Linda Gregg [b. 1942], though born in New York, grew up in the woods of Marin County, California, the first of many landscapes that were to influence her work. She attended San Francisco State University, gaining her Masters there in 1972. It took almost another decade before her first collection, Too Bright to See, was published in 1981. The book established a voice and a poetic territory that have remained remarkably consistent throughout her career – simultaneously intimate and reserved, purged of extraneous detail and driven by themes of grief, desire and longing.

Following the end of her marriage to the poet Jack Gilbert, Gregg has led a peripatetic life, teaching in many different institutions, including the University of Iowa, Columbia University, the University of California at Berkeley and, most recently, Princeton University, as well as travelling extensively abroad. Drawn to semi-wild landscapes the five years she spent in Greece have proved particularly influential – many of her finest poems are seeped in the Mediterranean light and their dramatic action is as sharply portrayed as classical art.

Her other collections include Alma [1985], The Sacraments of Desire [1991], Chosen by the Lion [1994], Things and Flesh [1999], and In the Middle Distance [2006]. Most recently Graywolf Press published her selected poems, All of It Singing [2008] which won the Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize and the Poetry Society of America’s William Carlos Williams Award. Other honours include a Guggenheim Fellowship, a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, A whiting Writer’s Award, several Pushcart Prizes and the 2006 PEN/Voelcker Award for Poetry.

In the introduction to one of her Archive poems, ‘Elegance’, Gregg mentions, almost as an aside, that the poem was written at time when she went walking in the desert every evening and had not spoken for four months. It’s an image suggestive of Gregg’s dedication to her poetic calling, a way of life hinted at in a revealing comment by Gregg on the practise of poetry: “It is crucial that a poet see when she or he is not looking – just as she must write when she is not writing. To write just because the poet wants to write is natural, but to learn to see is a blessing. The art of finding in poetry is the art of marrying the sacred to the world, the invisible to the human.”

Over the years she has honed an austere yet beautiful style which has made her something of a poet’s poet, drawing admiring comments from writers as diverse as Czeslaw Milosz, Joseph Brodsky and W. S. Merwin who commented: “[Gregg’s poems] are original in the way that really matters: they speak clearly of their source. They are inseparable from the surprising, rolling, eventful, pure current of their language, and they convey at once the pain of individual loss, a steady and utterly personal radiance.”

The poems you can listen to here bear all the hallmarks of Gregg’s mature style: a lack of ostentation, the refusal of the colloquial, above all a passionate yet restrained gaze which can encompass both the savage and the tender. So we have the almost unbearable suffering of the female spectre in ‘There She Is’, an early poem which helped establish Gregg’s reputation. In it the speaker of the poem has no choice but to be a witness to the woman’s pain: “I am not supposed/ to turn away.” By contrast ‘The Weight’ explores the intimacy of lovers through the image of a pair of horses: “The privacy of them had a river in it.” It is a privacy which paradoxically draws you in to Gregg’s world where a beach in ancient Greece or a ruined town in the Mexican desert seem equally timeless. It is also evident in her reading style, in the glimpses she gives of how the poems came to be written and her quiet measured tones which make you want to draw closer.

Linda's recording was made in 2008 in New York.

Poems by Linda Gregg

Books by Linda Gregg



Guggenheim Fellowship

Prize website

Whiting Award

Prize website

National Endowment for the Arts grant

Prize website

Sara Teasdale Award

Prize website

PEN/Voelcker Award for Poetry

Prize website

Jackson Poetry Prize (awarded by Poets & Writers)

Prize website

Several Pushcart Prizes

Prize website