be incomprehensible. — Tolstoy
Losing oneself in one’s work is to find oneself. — DL
It’s harder to make something from air than from granite. — DL
We burn without light, like candles at midday. — Mandelstam
Art gropes. — John Gardner
Nothing could be gained by a deliberate attempt of the will. — Doris Lessing"
"Genetically we are all similar but as narrators each of us is unique." — Wim Kayzer
"If you know the wilderness in the way that you know love, you would be unwilling to let it go. We are talking about the body of the beloved, not real estate." — Terry Tempest Williams, on America’s wild places
William Carlos Williams: Waves, like words, all broken.
Gordimer: You must write as if you are already dead.
Every poet is part Caliban (earthiness, nature, gravity) and part Ariel (etheriality, invisibility, velocity)…
The fiction (and the poetry) must be open enough to let mystery in.
We have as part of our heritage that goodness is skyward.
Nothing lives that seasons do not mend. — Donald Hall
Writing is a prayer, which is just the longings of one heart. — Unattributed
From the day comes.…your own night, where no one else has been. — Mulisch
Each thing’s essence moves from its potential to realization. — Aristotle on entelechy
The effort by which each thing endeavors to persevere in its own being is…the actual essence of the thing itself. — Spinoza
"Work is Worship" sign in a shop for handmade goods in Delhi
Notes from various articles (undated), NY Times Book Review:
For him, making sense is akin to making love, a caritas, or caring.
The journey of a woman’s life defies order and good taste — if she is lucky.
[The] main effect of a novel should be emotional. Thoughts should not be included for their own sake. Nor can they — and this is a particular difficulty — be set forth the way a thinker would do, they are aspects of a character.
You think that what you do not do yourself does not happen. — Herrigel’s Master (Zen in the Art of Archery, Eugen Herrigel)
The furniture remembers the tree.
Deena Linett: firstname.lastname@example.org
Tiger Bark Press: www.tigerbarkpress.com
To book Deena Linett for a reading, please email: email@example.com
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