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GREGG, LINDA (1942- ) Linda Gregg has been called by Czeslaw Milosz "one of our best poets" (127), and Joseph brodsky, on the jacket of her book Sacraments of Desire (1991), described her poetry's "blinding intensity," which "stains the reader's psyche the way lightning or heartbreak do." The voice in this poetry speaks with an almost classical reserve even as it probes moments of ecstasy, exile, suffering, and loss in places of "sand and dirt, rocks / and heat, life and death" ("There is No Language in This Country" ). The speakers eye gazes on bamboo, thistle, and pain with nearly clinical powers of perception and precision shared by poets like Louise glück, Elizabeth BISHOP, H. D., and Emily Dickinson. Thus although influenced by feminist poetics and committed to exploring existential questions from a woman's perspective (as in, for example, "Not a Pretty Bird" ), her poetry often has less in common with the autobiographical confessional modes than with a more restrained, often imagistic, even philosophical poetics.
Born in Suffern, New York, Gregg grew up in bucolic Marin County, California. She has traveled extensively, and much of her poetry finds its settings in far-flung places. She has taught at Princeton University, the University of Iowa, the University of Houston, and the University of California, Berkeley, and she has been the recipient of the Jerome J. Shestack Poetry Prize (1999), an National Endowment for the Arts grant (1993), a Whiting Award (1985), and a Guggenheim Fellowship (1983).
Crafted out of intense moments of feeling and observation, Gregg's language is at once ardent, austere yet agile and musical. The poems are compact, with life cut down to its essentials—a woman hanging up clothes, someone cutting bread, stone steps lit by the Moon. As the poetry tends toward solitude and contemplation, her language tends toward simplicity and purity. The frequent nominative fragments reduce language to an almost ascetic noticing and naming— "Sun in the air above water. / Sunlight on a rock wall." ("Heavy with Things and Flesh" )—and the use of the verb be rather than verbs of action. Things appear in bright light as though announcing their being in the world—intently, visually, as in the poem "Greece When Nobody's Looking" (1991): "The earth bleached pale by two thousand years. / Poppies and weeds blooming in the tough fields." Ordinary facts are trimmed to an essential mystery and take on mythic tones.
Yet the voice invests the landscape with emotion. In "Glistening" (1991), the speaker has poured water over her body and says: "I stand there a long time with the sun and the quiet, / the earth moving slowly as I dry in the light." "Wrapping Stones" (1999) begins with the speaker lamenting lost love and compares love to "the salmon that have not come back." All of Gregg's work casts its eye unflinchingly upon life's fierce realities and tells in chiming phrases of both the loss and the beauty found there.
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