Jane Satterfield speaks to managing editor Emily Everett about her poem “Letter to Emily Brontë,” which appears in The Common’s spring issue. Jane talks about her longstanding interest in the Brontë sisters, and why this pandemic poem is directed to Emily in particular. She also discusses letter-writing as a structure for poetry, and reads another poem published in The Common, “Totem,” which reflects on a childhood memory through more adult understanding.
Podcast: Jane Satterfield on “Letter to Emily Brontë”
In this round of Friday Reads, we hear from two poets whose work was featured in Issue 23 of The Common. Read on for mini reviews of an imaginative and timely poetry collection and essays on the transportive power of that genre.
How long have you lived here? Except for years in Iowa and England, I’ve lived in Maryland most of my life. Though I’ve lived in Charm City for 23 years, I’m a bit of a homebody so my imagination runs backward to the places I lived growing up: the sprawling farmland of Frederick county that runs along the Catoctin Mountain chain; the sprawl of suburban tract land along the D.C. Beltway.
Throughout her impressive body of work, which includes three collections of poetry and a memoir, Jane Satterfield explores the roles of place and gender in human identity. Born in England and raised in America, she probes what it means to reconcile the legacies of intertwined lineages. Satterfield complicates her inquiry into cultural inheritance by emphasizing female experience. In her first poetry book, Shepherdess with an Automatic, she described her youthful adventures during the 1980s; “going to clubs” in “boots with zip-laces to accelerate the kill” (in contrast to1950s housewives “decked out” like “living dolls”). Her Familiars, Satterfield’s most recent collection, takes us further back in time, to the 1970s. We glimpse her as a girl scout, part of a “troop of girls kitted out in jumpers, cable knee socks, & small green berets,” living “blissful on suburban streets” while “choppers stuttered over Saigon.” Both books, as well as her second poetry collection Assignation at Vanishing Point, combine coming-of-age material with adulthood examinations of love, sex, child rearing, historical influence, and literary ambition. In Her Familiars, Satterfield widens her range of subject matter, tones, and aesthetic approaches, mining the territory between domestic and public life in striking new ways.
Not cool for September so we walked
slowly, slowly to cross the still-green campus
gold-struck in morning’s light.
That’s the kind of phrase I’d have used,
years ago, an undergrad arriving in town
the same year that you’d left.