Jennifer Grotz on Changing Poetic Ambitions

First Draft: A Dialogue of Writing is a weekly show featuring in-depth interviews with fiction, nonfiction, essay writers, and poets, highlighting the voices of writers as they discuss their work, their craft, and the literary arts. Hosted by Mitzi Rapkin, First Draft celebrates creative writing and the individuals who are dedicated to bringing their carefully chosen words to print as well as the impact writers have on the world we live in.

In this episode, Mitzi talks to Jennifer grotz about her new poetry collection, Still Falling.

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From the episode:

Mitzi Rapkin: You know often at the end of the our lives, our memories often go back to the beginning.  I didn’t know that you were raised in Texas, but I could feel that desert. And it makes me think of everything from Tobias Wolf’s story “Bullet in the Brain, when he’s about to die and goes back to his memories from childhood to so many of your poems in here that have this mixture of the East Coast woods with something else. And I’m wondering if in your state of grief that you’ve been in if it’s pulling you back to childhood in a way that you hadn’t been pulled before or not?

Jennifer Grotz: I think it definitely has. I think, partly that’s also because, frankly, some of the deaths that I’ve been mourning were my parents, and most recently, my mother in 2019 right before the pandemic.  You know, it’s interesting, we were a small family and I’m now the only member of it who’s still alive. And so, I think it’s interesting to sort of walk around to be me and have these memories and I think they surface more urgently because they do want to be written down or, I feel this charge to at least not to censor myself and to use them these details from my life because no one else will remember them otherwise. And they are a big part of who I am. I think earlier in my poetry life, I sometimes did feel that I should censor, or I wasn’t so interested in trying to write about myself, or my history or my childhood. I had different poetic ambitions. But now that feels like precious material to me that I definitely make use of. And it also feels, I wouldn’t say obsessive, but almost not up for discussion. I feel like we’re actually pretty naive sometimes and we think we can decide what we’re going to write about. I think what we write about just sort of decides for us. Yeah, childhood is a bigger thread. You’re right.  I hadn’t really thought about it for this book until you pointed that out, but it is more present than it’s been, probably since my very first poems.


Jennifer Grotz is the author of four books of poetry, most recently Still Falling. Also a translator from French and Polish, her co-translations with Piotr Sommer of Jerzy Ficowski’s Everything I Don’t Know received the PEN Award for Best Book of Poetry in Translation in 2022. Her poems have appeared in five volumes of the annual Best American Poetry series and have been published in venues such as The New Yorker, The Nation, Poetry, New York Times Magazine, and The New York Review of Books. In addition to teaching at the University of Rochester, she directs the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conferences.

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