Crooker, Barbara 1945- (Barbara Poti)
Crooker, Barbara 1945- (Barbara Poti)
Born November 21, 1945, in Cold Spring, NY; daughter of Emil Vincent and Isabelle Charlotte Poti; married Michael James Gilmartin, 1967 (divorced, 1973); married Richard McMaster Crooker, 1975; children: (first marriage) Stacey Erin Gilmartin Krastek; (second marriage) Rebecca Cameron Crooker Ceartas, David MacKenzie. Education: Rutgers University, B.A., 1967; Elmira College, M.S. Ed., 1975. Hobbies and other interests: Gardening, camping, and cross-country skiing.
Home—Fogelsville, PA. E-mail—[email protected]
Writer, poet, educator, and editor. Elmira College, Elmira, NY, adjunct instructor, 1975; Corning Community College, Corning, NY, adjunct instructor in English, 1974-76; Tompkins Cortland Community College, Dryden, NY, adjunct instructor in English, 1975-76; County College Morris, Randolph, NJ, adjunct instructor of English, 1978-79; Leigh County Community College, Schnecksville, PA, instructor in community services, 1980; Northampton Area Community College, Northampton, PA, adjunct assistant professor, 1980-82; Cedar Crest College, Allentown, PA, instructor, 1982-85, adjunct professor, 1999. Also taught poetry workshops at conferences and festivals throughout the United States.
Pushcart Prize, twenty-six-time nominee, beginning 1978; Phillips Award, Stone Country, 1988; Karamu Poetry Award, 1997; Grammy Award nomination, 1997, for her part in the audio version of the anthology, Grow Old along with Me—The Best Is Yet to Be; Y2K writing prize, New Millennium Writings, 2000; Dancing Poetry Contest Grand Prize, 2000; ByLine Chapbook competition, 2001, for Ordinary Life; Thomas Merton Poetry of the Sacred Award, 2003; "April Is the Cruelest Month" Award, Poets & Writers, 2003; W.B. Yeats Society of New York Award, 2004; Grayson Books Chapbook competition winner, 2004, for Impressionism; Word Press First Book competition winner, 2005, for Radiance; Ekphrastic Poetry Award, Rosebud, 2006; Pen and Brush Poetry Prize, 2007. Also a three-time fellow of the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, 1985-93; and the recipient of twelve residencies at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, 1990-2006.
Radiance: Poems, Word Press (Cincinnati, OH), 2005.
Line Dance: Poems, Word Press (Cincinnati, OH), 2008.
(With Katharyn Machan Aal) Writing Home: Poems, Gehry Press (Iowa City, IA), 1983.
Looking for the Comet Haley, Dawn Valley Press, 1987.
Starting from Zero, Great Elm Press & Foothills Publishing (Kanona, NY), 1987.
The Lost Children, Heyeck Press (Woodside, CA), 1989.
Obbligato, Linwood Publishers (Stone Mountain, GA), 1991.
In the Late Summer Garden, H & H Press (Middlebury Center, PA), 1998.
Ordinary Life, ByLine Press (Edmond, OK), 2001.
The White Poems, Barnwood Publishers (Seattle, WA), 2001.
Paris (folio edition), sometimes y publications (Ithaca, NY), 2002.
Impressionism, Grayson Books (West Hartford, CT), 2004.
Greatest Hits, Pudding House Press (Columbus, OH), 2004.
Poetry has appeared in anthologies and periodicals, including the periodicals Yankee, Christian Science Monitor, Smartish Pace, Beloit Poetry Journal, Nimrod, Denver Quarterly, Tampa Review, Poetry International, Christian Century, and America. Works have been translated into German and Korean.
Barbara Crooker began writing poetry in the late 1970s after her first daughter was stillborn and the end of her first marriage. Since that time she has published more than 600 poems in over 1,775 magazines, anthologies, journals, and small chapbooks. "Early in her career, Crooker wrote about family, birth, love, and loss, drawing on the hardship, joy, and bereavement she experienced as a mother," wrote Laura Leimbach in a biography of the author for the Pennsylvania Center for the Book Web site. "The Lost Children" was among the first of Crooker's poems to be published and has been reprinted many times in anthologies and periodicals.
The author's 2001 short poetry collection, Ordinary Life, once again finds the author writing about family life and her children. Many of the poems are specifically about David, one of Crooke's children with her second husband. Diagnosed with autism at the age of two, David inspired the author to write about "emotional issues involved with raising a disabled child and worrying about his future," according to Leimbach. Crooker commented on the influence her son has had on her poetry in an interview for the Wordgathering Web site. The author related: "It's a huge paradox to live with, having some facility with language myself, while having a child for whom language isn't necessary. It's certainly made me more aware of the nonverbal ways we communicate, as did living with the failed Seeing-Eye dog that we adopted who became David's best friend. It's also made me attuned to both the power and limitation of language. In some ways, having a person with autism in the family is the perfect training for a writer."
Although Crooker's poetry has appeared in numerous magazines, anthologies, and chapbooks, the author's first full-length book of poetry, Radiance: Poems, wasn't published until 2005. "The three-plus pages of single-spaced acknowledgments attest to the fact that Barbara Crooker is one of the best poets you've been able to read only every now and then," noted Linnea Johnson, reviewing in the Prairie Schooner. "Writing her entire adult life and now a grandmother, this is her very first full-length collection of poems; a fact to give all poets pause, even as one splashes into the lightstream of finally being able to read this perfect book."
The poems in Radiance continue the author's contemplations of love and loss, family, nature, and the inevitability of death. The author also adds a twist by including references to a wide range of renowned artists throughout the poems, such as Auguste Renoir and Vincent Van Gogh. Referring both to their artwork and some of their words or writings, the author uses these artistic references "as a means to clarify or intensify the speaker's observations of her own life and relationships," according to Midwest Quarterly contributor Priscilla Atkins. As an example, Atkins pointed to the following lines from a poem: "This day could be reduced to three elements: / green grass, blue hills, yellow fields of mustard, / solid in its planes as any late Cezanne. It makes me think / of the curves your hips and back make when you are sleeping."
Radiance received high praise from several reviewers. "Crooker's work is reminiscent of Mary Oliver's in imagery and syntax that resonates with the body's deep knowing," wrote Rachel Dacus in the Midwest Quarterly. "In Crooker's poems, as in Oliver's, truth cantilevers into space from our deepest sense perceptions." Dacus went on in the same review to write that the author's "poems belong to a solid tradition of poetry by American women whose unflinching but affirmative work comprehends a large landscape through daily scenes." The Prairie Schooner reviewer noted the author's way with imagery, as well as her insights. The reviewer wrote: "Each element of a radiant, achieving life is present in this bright, working book, these poems which illuminate all at once life's layered and complex realities."
Line Dance: Poems, published in 2008, includes poems about the dead, her autistic son, and the state of world affairs and politics. For example, in "Blues for Karen" the author thinks about her friend Karen, wanting to phone her "but the lines don't stretch to heaven," as the author writes. In the poem, the author goes on to look at nature and ruminate about morning glories only to close the poem with the recognition that everything in nature ends and "that this old blue world will keep on spinning, / without you." "The Knot Garden" is about her autistic son, David, and compares the workings of his brain to a flight of geese heading south. "Eggplants" is a more lighthearted poem in which eggplants speak about their sensuous beauty. "If part of the reason that we read poetry is to experience language as a sensuous pleasure, then … lines from ‘Eggplants’ fully satisfy," wrote Claire Keyes for the Rattle Web site. "Seldom has a vegetable been observed so attentively, so freshly."
Crooker told CA: "I was in my late twenties when I first became interested in writing. I had taken one creative writing class as an undergraduate, but now was a single mother with a small child, and going through a divorce. One day I picked up a copy of a little magazine from Mansfield State Teachers College in northern Pennsylvania that had some poetry in it, and it blew me away. These poems were written by Diane Wakoski, who I thought, in my ignorance, was an undergraduate there. I was fascinated both by her and her words: How did she do that? How did she say so much in so few words? Perhaps if I'd realized she was a famous writer, I'd have been intimidated, but I read her work over and over, trying to figure out how she got from point A to point B, and then I thought to myself, ‘Well, maybe I could do something like that.’ So I wrote a couple of poems which pleased me when they were done. And then I kept on writing.
"Here are some writers whose work I love, in no particular order: Mary Oliver, Sharon Olds, Harry Humes, Brigit Pegeen Kelly, Charles Wright, Christopher Buckley, Dorianne Laux, Maggie Anderson, Len Roberts, Linda Pastan, Maxine Kumin, Billy Collins, Stephen Dunn, Stephen Dobyns, Marilyn Hacker, Jonathan Holden, Fleda Brown, Jeanne Murray Walker, Scott Cairns, Mark Jarman, Mark Doty, Alicia Ostriker, Philip Levine, David Citino, Ted Kooser, and Ron Wallace.
"In terms of my writing process, I'm currently at my desk between 12:30-3:30 p.m. (which is metaphoric; I don't have a real writing desk, or a ‘room of my own,’ just a corner of the dining room). In the beginning of the process, I write in longhand with a pen (a black-ink roller ball—it has to be black), on a lined yellow pad.
"I start out in longhand drafts because I want the physical connection, from the mind to the hand to the page. At some point, five, six, seven drafts into a poem, I get eager to see how the lines are falling, so I go to the computer and do another ten to twenty drafts or so there.
"But my best place to write is away from home, at an artist's colony called the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts. Here, for eight to ten days, I can stop being a ‘mom,’ get up early, write all day and into the night, between ten to fifteen hours a day. Now, some of this ‘writing’ time is spent reading, walking, thinking…. This is my idea of heaven, and if left to my own devices, if I had no other responsibilities (but who has no responsibilities?), this is what I would do.
"The most surprising thing I have learned as a writer is the joy of the journey.
"I just hope to be read; I don't have any aspirations beyond that."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Crooker, Barbara, Line Dance: Poems, Word Press (Cincinnati, OH), 2008.
Crooker, Barbara, Radiance: Poems, Word Press (Cincinnati, OH), 2005.
Midwest Quarterly, winter, 2007, Priscilla Atkins, review of Radiance, p. 314; winter, 2007, Rachel Dacus, review of Radiance, p. 315.
Prairie Schooner, summer, 2007, Linnea Johnson, review of Radiance, p. 211.
Barbara Crooker Home Page,http://www.barbaracrooker.com (August 13, 2008).
Pennsylvania Center for the Book,http://pabook.libraries.psu.edu/ (August 13, 2008), Laura Leimbach, biography of author.
Poetry Life and Times,http://www.poetrylifeandtimes.com/ (August 13, 2008), "An Interview with Poet and Editor Barbara Crooker."
Rattle,http://www.rattle.com/ (August 13, 2008), Claire Keyes, review of Line Dance.
Wordgathering,http://www.wordgathering.com/ (August 13, 2008), "Barbara Crooker," interview with author.