Words hold magic for Daneen Wardrop. They seed light and life. The professor of English at Western Michigan University is the author of seven books, three of which are poetry. Her newest collection, Life as It (Ashland Poetry Press, 2016), won the Richard Snyder Publication Prize in 2015 and the Gold IPPY Award in Poetry in 2017.
“Writers…we can’t help ourselves, we have it bad,” Wardrop says. As a child she would create her own newspapers, writing stories and even illustrating them to look like print photographs. The first-grader would go from door to door in her neighborhood, selling her homemade newspapers for a penny a copy.
“In fourth grade, I cut out these inspirational sayings that were printed in the corner of our newspaper and saved them in a bag,” Wardrop says. “I think that may have been my introduction to more poetic language.”
She’s come a long way since clipping newspapers.
Wardrop’s poetry collection, Life As It, was one of about 600 entries in the 2015 Richard Snyder competition. Previous collections include Cyclorama (2015) and The Odds of Being (2007). Wardrop has also won the Robert H. Winner Award from the Poetry Society of America, the Seattle Review Bentley Prize, and a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship in Poetry.
“If there’s any theme that runs through all my books,” says Wardrop, “it is the women’s voices, the maternal, even when it is men talking.”
The poems in Cyclorama were inspired by the art and history of the American Civil War. Wardop won the 2014 Poets Out Loud Prize for that collection, which sometimes describes historical figures, including nurses, slaves, immigrants, and female soldiers. Other characters in them are imaginary, but always intimate. In The Odds of Being, Wardop writes about her delight in a new, adopted daughter.
Life As It is comprised of prose poems — poems written without the traditional line breaks but with the same lyrical qualities of poetry: heightened imagery, and compactness.
“Prose poems are often referred to as postcard poems,” Wardrop says. “I like what a prose poem can do, the pressure it creates to condense into a block form. I would write a poem, and I could see that the lines were stilted. When I put it into a prose format, it would really bring it out. It’s a format that keeps me honest.”
Wardrop has taught American literature at Western Michigan University since 1990. She came to WMU soon after earning her PhD at the University of Virginia. She gives a nod to her colleagues and fellow poets Nancy Eimers and Bill Olsen as ongoing sources of inspiration and encouragement, and to the Kalamazoo community which, Wardop says, is so rich in the arts.
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