Annie Finch
June 2006


Annie FinchBorn in 1956 in New Rochelle, New York, Annie Finch studied poetry at Yale, verse-drama with Ntozake Shange at the University of Houston's graduate creative writing program, and earned a PhD in English and American Literature from Stanford University, focusing on poetics and versification.  Currently, she directs the Stonecoast Masters of Fine Arts program in creative writing at the University of Southern Maine.

Annie Finch’s books of poetry include Calendars (Tupelo, 2003), shortlisted for the Foreword Poetry Book of the Year Award; Eve (Story Line, 1997); and a translation of the Complete Poems of Louise Labé  (University of Chicago Press, 2006).  Her innovative performance poem The Encyclopedia of Scotland was published by Salt in 2004.

The Norton Anthology of World Poetry, The Penguin Book of The Sonnet, The Poetry Daily Anthology, Writing Poetry: An Introduction, and many other anthologies and textbooks include Finch’s work, which has appeared in a range of journals including Hudson Review, Prairie Schooner, Fulcrum, Court Green, Kenyon Review, Partisan Review, Yale Review, and Paris Review.  Her poems have been featured in media outlets from Voice of America to HBO’s Def Poetry Jam, and musical or dance performances inspired by her poetry have been performed at venues including the Spoleto Festival, Lawrence Conservatory, Cincinnati Conservatory of Music, and the New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art.   She is also the author of two opera librettos, “Lily Among the Goddesses” and “Marina,” based on the life of Russian poet Marina Tsvetaeva, which premiered at American Opera Projects in New York in 2003.

Finch’s critical writings developing her ideas about poetry have been collected in The Body of Poetry: Essays on Women, Form, and the Poetic Self (Univ. of Michigan Press, 2005) and The Ghost of Meter (Univ. of Michigan Press, 1993).  She has also edited several ground-breaking, popular anthologies including An Exaltation of Forms: Contemporary Poets Celebrate the Diversity of Their Art (coedited with Kathrine Varnes, Univ. of Michigan Press, 2002) and A Formal Feeling Comes: Poems in Form by Contemporary Women (Story Line,1994).

Finch’s poetry is inspired largely by her relationship with the natural world, especially the landscapes of Maine, where she resides with her husband, the environmentalist Glen Brand, and their two children.

Statement: Poetry and Earth Spirituality

I have always felt myself to be largely a religious poet, but until I became aware of paganism, I didn't know what kind of religious poet I was.   My spiritual yearnings, like those of many pagans or Wiccans, emerged through an ambivalence towards Christianity.  Sections of my first book of poetry, The Encyclopedia of Scotland—along with poems in Eve such as “Running in Church,” “Westminster,” and “The Door”—engage with Christian imagery and themes to an extent that surprises to me now, though in retrospect these poems raise pagan-related themes such as the body, nature, female spirituality, and the sacredness of sexuality.  “Eve,” one of a series of my poems dedicated to goddesses, explores Eve as a transitional figure, both the Eve of Christianity and the mother-goddess figure described in Merlin Stone’s When God Was a Woman. The imagery of spiral and serpent connects Eve with that older religion and my own spirituality as a woman.

After I became a practicing pagan/Wiccan, I began to write poems to be sung or chanted as part of ceremonies to celebrate the equinoxes, solstices, and other days in the pagan Wheel of the Year.  At first, I omitted the ritual songs and the goddess poems from my manuscripts, or segregated them into separate sections.  But in the process of putting together first Eve and then Calendars, I came to see these more chantlike poems as integral, even central, to my work.

For example, the sequence of nine goddess poems in Eve is a web that links together poems culled from twenty years—and makes it clear how deeply even the earlier poems engage with goddess archetypes. In Calendars, a sequence of eight poems for Wheel of the Year delineates and interweaves the thematic resonances of poems from different decades.  These chants were originally part of longer pieces sung by multiple voices, parts of which are woven into the verse drama of the myth of Persephone in the title poem of Calendars. The strong physical pull of meter is part of the ritual nature of these poems.

I now understand how the pagan focus of the other poems in Calendars helps to integrate poetic formalism with experimentalism, and feminism with a sense of humanity. The many poems on sensual themes, and poems such as “Elegy for My Father” and “Landing Under Water,” are grounded in a pagan view of life and death.  Formally, they use rhythm as an element of a kind of performative utterance, with the aim of making something happen rather than telling about it.  As I wrote in The Body of Poetry, “These artifices of form provide a source of spiritual power in and of themselves. This spiritual imperative of the intrinsic pleasure of form, as I have understood it, has long drawn me to a poetics that grounds itself in the immanent particularities of poetic structure: pattern, repetition, spell, charm, incantation.”

I feel that the timelessness of the pagan themes throughout my work unifies poems from different times in my own life as part of an eternal spiritual present.  And my spiritual identity has come to play a central part in my own vision of my poetic mission and vocation.  While religions such as Christianity, Judaism, and even Buddhism have many poets singing their prayers, I am the only “literary” poet I know of who consciously follows the neopagan path.   It is exciting to be helping to shape the literature of a young religion (albeit one with ancient roots)—and one so rich in imagery and inspiration, one I so passionately feel will play a role in the healing of human lives and of the earth.

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