On Writing: Poet Virginia Beards

photo-57Virginia Beards is a writer and poet who lives outside of Oxford, Pennsylvania. I first met Ginny at a critique group several years ago and am continually amazed with her breadth of knowledge and insights into the literary classics. She holds a M.A. from the University of Pennsylvania and a Ph.D. from Bryn Mawr College. Ginny taught at Penn State's Delco (Brandywine) campus for 22 years. Now, when she's not writing poetry or taking care of the horses on her farm, she can often be found at BookPlace, her art gallery and used bookshop just outside of Oxford, PA. BookPlace serves as a type of salon on weekends, with writers and artists stopping by for spirited conversation. epbocover2_8Oermead Press has just published Ginny's first poetry book, Exit Pursued By A Bear and Others, and is celebrating with several events throughout the Delaware Valley. Of special note is the Celebration on Sunday at BookPlace, where a limited edition of 100 hardcover copies, signed and numbered, will be sold. Ginny's schedule is posted below the interview. The paperback is also available on Amazon.

Jim: The title of your book comes from the stage direction of a Shakespeare play. What do you love about the title?

Virginia: With the exception of its last two words, the title Exit Pursued by a Bear and Others is lifted from a stage direction in A Winter’s Tale in the 1623 First Folio of Shakespeare’s Collected Plays. The “and others” is my add on. Shakespeare had nothing to do with this theatre manager’s insertion at the end of Act 3, scene 2. Like many others, I love it for it speaks to the randomness and unpredictability one confronts nearly every day. There is absolutely no dramatic reason in A Winter’s Tale to send in a bear to terrify and shoo the courtier-diplomat Antigonus off the stage. It makes no sense at all. But there it is, a bear springs out and Antigonus flees. Such things happen everyday, you don’t have to be Antigonus to appreciate this.

Jim: What started you writing poetry?

Virginia: I always read poetry at home from my mother's collection of Glenn Hughes chapbooks and other slim books by mostly forgotten poets--sentimental and sweet--but also some Edna St. Vincent Millay. Then I majored in English at the University of Washington where Theodore Roethke and David Waggoner held forth and attracted stellar visiting poets such as Louise Bogan, Louis Simpson, Leonie Adams. Louise Bogan astonished me with her stone face and New England accent pouring out passionate words, daring sounds and ideas. Later at Penn State for 23 years I taught poetry from centuries of western culture (Greece to Rome to Europe to Britain--Homer, Virgil, Beowulf, Chaucer, Shakespeare and on and on to the plunge into modernism). So 4 years ago when a friend asked me to sit-in on an informal writer's group I did. I listened and thought, well I can do that. I went home and within 10 days or so wrote three poems that wowed my husband whose opinion as a literature professor held some weight. I have been writing ever since.

Jim: This may not be answerable. In your mind, what makes a great poem?

Ginny: Whew! I'm thinking keen perception, plus rhythm, diction, imagery and form wrapped up in a beguiling metaphor. Theodore Roethke's "I Knew a Woman," Auden's "Musee des Beaux Arts," Marianne Moore's "Poetry."

Jim: One of my favorite poems in your new book is "Ice House." Can you tell us about the inspiration for that poem?

Ginny: Now "Ice House" came from my over 20 years commute on Route 1 from Oxford to Media and back again when I taught at Penn State, and since then the further development depredations in the Route 1 Chadds Ford-Longwood stretch. When the Dairy Queen, my favorite stop on my way home from Penn State, closed and resurrected as a funeral parlor I was bemused, astonished. Where is the fun in funeral? So I started thinking and reading and snooping about the Chadds Ford--its transformation including the crumbling of Mother Archie's church and octagonal school, the disappearance of what the Wyeths called "coon hollow," the historic inn into a go-to spot for museum goers etc. All this came into "Ice House" as did the late Wyeth painting of a private jet interior "whisking the artist to Maine" which shows the headlights on route 1 far below.

Virginia Beards has several events in quick succession this week.

Saturday, April 26 10 a.m. – 3 p.m. Rosemont College Book Festival Connelly Green at Rosemont College 1400 Montgomery Avenue Rosemont, PA

Sunday, April 27, 3 to 6 p.m. Official Exit Pursued by a Bear Launch at BookPlace 2373 Baltimore Pike Oxford, PA 19363

Monday, April 29, 7 p.m. National Poetry Month Reading Chester County Book and Music Company 957 Paoli Pike, West Chester, PA Virginia will read along with Daisy Fried and other regional poets.