Wednesday, January 27, 2010
Somerville poet/artist Celia Gilbert: A Poet who paints with the brush and words
Celia Gilbert is a Cambridge/Somerville based poet and artist with a new collection of poetry out: “Something to Exchange.” (Blaze Vox) She studied with the noted poet Robert Lowell, as well as Anne Sexton and Robert Fitzgerald. She was the poetry/fiction editor at the Boston Phoenix and interviewed both Mary Daley the late feminist scholar, and along with fellow poet Ruth Lepson, the renowned poet Robert Creeley. She is the winner of a number of awards from prestigious organizations like the Poetry Society of America and the 92nd St. Y. I talked with Gilbert on my Somerville Community Access TV show: “Poet to Poet: Writer to Writer”
Doug Holder: You studied with Robert Lowell and Anne Sexton. You were in Lowell’s famed workshop. Where was this? Can you tell us about the workshop?
Celia Gilbert: The workshop that I was thrilled to be in was at Harvard University. Robert Lowell was very generous about poets entering his seminars. I submitted poems and was excited when he said I could be there. I was there with a lot of people like Lloyd Schwartz, Jean Valentine…it was very exciting. The procedure Lowell used in class was he picked a poem that the students would submit. The student would read his or her poem and then he would read it. That was very exciting because you had your poems read by Robert Lowell. I learned a lot.
DH: Were you aware of his bouts of mental illness?
CG: It was well-known that he had a sort of seasonal illness. Most of the classes were fine. But when December came around that’s when the disorder came on. We didn’t understand seasonal affective disorder then like we do now. But at this time of the year he became more excitable. We didn’t have words like Bipolar back then.
DH: I read that when Anne Sexton was in his class at Boston University—she knew when he was headed to McLean Hospital.
CG: Yeah—but we concentrated on the poetry. Frank Bidart was in the seminar, and Frank was very much the person who helped him through the hard times.
DH: You interviewed the late poet Robert Creeley. He told me he never revised his poetry; he just threw it out if it didn’t work.
CG: I think whatever he said is true. I want to say that Robert Creeley was extremely generous. When I interviewed him with Ruth Lepson for the Phoenix, he just gave us so much time. He was very approachable. He would talk on and on. Yet his poems were so crystalline.
DH: You have a space at the Brickbottom Studios in Somerville. You are an accomplished artist as well as a poet. Can you talk about this?
CG: For most of my life I have been a poet. But I had a yearning to make art. I just never had time to explore it. About 20 years ago I took a watercolor class at the Cambridge Adult Education Center--which is a wonderful resource for people. Inspired by this I found out about a workshop at Brickbottom for monotypes.
DH: How does this fit in with your work as a poet?
CG: My poetry is not philosophical, but very visible. It is gratifying to work on visual images-- even abstract ones.
DH: In your new collection of poems "Something to Exchange" in the poem "The Meal" you write about the absence of your husband at an evening meal. I always write about food--it reveals a lot about the texture of our lives.
CG: Meals are very fraught. There was an absence of my husband at this particular meal. In the living world we create a world that we feel is safe and good. We delude ourselves that nothing bad is ever going to happen. This is how we survive. So in this poem his absence was a foreshadowing; it is a poem about how fragile life is and how lucky we are to have any happiness.
Eve Leaves Eden
The rose that bloomed at the gate
she stole for a garden of her own,
a cradle of seeds enclosed within its fullness,
defying Him the tyrant who
made the rules to keep them in.
She looked behind, one last look.
A bird sang, neither happy nor sad.
The time had come, and with that word
she understood the penalty they paid.
In her new garden,
the rose flourished along the palings,
not an aristocratic species
that would shine a week or two and fade—
a simple rambler blooming
throughout the spring and summer,
in autumn the last to go.
Winter months she brewed
the rose hips for nourishment
and saw in the curling steam
the serpent rising from her cup.
Copyright © 2005 Celia Gilbert All rights reserved
from Southwest Review
Reprinted by Verse Daily® with permission