Alicia Ostriker
March 2016

[image Alicia Ostriker]I'm a New York City girl, who has been living in Princeton, NJ since 1965, and am about to become a full-time New Yorker again, settling into an apartment on the Upper West Side with my husband. For almost forty years i taught English and American Lit and Creative Writing at Rutgers University, raised two beautiful daughters and a beautiful son, all of whom are now beautiful grownups, and stayed married to the same guy. I wrote what is now a stack of books and essays--on William Blake to start, then on women's poetry, then on the Bible, then on some more women's poetry plus Whitman and Ginsberg. And stacks and stacks of poetry. Thirteen volumes at this point, I think. When I am not teaching and writing, I can't recognize myself. For pleasure: movies, theater, travel, biking, singing in a chorus. Trying to love, as Adam Zagajewsky says, the mutilated world.

Statement of Poetics

I don't have a "poetics." In student days I wanted to be a combination of John Donne, John Keats, Gerard Manly Hopkins, and WH Auden. As an American poet, my lineage is Whitman, WCW, Ginsberg. As a spiritual seeker for whom "religion and politics are the Same Thing" I am a daughter of Blake. As a woman I am indebted to H.D., Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton, Adrienne Rich, Lucille Clifton, Toi Derricotte, Sharon Olds, Marilyn Hacker, and so many others. When folks ask "Are you a feminist?" I say "Of course, aren't you?" As a Jew, I'm indebted to the Hebrew Bible, with which i've been wrestling, as Jacob wrestled with the angel, for decades now. At this moment i am thinking about the relation between poetry and the city. Until the nineteenth century, poets didn't write about the city. Or they wrote about it with horror--as in Blake's "London." But then along came Whitman and Baudelaire. And in the twentieth century, just to name a few, there's William Carlos Williams, Hart Crane, Galway Kinnell, Frank O'Hara, Muriel Rukeyser, Gwendolyn Brooks.

Now, I have to say that I never decide on a project. Just as I never decide to write such and such a poem. The poems find me, they haunt me, they nibble at me, they make demands on me, they come knocking. As to large-scale projects—typically I’m already what you might call waist deep in the big muddy before I realize Oh, I guess this thing is going to be a book. Or I guess this set of things wants to be an extended sequence. And then I go more or less blindly along, meandering, or crawling into the dark with my little flashlight. And only afterward, really, do I get a clear sense of what I have been doing—what the deep driver has been. I also have to mention that anyone who has ever taken a workshop with me has heard my command to kill the censor and write what you are afraid to write. Write about what obsesses you.

My childhood was spent in New York City public housing. I left the city when I was 18, and always missed it—always missed the rough energy, the great art, the subways, the look of a sky over big buildings, missed the danger, the hurt, even the visible human suffering, the cruelty. The city was Life—was Spectacle—was the place I experienced, when it came, a sense of the sacred. I spent time here when I could, and over the years the city showed up numerous times in my poems. But such poems never overshadowed other things in my writing. Then in the summer of 2012 my husband and I got an apartment on the upper west side, and I started walking around, and began writing about the neighborhood. Here are some poems from that time.

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