Author Barbara Kingsolver knew when she started her writing career nearly three decades ago that it’s tough to make a living as a poet.
“Writing novels has always been my day job, but poetry is the thing that I always did just because I loved it. So it feels more personal to me when I write a poem,” she says. “I’m really not thinking about anyone reading it. I just kind of put it in a drawer.”
But the author of The Poisonwood Bible and The Bean Trees published a book of poetry this week titled How to Fly (In Ten Thousand Easy Lessons).
One poem, written well before the coronavirus pandemic, called How to Survive This, is especially applicable today. She said she was :thinking how, you know, things can always get worse.”
In these months of social isolation, she says she’s been given permission to seek solace in solitude and nature. “Funny thing about being a writer is that we’re professional introverts. In order to be successful, we have to close ourselves all alone in a room for most of our waking hours,” Kingsolver says. “And I live on a farm. I love my home. I love being here. And in earlier times, you could call me a hermit for staying here and not leaving for days on end. But now I get to call myself a good citizen.”
In “Ghost Pipes,” Kingsolver compares this small, white forest flower, forsaking chlorophyll, to hard choices in her own life:
“Imagine forsaking chlorophyll
in my own time
I have walked clean away from numbing shelter, marriage, the steady paycheck,
taking my own wild chance on the freelance life
And when I walk among ghost pipes
their little spectral music in the dark wood quickens my heart
song of a moment
the risky road, yes, taken to desire, escape
The day that changed everything.”
Kingsolver asks: “Haven’t we all walked away from a job that was safe, but that was killing our souls? Haven’t we all walked away from relationships that we knew were not good for us? The balance of the risk and the joy is what I wanted to address in this poem and to know that even plants sometimes take amazing risks. It’s a slower process for a plant. It’s evolutionary time rather than a lifetime.”