Some of my earliest memories are of poetry and verse. I was four when my grandmother passed away but remember vividly the lines of “In the Garden,” which was sung at her funeral. (“I come to the garden alone / while the dew is still on the roses…”). I grew up in a religious household and at a very young age was familiar with the hymns, Psalms, and poems my mother would hum or recite, along with her admonition to “buy hyacinths to feed the soul…” By ten, I was writing pages of epic poetry about my family (most of which, thankfully, has not survived, but provided hours of amusement to my older brothers back then). I memorized Edgar Allen Poe’s The Raven from the slim ancient volume that always seemed to be on top of the pile of magazines and newspapers in the one bathroom of our old house in Galesburg, Illinois. Carl Sandburg, local poet and celebrity, was my hero (and a fellow Swede) and when my first poem was published at twelve, I felt I had arrived. Poetry had become a part of me; a part that has not only remained intact, but has somehow lifted me in times of grief, joy, love, and loss, filling what the world has repeatedly emptied.
As a teenager, the only books of poetry I owned were a volume of selected Shakespearean sonnets and a geriatric copy of The Best Loved Poems of the American People (copyright 1936). These were my models. I had not been exposed to much contemporary poetry at this time (and wouldn’t be until I took it upon myself to seek it out), but on my own, without instruction, began experimenting with different forms. I did not have the tools with which to forge good poetry, but to my credit, I had the ability to recognize my weaknesses. I kept trying.
I began to read more accomplished and acclaimed poets: Emily Dickinson (whom I knew little of except for “A narrow fellow in the grass…”), The Brownings (I grew to love Elizabeth’s passion), Robert Penn Warren, and others. Soon I was devouring Strand, Stern, Jong, and Sarton. I ate Kenneth Patchen whole. I choked on Plath but swallowed her bitterness. I had become ravenous to have more and more and more. A whole new world of poetry opened to me. I had had no idea what was out there. I was stunned with pleasure. The pleasure I discovered took over my writing and my poetry grew more imaginative and interesting, deeper, and richer. Some of it was actually almost good.
I continued to write and publish the occasional poem, greatly encouraged, but still not at the place to make a quantum leap. Moving to Maine afforded me that opportunity. Expecting a dull, rural environment, I was delighted to find a cultural atmosphere that would rival many big cities: theatre, music, and writing. The mid-coast of Maine is peopled with accessible artists, musicians, writers, and poets. For the first time in my life, I felt grounded intellectually, able to move forward, to absorb and learn. I joined writing groups to fill my head with encouragement and, more importantly, criticism. I found a poetry group to offer what my writing life needed: mentors, role models, instructors, and some of the finest poets anywhere to listen and learn from (Tony Hoagland, Wes McNair, Baron Wormser and Kate Barnes). I began writing more poetry, as well as book reviews of other poets’ works. I was invited to read my work at public readings, sharing the microphone with poets whom I admired and respected not only for their work, but also their enthusiasm for poetry in general.
It was with a great deal of self-doubt that I enrolled in Harvard’s Summer Writing Program in 2000: too old, too uneducated, and too lacking in what I deemed to be a necessary literary background but feeling at a crossroads in my life. Now or never. Over the course of those two months, I learned a great deal about writing in general, but more importantly, took on the serious business of writing, revising, and refining my poetry. I learned the value of the workshop and that even the worst criticism is a good thing. I found that I welcomed the slings and arrows of my classmates, and the sometimes brutal, often cathartic, but always enlightening sessions with other poets as we discussed one another’s work. I came to crave the keen eye of the instructors poring over my work and felt each correction or suggestion something to be treasured. My work began to unfold like magic, I understood what I was doing right, but more importantly, I learned to recognize bad writing, especially my own.
In June 2001, I was back in an ascetic but cozy dormitory room on Bow Avenue in Cambridge, for another summer of writing at Harvard. The audible sounds of my writing rose in the high-ceilinged room with the click, taps and release of my computer keyboard, and my sighs of disgust and satisfaction filling the spaces between. I felt at home with my words and myself. In that hushed and holy place in my life I took as my saints poets Amy Clampitt, Ruth Stone, and Wallace Stevens, who all started publishing poetry later in life.
In 2004, I graduated with an MFA in Creative Writing: Poetry from New England College, where I had sat in workshops with such American poets as Gerald Stern, Thomas Lux, Bruce Smith, Anne Marie Macari, Maxine Kumin, Jeff Friedman, Ira Sadoff, and others. I spent one-on-one master class semesters with Li Young Lee, Joan Larkin, Chard deNiord, and Cecilia Woloch as my faculty mentors and instructors, and whose critique and encouragement changed my writing and (literally) my life. Like them and all the other poets who have come before, I am still becoming a poet. It is not what I do. It is who I am.
Philosophy of Writing Poetry
There is a great deal of poetry today that is startling, exciting, deft, even acrobatic, but which often does not have any purpose beyond an ability to dazzle the reader with sleight of hand or pyrotechnics. Much of this work is enviable to those of us whose writing may seem less capable of flight and more grounded in the mundane. The question to be put to poets today is not what is “best” in regard to poetry and poetics, but what is most expedient. For poetry is about expediency as much as experience, for the reader as well as the writer. Lately I have been considering the purpose(s) of poetry and the role(s) of the poet. The question remains: how best does a poem relate to the reader; how best does a poem enact change?
It is my belief that effective poetry operates at more of a sublevel than a super level; that images and simple language are adequate to convey experience from the poet to the reader. I believe that surprise and awe can be elicited without the reader needing to use a dictionary to understand and absorb that experience. That’s not to say that beautiful language is not appropriate, or that finding the perfect word with the closest possible meaning in a thesaurus is wrong. Mozart, Miles, and Post Malone all had the use of only seven musical notes (and the flats and sharps belonging to each) to create their music, whether it be classical, jazz, or rap-rock. They simply have embraced different ways of using those elemental units to convey their messages. The biggest difference in poetry is that writing is even more a relationship between the writer and reader: when a poet’s words are spoken by a reader, they recreate the movement of muscle and bone, ligament and nerve that were first experienced by the poet. The reader, in essence, becomes co-creator of the poem each time it is read, at which point the poet must relinquish ownership of the work.
Most of all, I believe poetry to be uncontrollable. Yes, a writer can control the line and meter, and choose to write in form or free verse. A poet can choose which images to include, which to leave out, and how to juxtaposition those that remain. Once the poem is in the hands of the reader, however, that poem begins to change under the weight of the intellect, experience, memory, prejudices, and predilections of the reader. For they are the readers who decide the meaning and it is meaning that is paramount with poetry.
When my own MFA semester with Li-Young as my first faculty mentor was over, he left me confused (in a good way) about my own work. He bestowed upon me a great gift, however, when he told me (and I paraphrase): How can anyone else tell you what to do with the exotic fruit in your walled garden, when all they know how to grow are peaches and plums? Poets are not builders whose work is planned and built and stands as monument to analytical thinking and logic. Poets seem more like gardeners whose harvest is sometimes bountiful and beautiful, but who sometimes can’t control the obstinate vine that takes over the garden wall or whose bushes grow listing to the side and with only green nubs for fruit. I try to remember this when my carefully planted and tended vines sprout into some unrecognizable, misshapen zucchini. Zucchinis are useful, too. Someone can use them.
God of Sparrows, Blue Lyra Press (Delphi Poetry Series), 2020
Echo, Bottom Dog Press, 2014
Flesh, Finishing Line Press, 2013
A Stirring in the Dark, Old Seventy Creek Press Poetry Series, 2012
Little Fires, Finishing Line Press (New Women’s Voices #55), 2008
What We Burned for Warmth, Finishing Line Press, 2006
“Echo,” Poetica # 2: The Inner Circle Writers Group, 2021
“Silverfish Mating is Lengthy and Slow,” “The Female Praying Mantis Eats Her Mate,” “Mites Are Having Sex on My Face Right Now!,” and “Dung Beetles Find Home by Searching the Stars,” Stimulus Respond, Stimulus Issue, (UK), 2020
“Assumptions of the Virgin” and “Cezanne’s ‘The Virgins’,” The Plague Papers, Poemeleon, 2020
“This Day in Particular,” Universal Oneness: Magnum Opus Poems (India), 2019
“Where Things Came From,” Verse Virtual, 2018
“Of Other Nights,” New Millennium, 2017
“Penobscot,” Contrapasso (Australia), 2015
“Mestizo,” Hayden’s Ferry Review, 2015
“Give me no god…,” WORDPEACE, 2015
“Meztizo,” “I Slept with You and Dreamt,” “Lazarus’s Lament,” and “Ludwig’s Piano,” Meat for Tea: The Valley Review, 2014
“The Forest of Her,” “A Cup of White Sugar,” and “Writing Blindly,” The Liberal Media Made Me Do It, Lummox Press, 2014
“Ink,” “Burning the Love Letters,” and “Scars,” Levure Littéraire (FR), 2013
“Population 200” and “Summer ’68,” Crab Orchard Review, 2010
“Panes,” “Burning Love,” “Dog Star,” and “We Travel Intimate,” Poetry Quarterly, 2010
“Fledge,” Anthology of Appalachian Writers (Silas House edition), 2010
“Myth Information,” Anthropology and Humanism (Annual Award), 2009
“General Semantics” and “The Buck,” The Heartland Review, 2009
“Girl in a Red Hat,” Eating Her Wedding Dress (Ragged Sky), 2009
“Elegy for Sally and Rose,” “The Mourning After” and “Mary’s Child,” Not a Muse (Haven Books (Hong Kong), 2009
“This Day in Particular,” Come Together: Imagine Peace, Bottom Dog Press, 2008
“Clear Cut” and “Never Tell,” New Millennium Writing 2008-2009, 2008
“Maguey Azul,” New Madrid, 2008
“A Village Burns,” Vox (War Issue), 2007
“Two,” From the Other World: Poems in Memory of James Wright, Lost Hills Books, 2007
“Coveting Your Hands” and “Reading Poetry in Bed,” The Lyric Poetry Magazine, 2007
“Girl in a Red Hat,” Poet Lore, 2007
“Late Cicada,” Caesura, 2007
“False Map,” American Poetry Journal, 2007
“In the Garden of Carnivorous Plants,” Diner Annual Anthology, 2007
“Deep Shade,” Hunger Mountain, 2006
“Snapping Turtle,” Mid-America Poetry Review, 2006
“Coal Country,” Passager (Poet of the Year), 2006
“Overburden,” Missing Mountains: We went to the mountaintop but it wasn’t there (Wind Publications), 2005
“Torch Singer,” Off the Coast: A Maine Journal, 2001
“Reading Poetry in Bed,” Poetry Center of Chicago Anthology, 7th Juried Reading, 2001
“Rootless,” Rhino Poetry, 2001
“North Side of the House,” Harvard Summer Review, 2000
“Two Doves,” Stories of the Penis (Guts Publishing—UK), 2019
“Post,” you are here: the journal of creative geography, 2010
“Li-Young Lee & Me,” South Florida Poetry Journal, 2021
“Show Me the Money,” Women on Poetry: Writing, Revising, Publishing, and Teaching, 2011
“These Are Not My Hands,” New Southerner, 2012
“In God of Sparrows, Lovin’s wry, elegant, heartfelt elegies honor our resilience in the face of peril. Her keen eye turns to the natural world, to landscapes that are expressionistic of our nature, terrifying and beautiful, its primal push and pull.” —Richie Hofmann
—God of Sparrows
“Christina Lovin is unafraid of the muck and the rot of ditches and cellars in this fearless collection. She is unafraid to follow the dark flow to where things put down roots. It’s where, she understands, thing stir and struggle to flower. She sees “the mysterious color of nothing special” and “the darkness full of radiance and resonance.” It’s a meticulous and unswerving vision of great scope. I admire the hunkering down as well as the alertness to the dark shapes’ meanings and “dreadful beauty.” She is enduring witness. She keeps the faith for us.” —Bruce Smith
—A Stirring in the Dark
“Christina Lovin witnesses with a terrible need in Flesh to divulge the secrets of her youth: ‘her mothers' tears--her father's hot names/ for fury and rage.’ In so doing, Lovin creates evocative, often disturbing dioramas of her adolescence in Bible-belt America during the sixties. Her picaresque memories-both private and public-haunt her reader because they still haunt her. Ecstasy and shame infuse these poems equally, without any discernible line between the two. Flesh is Lovin's ‘flood subject’ in all its carnal and ethereal manifestations.” —Chard deNiord
“ ‘No one around me / mentioned the war today,’ Christina Lovin writes, but the war is ever-present in these poems by one who imagines herself as the ‘good wife, / who was not good, who did not speak up, who did not speak out.’ As each poem tolls with the clarity of a summer morning, Lovin focuses, in a poem dated September 11, 2001, on ‘this moment after the fall’ to demonstrate how history consumes us, day by day, little fire by little fire, until ‘the fragrance of September’s grass / will rise like prayer and you will not remember // this day in particular, just the rest that comes / at the end of the sweat, these blameless bales / towering to the haymow’s / rafters, the sacred smell of the living // creatures, the blessed soil.’ In this resplendent collection, Christina Lovin’s subtleties flare up with impressive and often startling immediacy.” —Michael Waters
“Here is the work of a mature poet, come into full flower, offering us the sweetness and magic of her craft: poems that are beautifully made and deeply felt. In What We Burned for Warmth, Christina Lovin deftly combines music and narrative, renders human experience—ruthlessly, tenderly—in language both fluid and precise, and give back to us a world that might otherwise be lost forever.” —Cecilia Woloch
—What We Burned for Warmth