In her interview with Fleda Brown in August 2013, Lea Purpura refers to “the rare mix of lucidity, openness, intellect, and abundance of spirit” found in Fleda’s poems. Fleda herself says in that same interview that she thinks of herself as a “highly educated simple” person who wants “to write poems that non-readers can hear with pleasure.” And hear them, and read them, again and again, we do.
It’s no wonder that she has been praised by Dave Smith for possessing “a good wit, sharp eye, and a tough character”; for her “radiance” by Linda Gregerson; and for having, as Linda Pastan puts it, “such a wide-ranging intelligence, such a large and quirky variety of subjects, and such facility with language that you come away from her poems amazed at the emotional impact under the entertaining and colloquial surfaces.”
Perhaps the range of Fleda’s writing can be attributed at least partially to the fact that she’s inhabited several regions within the United States. Born in Columbia, Missouri, she was raised in Fayetteville, Arkansas, though her family also spent time at their lakefront cottage in Michigan. In 1978, she moved to Newark, Delaware, to join the University of Delaware English Department. There she founded the Poets in the Schools Program, directing it for twelve years, and served as Delaware’s Poet Laureate from 2001 to 2007, when she retired and moved with her husband, Jerry Beasley, to Traverse City, Michigan. Fleda knows each of these places with the intimacy of a close neighbor – the people, their dialects, their churches, their music.
But it is the shoreline and waters of Michigan’s Intermediate Lake, site of the hundred-year-old family cottage to which Fleda and Jerry frequently retreat, that provide such a rich underpinning to so many of Fleda’s poems, rooted as they often are in the natural world. The landscape and the world around and within the lake provide central images for many of Fleda’s poems, which are also rooted in the complexities of families and of aging family members, including herself. As she says in “Twentieth Wedding Anniversary Poem”: “We’re never entirely alone.”
Fleda’s poems remind me at times of Robert Frost, as in her meditation on “Daisies.” But there’s an irony here that is all her own, as well as a concern for others that runs through all her work. And who else could write such a philosophical, linguistically playful poem about repairing a toilet, all the while meditating on the phrase “Hare’s Breath”?
Such love there is in these poems, for other humans and for the non-human world. Her lament “Felled Tree,” for instance, is filled with a deep knowledge of the woods, of the world she knows, laments, and sings so exquisitely.
Recipient of numerous awards for her poetry, including the Felix Pollak Prize in Poetry, the Philip Levine Prize for Poetry, and the Great Lakes Colleges New Writer’s Award, Fleda has published seven full-length collections of poetry: Fishing with Blood (Purdue University Press, 1988), Do Not Peel the Birches (Purdue University Press, 1992), Devil’s Child (Carnegie-Mellon University Press, 1998), Breathing In Breathing Out (Anhinga Press, 2002), The Women Who Loved Elvis All Their Lives (Carnegie-Mellon University Press, 2004), Reunion (The University of Wisconsin Press, 2007), and No Need of Sympathy, (BOA Editions, 2013). She has also published two chapbooks, two co-edited collections, and the collection of essays Driving With Dvořák (University of Nebraska Press, 2010) and she has a marvelous blog, which I hope you’ll visit (fledabrown.com/blog). She teaches in the Rainier Writing Workshop, a low-residency MFA program at Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma, Washington.