Whose Words These Are (12): Teresa Cader

In anticipation of the 2009 Massachusetts Poetry Festival, where does poetry come from these days? And where is it going?

Click to listen to Chris’s conversation with Teresa Cader. (33 minutes, 15 mb mp3)

Teresa Cader used to think of herself as a child of Europe. Walt Whitman made her a poet and an American. Her father was an immigrant from Poland. Her mother’s side is Irish: “my great aunt looks like Seamus Heaney in a black funeral dress,” she has said. Growing up in Trenton, she read Latin and translated Beowulf, and then found in Leaves of Grass a way into her American consciousness. She lives now in Lexington, Massachusetts — a block from the first skirmish in the American Revolution. Her last published collection of poems, History of Hurricanes makes a link at one point between the civil rights movement in the States and the Solidarity movement in Poland, prompted by her visit to a club in Krakow playing James Brown, and by hearing her Polish friends sing all the verses of “We Shall Overcome.” So she is an American poet now of history and the world, and a teacher of young poets at Leslie University in Cambridge.

Q: What do you learn in the schools?

A: Students are hungry for a kind of emotional truth that they’re not getting; they’re hungry to integrate their feelings and their learning— they are hungry to have someone speak truth about life. They are hungry for poetry.

Q: Who does your work in another medium?

A: I really like sculpture. I get a visceral reaction to sculpture, everything going back to the Greeks, and Romans, the Italians: Donatello, Brancusi, Giacometti. I like the whimsy of Calder, and of people like Henry Moore. If I could have another life in a different medium, it would be sculpture.

Q: What is the keynote of your poetry?

A: I like to inhabit the mystery and the unknown. I like to push beyond what’s comfortable to a place where I don’t know where I am.

Q: What is the talent you’d most love to have that you don’t, yet?

A: I want to close the gap between my voice and the page.

Q: What quality do you love in a poem?

A: I need to be emotionally moved by a poem, though it should not set out to do so. I have a metaphysical sensibility. I look for the marriage between intellect and emotions. That is why I love [John] Donne and [Robert] Pinsky.

Q: What is your motto?

A: “Push beyond what you know. The process is where the discoveries happen. Trust it”

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  • Christopher Lydon, thank you! After listening to you on NPR for what seemed like a good long time, I am glad to hear from you again. We are just beginning to incorporate Spoken Word and Poetry into our music program — over breakfast this morning we were enjoying the thought that we could call it the “New Beat Poets” – and now this. As Teresa says, working like this allows you to step beyond what you know – into such the best place! And yes, our kids are screaming for more of that because they KNOW “it don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing.” Let’s all band together to provide them with some nourishment, hmm?

  • rebecca


    I love your work, and want to thank you for sending along the note about, “Whose Words These are. ” What a great series! I have passed it on to several poets/faculty, and will begin to listen to this series.

    I currently have students listening to your interview, Oh Ya, Emerson. I wasn’t able to find it by searching the archive, so I’m glad I saved the URL in a document in my files. I hope you are doing well. I am still warming up to the new technologies–but love curling up with a text, electronic or paper, during the turning of the frost. Keep those fires burning.

  • jim mcdowell

    Open Source,

    I just want to say that i am thoroughly enjoying the “whose words” series and am listening multiple times to the podcasts!


    Oklahoma City

    The guy from the southwest loves Emerson.