The Writer’s Handful with Fleda Brown

Fleda Brown 2011 4x5 color-2011

Mondays + Writers = Finally something to look forward to.

I am so excited to have Fleda Brown contribute to this week’s Writer’s Handful. Fleda is a fabulous poet and nonfiction writer, and her latest (her eighth!) collection of poems, No Need of Sympathy was just released by BOA Editions. If you don’t already know Fleda’s work, you really, really should. Why not start with this latest collection and work backward? You won’t be disappointed. I promise. And to tide you over until your Fleda books come in the mail, let me invite you over to Fleda’s blog, My Wobbly Bicycle.

Welcome Fleda!

Did you write today? If yes, what? If no, why not? 

Oh yes. I’m blessedly “retired,” and I write almost every morning. This has been a relaxing day, since I didn’t feel the pressure that always accompanies starting a new poem or essay.  I revised a longish poem, worked on one that’s not even at finished first draft stage yet, I proofed and suggested some small changes in an essay coming out this fall in The Georgia Review, and I turned what had been a prose poem into a lineated poem for a downtown Traverse City poetry project I was asked to contribute to. The poems for this project will be read instead of seen. I was listening to it in my head and realized its cadence is better with line-breaks. It’s been interesting working today. I’m in our guest cottage at the lake and the painters are spray-washing. It’s like writing inside a waterfall.

What’s the first thing (story, poem, song, etc.) you remember writing, and how old were you when you wrote it?

My father and I together did a re-write of “The Night Before Christmas.”  It began, “T’was the night before No Need of Sympathy coverChristmas/ and all through the house / not a creature was stirring / not even a louse.” I no longer have a copy, but I remember it got sillier from there. My sixth grade teacher loved it.

What are you reading right now?

I’m reading a Nineteenth century novel, North and South, by Elizabeth Gaskell, I started it because we’re at the cottage and I’d read everything I brought with me. This book was here, and my husband, who’s written a great deal about early women’s fiction, recommended it to me. It’s set in England and deals with the rise of manufacturing in the North, comparing it to the genteel South of England. It’s a romance, and the heroine does a lot of thinking about the philosophy and morality of each before she chooses a husband. It’s a fine novel and quite contemporary in some ways. I plan to write about it in my blog post this week. [My Wobbly Bicycle, 38.]

I’m also reading Maurice Manning’s poems, The Common Man, and Debra Bruce’s Survivor’s Picnic. I’m going to talk about them for my commentaries on IPR’s “Michigan Writers on the Air.” They’re terrific books, each very different. I’m particularly interested in how Bruce writes about her cancer, since I’ve had cancer, too, and I’m working on poems that seem to keep bringing that in.

What’s the most important advice you ever received? (Writerly or otherwise.)

Donald Hall, who has been extravagantly generous in his help to young writers, read and commented on poems years ago that eventually appeared in my first book. When that book was accepted by Purdue University Press, I wrote to him, all excited. He wrote back to say, “That’s wonderful! But remember there’s always something else out there. Even if you win the Nobel Prize, you won’t be satisfied. So concentrate on each poem. Don’t let the hunger for prizes and publications distort your work.”  Or something like that. I keep that in mind.

cat1If your writing were an animal, what animal would it be? Because…

I will choose a cat, because my dear cat Wally is lying with his big feet hanging over the top of the bureau beside me at the moment and he opens one eye to convey to me that he wishes to be included. He is gentle but steadily persuasive. He does not have an agenda except eating. His ears are sensitive to every fluctuation in the environment. He licks himself with great abandon. In short, he, like Christopher Smart’s cat Jeffery, worships in his way. He, too, writhes his body with eloquent quickness, sharpens his claws upon wood, and every house is incomplete without him. If you wish to know all of the ways my poems are cat-like, you must read Smart’s poem, not mine, but I’m most hopeful you’ll read mine as well. Especially, ahem, my new book from BOA Editions, No Need of Sympathy, out this October.     


Fleda Brown was born in Columbia, Missouri, and grew up in Fayetteville, Arkansas. She earned her Ph.D. in English (specialty in American Literature) from the University of Arkansas, and in 1978 she joined the faculty of the University of Delaware English Department, where she founded the Poets in the Schools Program, which she directed for more than 12 years. Her books, essays, and individual poems have won many awards. Her sixth collection of poems, Reunion (2007), was the winner of the Felix Pollak Prize from the University of Wisconsin. She has co-edited two books, most recently On the Mason-Dixon Line: An Anthology of Contemporary Delaware Writers. Her collection of memoir-essays, , was released in 2010 from the University of Nebraska Press.

Fleda has read and lectured in secondary schools, retirement communities, libraries, bookstores, a prison for delinquent adolescents, Rotary Clubs, AAUWs, and many universities and colleges, from Oxford University, Cambridge, to small liberal arts colleges. She has slept in a bunkhouse and has read with cowboy poets in North Dakota, and she has read for the Governor of Delaware and for the Delaware Legislature. She served as poet laureate of Delaware from 2001-2007, when she retired from the University of Delaware and moved to Traverse City, Michigan. In Traverse City, she writes a monthly column on poetry for the Record-Eagle newspaper, and she has a monthly commentary on poetry on Interlochen Public Radio. She teaches in the Rainier Writing Workshop, a low-residency MFA program at Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma, WA, and she spends summers with her husband, Jerry Beasley, also a retired English professor, at their cottage on a small lake in northern Michigan. Between them, they have four children and ten grandchildren.

→Thanks so much, Fleda, for the chat. Wishing you all the best with the new collection! And thanks to everyone, as always, for reading. -PMc←