Last week we introduced you to a new voice in poetry, Gwendolyn Jensen. After four decades in leadership roles in education, culminating in ten years as President of Wilson College, Ms. Jensen gave herself to the pursuit of poetry.

Her work is luminous, unexpected, reflective, poignant and powerful. Her voice feels as necessary as it is personal. We are beyond delighted to celebrate the season with Part Two of our conversation with her, followed by her poem entitled “Christmas.”

—Laura Baudo Sillerman

Your poem, “Each Unwritten Poem Has a Face” speaks of an intimacy with a dark ghost or maybe even a dark muse. Is poetry most often a dig in the darkness for you?

It depends what you mean by darkness. If you mean something sinister, or evil, or bad, then no, not darkness. (Though I have tried occasionally to speak of evil, but without success.)

But if you mean something that is unknown, that can only be found by the writing of the poem, then yes, that would be darkness. I have found it very important for me not to know where a poem is headed, not to have preconceived notions. It takes a long time to write a poem.

The back cover of Birthright speaks of a “procession both into and away from unmitigated heartbreak.” Is there healing for you in writing poetry?

Yes, that is from Frannie Lindsey’s blurb about Birthright. She is a very fine poet and a good friend. No, I don’t think there is healing for me in the writing of a poem.

There are many things in life that don’t heal, that shouldn’t heal. These things are often the raw material, the starting point, of a poem. But if the poem just stays with these things and doesn’t go beyond them, then the poem is too personal, just therapy, not especially interesting to another person, and probably not a very good poem.


Winter’s damp has an angular edge

like gratitude, or the will of God,

it inhabits us, not welcome

but inescapable; its charter blows

all imperfection, as nematodes

content to sleep curl themselves

upon another solstice.

And the host of dissolving dead

linger restless in their calm flat world,

wait for mercy, or soft ground.

The rest of us, our gifts, our songs,

durable, articulate,

unfold what never was,

except remembered.

Poems reprinted with permission from Birthright. Copyright 2011 by Gwendolyn Jensen.  Birch Brook Press, Delhi, NY 13753. (607) 746-7453.

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