Gregg, Linda (Alouise)
GREGG, Linda (Alouise)
Nationality: American. Born: Suffern, New York, 9 September 1942. Education: San Francisco State College (now University),B.A. 1967, M.A. 1972. Career: Faculty member, Pippa Passes College and Humboldt State College (now University), 1967, Indian Valley College, 1975–76, University of Tucson and Louisiana State University, 1981, College of Marin, Napa State College, and Lafayette College, 1982; instructor, Iowa writing program, 1984. Since 1975 writer. Awards: First prize for best poems, Poetry Society of America, 1966, 1967, Frank Stanford memorial prize, Ironwood magazine, 1978; Guggenheim fellowship, 1983. Address: 165 Tamal Road, Forest Knolls, California 94933, U.S.A.
Too Bright to See. Saint Paul, Minnesota, Graywolf Press, 1981.
Eight Poems. Saint Paul, Minnesota, Graywolf Press, 1983.
Alma. New York, Random House, 1985.
The Sacraments of Desire. Saint Paul, Minnesota, Graywolf Press, 1991.
Chosen by the Lion: Poems. Saint Paul, Minnesota, Graywolf Press, 1994.
Things and Flesh: Poems. Saint Paul, Minnesota, Graywolf Press, 1999.*
Critical Studies: "Does Poetas de U.S.A.: Linda Gregg, Noel M. Valis" by Noel M. Valis, in Pena Libra (Santander, Spain), 61, spring 1987; by Richard Tillinghast, in Partisan Review (New York), LXI(4), fall 1994.* * *
Linda Gregg writes a terse, lean poetry devoted to essences. Her typical sentences are short, usually declarative, and most often isolated, without transitional markers; their music consists of individual sounds, sometimes repeated, rather than continuous rhythms. Nouns predominate over verbs, and they name things by category rather than by particular quality. Mountain, tree, sky compose an emblematic landscape, idealizing "the flatness where things are broken down / to the clearest form." What animates this poetry, instills it with drama, is the pain involved in the process of breaking down. Although Gregg confesses that "it is the rising I love, from no matter what element / to the one above," she acknowledges, "I must live in the suffering and desire of what / rises and falls." The "reason for this poetry" resides in the double motion, in the failure as well as the act of idealization.
Beginning with Gregg's first collection, Too Bright to See, an implied narrative framework endows the themes of love and desire with some degree of particularity. The second part of Too Bright to See is entitled "The Marriage and After." Gregg's failed marriage to "Jack" (the poet Jack Gilbert) is the story underlying this and the subsequent volume Alma, and the landscape of "clearest form" is localized through references to the Aegean islands, where Gregg and Gilbert lived for a time. The Sacraments of Desire momentarily posits an autonomous, nonrelational mode of being, in which "there is no one to see me glistening." A corresponding revision of landscape ("Greece When Nobody's Looking") points toward the possibility of "a poetry / of stars and stone and the ordinary," but the extraordinary power of desire ultimately reasserts itself in the act of looking: "I look at you with eyes of a lion." Chosen by the Lion, Gregg's next collection, returns the speaker to her former position as an object of desire. Here and in Things and Flesh repeated references to a second love affair stand in ironic contrast to the narrative based on Gregg's marriage to Gilbert. Rather than clear Grecian melodies, the discords of American cities, particularly Chicago, now set the tone, and Gregg herself plays the role of the other woman who tempts a husband to infidelity, as Gregg had earlier suffered her own husband's infidelity. Yet in "I Thought on His Desire for Three Days" she claims no regret:
I was strong. I knew where
I was. I knew what I had achieved. When the wife
called and said I was a whore, I was quiet,
but inside I said "perhaps." It has been raining
all night. Summer rain. The liveliness of it keeps
me awake. I am so happy to have lived.
The perfect infinitive, "to have lived," signals a distinctive subordination of the narrative element in Gregg's work to a more metaphysical or perhaps spiritual dimension. The lived experience is always distanced, either by time or point of view. Appropriately, Too Bright to See appeared a full decade after the breakup of the marriage it records. The title of Alma names a persona onto whom Gregg projects her experience so that she can stand at a distance, watching herself watching. (Compare "Alma Watching Her Husband" in Too Bright to See and "Marriage and Midsummer's Night" in Alma.) Separation thus has broader implications in Gregg's work than the specific separation between man and woman; in fact, the plot of romantic separation is a means of evoking the ultimate separation between the visible and the invisible. "The resonance of romance brightens / the invisible so it can be seen," Gregg writes in Alma.
What Gregg means by "the invisible" is a question that resonates with many voices in the tradition of modern poetry, reduced to "making songs from the bones of belief," as Gregg puts it in "Alma in the Woods." She pays special homage to Blake's unrepentant joy in Too Bright to See and to "George Oppen's stubborn clarity" in Things and Flesh. In the tone she has maintained with remarkable consistency throughout her career, Gregg sides with Oppen. The meaning of her lines does not arise from the flow of imagination but rather from the fixity of consciousness. As Gregg implies in "The Heart Flowing Out," "consciousness" may be the most accurate term to represent her understanding of the invisible, the blank space of separation that confers on things their distinctness yet articulates them—in the literal sense of the term—as parts of a whole:
Our hearts flow out through
the consciousness, focused.
The more it looks, the more it sees the hard
thing shaking with its own energy
in relation to the whole scene and its meaning.
Making that meaning, whatever it means.