The poetry of tough decisions

Writers talk
By DEIRDRE FULTON  |  November 30, 2011

Nationally acclaimed poet Arielle Greenberg and her husband had a marriage license and a death certificate (of a baby that died in utero) from Belfast town hall, but until this summer, they still lived full-time in Chicago, where Greenberg taught poetry at Columbia College. A series of events and epiphanies, however, inspired the couple to move with their young daughter to Maine, for good, in June. They gave birth shortly thereafter; now they have a local birth certificate too. Greenberg will read at the University of Southern Maine (room 133 of the Wishcamper Center) on Tuesday, December 6, at 7 pm. We spoke to her about writing and living closer to the land.

YOU SPEAK HONESTLY ABOUT THE CHALLENGE OF BEING A POET AND A MOTHER AT THE SAME TIME. HOW DO YOU NAVIGATE THAT CHALLENGE? Part of our move to Maine was that I quit my tenured position in the academy teaching poetry at the graduate level — which, like, nobody does. I had a great job, I loved teaching . . . It's quite complicated for me. I'm a card-carrying feminist and yet I made the decision, as many women of my generation are doing, to basically come home to my kids and prioritize raising my children over the development of my paid career. I feel like it's really important to talk openly about it because I think women artists who have young children often feel like, What's wrong with me? I feel like part of my mantra and mission is to say out loud: It's not our fault. The system is broken around how this country supports families. We all feel overworked and overburdened, especially parents of young children, and especially women. I really enjoyed Shannon Hayes's book Radical Homemakers, which argues that it is a political statement and an economic choice to opt out.

YOU'RE WORKING ON A PROJECT THAT YOU STARTED WHILE YOU WERE IN MAINE ON SABBATICAL — AND THE PROJECT INFLUENCED YOUR DECISION TO MOVE HERE PERMANENTLY, CORRECT? The back-to-the-land book about Waldo County . . . is a collaboration with my husband. It draws on our environmentalism, food politics, personal interests, and our scholarly interests — my husband has an American Studies background — and my interest in subcultures. By interviewing all these homesteaders and farmers and folks in this area, we ended up with a really deep pool of friends. It never ceases to amaze us how deep the pool of likeminded families with small children there is in this very small town. Many times over what we had in Chicago. I really started seeing what it means to be deeply connected in small town, and how much I wanted that. How much I wanted to live in a rural place. We finally decided, New Year's last year, we were going to move. We sold our condo, we bought a house here, we're living on one income. And we're living so much better. We're burning wood, we're growing our own vegetables, I'm doing some canning — nothing major. But things we weren't able to do in our urban life.

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  Topics: This Just In , Maine, University of Southern Maine
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