Prize-winning Book of Poetry to Be Released by UNCG Professor

by Colin Cutler

Jennifer Whitaker’s first published book of poetry, The Blue Hour, will be officially released on March 16th. At 7:30 on March 3rd, she will bereading herpoetry at Guilford College’s Hege Library. A recipient of theBrittingham Prize in Poetry and published by University of Wisconsin Press, The Blue Hour‘s poems are framed with afairy tale aura. Get the Disney versionsout of your head, though–these draw from the dark and blood-stained medievalstories collected by the Brothers Grimm. “I missed the boat on writing bad poems in high school—they came later,” jokedWhitaker. After dancing in high school, she attended Randolph-Macon Woman’s Collegein Lynchburg for their dance program. Adance injury and an encounter with a creative writing professor who told herthat “the only inappropriate thing is bad writing,” however, set her on adifferent path. “She could talk aboutwriting in a way that made the process necessary for figuring out the world—itkind of took the place of dance for me.” Jennifer ended up double-majoring in dance andEnglish, then enrolled in UNCG’s MFA program, from which she graduated in 2005.So why fairy tales? It goes back toWhitaker’s understanding of writing and words as a way to make sense ofthings. The logic of fairy tales, withtheir spells or magic words to be said or avoided, “is very compatible withthat—using language as the key to something.” The age and distance of the fairy tales and their language helps, too. Among her favorite poets is the lateVictorian Gerard Manley Hopkins, whose winding and heavily rhythmic verse is asdense as that of a slam poet—or an Anglo-Saxon scop or a Welsh bard (She lovesall things Arthurian, too). Whitakerbelieves a more distant and difficult framework makes the poetry better: “thelanguage feels so difficult, but it’s fun to wrestle with.”Family is important to Whitaker, and she mentioned that her husband, Tom, isalso a poet and a teacher. She told thestory of how they met—she was getting ready to move out of her College Hillapartment when “his tortoiseshell cat walked in, then Tom walked in. And that was the friendliest that cat everwas to me.”

Whitaker has also received a prize from the Academy ofAmerican Poets and two Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg prizes; besides writingaward-winning prize-winning poetry, she is also the Director of the UniversityWriting Center at UNCG and an assistant poetry editor for the literary journal storySouth. The BlueHour is available for order from the University of Wisconsin Press andAmazon, and will be available at Greensboro’s Scuppernong bookstore.