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For Poet Carol Edelstein, There's Joy In Using Words To Know The World

"Past Repair" is a new collection of poetry by Northampton, Massachusetts, resident Carol Edelstein. It's her third book, with more than 80 poems that span a 13-year period.

Edelstein said the process of winnowing down and ordering them was, at times, a physical task.

Carol Edelstein, Poet: Part of it is really just laying out a whole group on a big table or on the floor and just kind of moving through — how do you place them together?

I like to think about a collection of poetry, that's put together well, as a kind of museum where the creators of the museum have shaped your experience to some degree. So I was thinking about that.

Nancy Eve Cohen, NEPM: So what's the book about?

I would say the book is about change. It's about how life comes from death and how things morph from one form to another.

Could you read a poem for us?

You Push Away from the Table

Though, hasn't it been a beautiful meal?
Steak tartare, crisp green beans, buttery potato.

Wasn't there a beach and a fire and a war?
A lady and a bicycle and a baby?

This morning the stray calico comes around for her handout—
for the first time she eats from your hand.

These days symbols of death are a dime a dozen.
She puts her rough tongue to your palm.

Can you tell us a little bit about what you want us to take away from that poem? Or do you not want to talk about poetry that way?

You know, when you make a poem, you're finding the words that are hard to replace by other words, because you've carefully crafted something that isn't an explanation of what you're saying.

I want it to be an experience for the reader to taste that meal and think about the big wide world and all the life experiences that come when you taste the meal of your life. And then to think about what it means to let go of that.

I'm curious, when you write a poem, is there a moment of inspiration that starts it and is there a discovery? Do you figure out what the poem is about at the end of it?

I'd say, for me, there is always a moment of inspiration and there's always discovery.

The cover of "Past Repair," poet Carol Edelstein's latest book.
Credit Cover art by Rosamond Purcell
/
The cover of poet Carol Edelstein's latest book.

It's like raking a lawn or digging somewhere. You don't really know what you're going to come upon. It's about being alert and listening to sounds and noticing sensory experience. And then something will click and something gets started and then you build out from that. But it's often not a clear notion to begin with at all of where I'm going and what I want to make.

You are a poet. You're also a psychotherapist. How do you do those two in life?

Psychotherapy is all about listening, listening, listening, listening, listening. And that's really what writing is all about, too. It's listening on a lot of levels to what's happening around you. So they go together very well.

Is it easy to carve out the time to write?

Well, I'm a writing-group junkie. I have been writing in groups, four groups a week for 35 or 40 years. So I have a really dedicated writing practice.

You write when others are around you?

Yes. And during the pandemic year, much of it has been around me virtually.

How has the pandemic affected your writing?

You know, I feel like we're living at the end of the world. And so, whether that's true or not, it feels that way to me. And it's like when you've had an illness or you've recovered from some trauma, your senses are more heightened. And that's how this time of the world feels to me.

Do you think of your readers when you're writing?

The joy of poetry isn't about an audience. It's really about a way of being a participant in life and experiencing life. For a writer, there's just a lot of joy in using words to know the world — and know the inside of oneself.

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