Author Elizabeth Spires comes to Auntie’s Tomorrow Evening
By Get Lit! staff writer Lisa Laughlin
Elizabeth Spires is a woman of many talents. She is the author of six collections of poetry (Globe, Swan’s Island, Annonciade, Worldling, Now the Green Blade Rises, and The Wave-Maker) and has also written six books for children. Her poems and reviews have appeared in The New Yorker, The Atlantic, Poetry, American Poetry Review, The New York Times, and Paris Review. She currently resides in Baltimore, Maryland and is a professor of English at Goucher College, where she co-directs the Kratz Center for Creative Writing.
So, yeah. She’s pretty badass. And she’s coming to talk with us.
Her poem “Snail” included in her newest collection, The Wave-Maker, was first published in Poetry, and you can read it online here. The Wave-Maker also includes a poem entitled “Snail Revisited.” I, for one, am curious about the epiphany Spires had upon a second snail encounter, as her first snail revelations were pretty substantial.
Spires considers her process for inspiration a series of “happy accidents,” as she credits Elizabeth Bishop for coining while describing the process of writing a poem. Spires agrees that the image or event that triggers a poem is always unexpected; it cannot be planned or contrived, willed or wished for. The inspirational seed for her poem “Snail,” for example, came from an afternoon she spent visiting her daughter’s elementary school for Parent’s Day. She ended up observing snails in a science lab among a bunch of fifth grade girls, and was possibly more captivated than they were.
“I had never really observed a snail before, and I was struck (really and truly struck, as if by a tiny lightning bolt) by the grace, mystery, and the utter strangeness of my daughter’s snail as it traversed the long green lab table in minute increments,” Spires wrote in a column for Poems Out Loud.
Spires is pretty talented at translating “happy accidents” into universal literature. Perhaps this is because once she is hit by the subject matter for a poem, she then engages in a “series of small, crucial decisions.” We see this attention to detail at work in the unique structure of “Snail:”
“Even if a poem is written in free verse, the choice of even one wrong word can mar the overall rhythm and sound pattern. ‘Snail’ seemed to insist on its own distinct form and shape and ended up looking very different from my other poems (which use conventional lineation, punctuation, and capitalization). [. . .] one proceeds by intuition,” Spires wrote.
Spires applies white space in “Snail” in place of punctuation to try to mimic a snail’s “slow, inexorable progress, or stillness, the sense [of] it being engaged in being rather than doing.”
With such consideration and energy devoted to a single poem, Spires’ latest collection seems unlikely to disappoint.
Come listen to Spires read her work tomorrow, Friday, May 13 at 7:30 p.m. at Auntie’s Bookstore. Ask her if she’s had any recent enlightenment on snails, or to share further on her writing process as a poet or children’s book author.