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Bradfield gets creative with nature poetry

Visiting poet Elizabeth Bradfield (ENG) has written about the Arctic regions and natural histories.

Published: Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Updated: Tuesday, September 11, 2012 02:09

JustArts: What inspired you to become a poet?

Elizabeth Bradfield: Well, originally, assignments in school, ... but really truly, I think what inspired me to become an actual poet was being in a workshop as a freshman in college, and I had an instructor who cared so much not just about expressing feeling but about how to express that feeling, and she first really revealed to me the art of revision, and when that idea of expressing feeling met the calculus of reworking a poem and getting the poem to express that feeling as well as myself, that was a magical combination that turned out to be a life-sustaining goal and quest.  

JA: Your first book, Interpretive Work, seems to touch on a variety of different topics, including sexuality, work, nature and the family, but the title is a bit more broad.  What led you to choose that title for your book?

EB: You know, honestly, I wanted to call it Natural History for those reasons. Personal natural history, the world of natural history where I work, but that same year or the year before the book came out, someone else published a book with that title, so I was like “Alright, so what am I going to do?”  And I actually really like the title because I think that’s the work of a poet. Interpreting, responding. And also, it’s a second term for working as a naturalist, which is what I do. ... So that’s why the title was chosen, and I think that beyond the title, the choice to put in poetry that’s perceived as more confessional, more autobiographical, along with poetry that might be categorized more as nature poetry was something I really wanted to do. I really wanted to put those in conversation because I think too often they’re held in separate realms and they’re inextricable.


JA: In your second book, Approaching Ice, you focus on your time in the Arctic and Antarctic Circles, so why did you decide to focus on those experiences for that book?

EB: Yeah, and honestly, the book was written before I had been to either place. So it was written from an obsession with those places and a fascination with them, but really as an armchair traveler to a large part. Since the book has come out and since the poems are written, I have worked in both Antarctica and up in the Arctic quite extensively but the book itself was a work of the imagination in a lot of ways. I was just obsessed by it. I was just totally obsessed by the idea, especially of some of the early polar explorers and what they did in those vast spaces. I had just left a job. I had just left a year working as a deckhand on boats and I was really missing life on the water. ... I came upon this book about Sir Ernest Shackleton and read it, and it kickstarted this huge obsession with all of those guys and what they did and how they traveled there, and then as the poems started accumulating over a long period of time.


JA: What kind of project are you currently working on?  

EB: I’m working on a book of poems about Donald B. MacMillan, who was an Arctic explorer in this era, almost. He died in the early 70s but spent his life exploring the Arctic, and he was born and raised, for a little bit of his life raised, in Provincetown Mass. on Cape Cod. I live on the Cape so I’m really interested in his life on the Cape, in the Arctic, and using an examination of his life and travels overlaid with my own life and travels up there and also at home on Cape Cod, as a way of looking at climate change, social impacts of modernization, perceptions of landscape, so we’ll see. ... I’m also writing just some loose poems that come as they come that will hopefully be a collection and also some haibun, which is a traditional Japanese form about work and travels and Antarctica. So those are three little things going on.


JA: Do you have any goals for your time at Brandeis?

EB: No, I’m trying not to have goals. I hope to be here, to engage, to learn, to teach, to get a lot of writing done, but right now I’m taking things in, trying to get to know the campus and the culture here and what happens, so I’m gonna kind of hold off on fixing myself any big goals for a little bit.


JA: And lastly, what would you say is your favorite literary work?

EB: My knee-jerk answer, ... is Beowulf. The Seamus Heaney translation, I think. It’s a weird poem. It’s so different than anything that’s being written now because there’s no inner life; it’s all action. [E]very inner feeling and every moral quality and every psychologic trait is not shown in reflection but in action.  
                        —  Phil Gallagher

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