Many readers are probably familiar with Melissa Green’s collection of poems The Squanicook Eclogues, which won prizes from the Poetry Society of America and the American Academy of Poets. In Volume 33’s exclusive excerpt from her forthcoming memoir, The Linen Way, Green gives us the story behind the four long pastoral poems. As a shy young girl who struggled mightily with depression, she often clung to poetry as a life raft:
Sometimes … I would suddenly find myself sinking, falling prey to thoughts of suicide. If I could manage it, I would run to a second-hand bookstore, sit on the floor, and pull books wildly from the shelves. When I had columns high enough around me, a kind of protective fence, I would go through the books one by one. This is a book I should read before I die, I would tell myself, or I really can’t kill myself without reading X. I would wobble out of the store with a bag of books, which I told myself would keep me from dying that day, because I couldn’t kill myself until I’d read them.
At the time, Green was living with (and taking care of) her grandmother in Winthrop, MA. Although she stayed in much of the time, she attended readings at Harvard and Boston University. When she heard Derek Walcott one evening, she knew she had to learn from him. And as luck would have it, he was, shortly thereafter, brought onto the faculty at B.U.—”it seemed like divine intervention.” Walcott immediately saw the potential in his bright young student and took her under his wing. With Walcott’s help, the thoughts Green had struggled to express began to find their way onto the page, in beautifully turned poetic lines. The tale told by Green gives us a unique look into a poet’s creative process as well as a touching recollection of a relationship between teacher and student.
Further reflections from Green, concerning her friendship with the great Joseph Brodsky, can be found in the print edition of Volume 33 (subscribe here!). You can also pre-order The Linen Way at Rosa Mira Books.