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The Scarlet & Black

Poet, alumna Stephanie Ford revisits campus

Writers@Grinnell - Minh Tran
Grinnell’s intense writing culture hugely shaped Ford as a writer by making it a natural process. Photo by Minh Tran.

After graduating from Grinnell College with a degree in studio art, Stephanie Ford ’95 went on to work a myriad of odd jobs including writing a novel for seven years before realizing her true passion was poetry. Ford returned to campus last Thursday, March 4, as part of the Writers@Grinnell series to lead a roundtable discussion and read from her recently published debut book of poetry, “All Pilgrim” with Four Way Books. The S&B’s Staff Writer, Mira Braneck got the chance to sit down with Ford to discuss poetry, Grinnell and her personal writing process.

The S&B: What initially attracted you to the form of poetry?

Ford: It’s a way to really play with and isolate language free of having to tell a story. I love its musical qualities and its ability to evoke images in a really palpable way. Every time you write a poem, you really get to reinvent or rethink what a poem can be.

Can you speak about your personal writing process?

It’s pretty sketchy. It starts out in small bursts and little bits of language or lines will slowly accumulate and build themselves into a poem, usually after I’ve done a lot of thinking and playing around and adding lines and cutting lines. I often go through twenty or thirty drafts of a poem before it takes its final form. Leaving myself open to discovery is one of the great pleasures of it.

In the poem “Sarabande,” you write that you love to be someone’s favorite form of protest. Do you consider your work to be your favorite form of protest?

I’d like to think that it is. I know that fundamentally poetry is not going to be the place to make change happen, but I’m constantly trying to figure out in what way I can build a picture of my own beliefs and desire for things to change. My question is, to what extent can a poem be a form of protest? I’m constantly asking myself that every time I write another poem.

How, if at all, did your time at Grinnell shape your writing?

I think it shaped it hugely but it took me so long to figure it out. I majored in art at Grinnell but you do so much writing here. You’re constantly writing. Art was almost a respite from writing and a way to sort of be and look around. It was only when I went into art school where nobody was expecting me to write that I realized how much I missed it, how much I desperately needed it. I’m one of those people that doesn’t really know what I think about something until I have the chance to write it down. It was only when I left Grinnell and was in a world where no one expected me to write that I realized how important it had been for me. The other part of it is that I came in [to Grinnell] with an offbeat, individualistic sense of self and Grinnell supported and fed that, which is really helpful training for a writer because you need to be able to follow your instincts.

“Austerity Song” is about Grinnell—can you talk about the process of writing that poem in particular?

There was a call a few years ago in the Grinnell Magazine for poems about Grinnell. I realized that I had never consciously written one before. That was one of those poems that came out in a torrent. I had a lot of images and thoughts and feelings I put down on the page, but as is typical for me it took a long time, way past the deadline they were looking for in the magazine. I don’t think it was really the kind of poem they were looking for [laughs]. A lot of my poems come out of a sense of place, places that I miss, places that I no longer am. … I was trying to write sort of a praise song that was still rooted in the actual palpable sense of the place as I remembered it.

Lastly, you mentioned that as a young writer you asked yourself what it meant to write. Did you ever find the answer?

As a writer I think I’m always a little wary of final answers. The point is to keep moving.

What’s your answer today?

Right now, it’s about being able to be present and pay attention and not have a future-focused way of being in the world but rather appreciate what’s currently going on. Just to be there.

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  • C

    Copy EditorMar 4, 2016 at 1:50 pm

    Don’t you mean Alumna?

    • A

      adminMar 4, 2016 at 2:13 pm

      Thanks for the catch!