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Did you write Stag's Leap in the white heat of the moment or are these emotions recollected in tranquility?

I have always written when the feeling is high. I'd find it hard to recollect extreme emotion in tranquility.


Were any poems too personal to include?

The only thing that made me leave out poems was the feeling they weren't good enough. I wrote hundreds – most didn't work.


Did you show your ex-husband the collection before publication?

When I was married, I passed everything on for approval. But I no longer felt that was required for honour. Some people might feel it was. This is not a fair or a balanced book. It is written from the left wife's point of view, so it is limited.

Auden warned that personal poetry was using up "capital". I see it as capital in the bank. When I started writing, women's lives were not much written about much; I felt poems were about making rather than using something up.


Does writing about pain distance it or bring it closer? Does poetry, once finished, become about someone else?

A poem doesn't intensify experience, it adds to it. And it is not about a different person, is it? It is the same person who has made a song.


Inanimate objects come to life in your poems…

I love to describe things and have a companionable feeling about objects. And people who grow up with some degree of violence in the home – in my case not sexual but physical violence – know what it is like to feel like a thing. They look at other kids, try to see how it would be to feel fully like a person.


Can you say more about your childhood?

I grew up in a Calvinist, punitive atmosphere – hell featured in the future, punishment in the present. It is a lifelong labour trying to turn away from lies such as that one is worthless. One has to turn towards the truth of our good fortune in being here with one another.


Did you reinvent yourIself after your divorce?

I was 55. I would not have known how. What I had to do was persevere. I have always had the blessing of many intensely close friends. I didn't have to reinvent myself for them.


Joyce Carol Oates describes you as "fearless".

From Joyce, that is amazing. I think she is fearless. I can respond by quoting Adrienne Rich: "I am afraid of everything." But my desire is often stronger than my fear. I wish to write about my life partly as stories representative of any ordinary woman.


Can you describe a typical working day?

It is morning, you have a spiral notebook from the grocery store – wide-ruled – and a medium ballpoint pen and you are looking out of the window. If you are in New Hampshire, you see a pond and sky and woods and in New York City you see the Hudson river. You may be describing what you are looking at. Or writing a diary. I do drawings and put stickers in: birds, reptiles and dinosaurs. The sky. Orion. All that.


What do you want most from poetry?

I want a poem to be useful.


What was the most challenging thing about Stag's Leap?

The title. I am told when stags mate they don't leap, they creep softly…


Stag's Creep would have been an awful title.

I agree [laughs].


And is there a new man in your life now?

There is. I live with him in New Hampshire and New York City. I have a job at New York University.


Has publication felt like the end of a chapter?

Something did shift. Definitely, yes – there was a sense of completion.


The Observer, January 5, 2013