"If you've never read Keats or Coleridge, you can't write poetry. The more you know, the more you become aware of what's possible, what's been done before, and what's new and fabulous. The more you read, the more you have access to." She's dubious that you could ever really write something truly new. In the words of Solomon "there's nothing new under the sun." She adds, "the only newness that comes is your voice and your particular connections."
The Bible is another popular theme base that shows up in much of Osherow's writing. She is very interested in Jewish tradition and Jewish literary tradition. "I'm glad my children have an ancient tradition to connect to; I like having tradition and care a great deal about history." While Osherow's father was brought as a baby to America from Eastern Europe, she's quite certain her great-grandparents would not recognize her religion--for instance, the fact that, as a woman, she can chant from the Bible. She explains :"Women didn't chant-- and still can't chant-- in Orthodox Jewish religion. The sense of change is built into Judaism. It's a religion that has changed with the times."
When asked about creative exercises, Osherow claims that she personally doesn't have any and doesn't teach any to her students. " Exercises may work for other people but I believe in simply writing about the thing that obsesses me. Work is always progress, and writer's block comes from demanding that you immediately produce something useful. If you work, you get somewhere--even if it takes a long time. It usually doesn't happen all at once--that's very, very rare. Writing is a long process of working, working chiseling and chiseling some more."
Ultimately, Osherow hopes that her students "will notice more than they have noticed before, that they will be better leaders, and be more attentive readers." She enjoys teaching students to notice more and to polish their abilities to clearlycommunicate what they notice. In the words attributed to Paul Celan "poetry gifts to the attentive. The definition of art is a great fresco; the more you look at it, the more you notice. It's not so much imparting information as having the skills to really open that piece of art."
Author Bio: Raised in Philadelphia, poet Jacqueline Osherow received her BA from Radcliffe College, Harvard University, and her PhD from Princeton University. She is the author of several collections of poetry, including Hoopoe’s Crown (2005). Her debut collection, Looking for Angels in New York (1988), was chosen for the Contemporary Poetry Series.
Often inhabiting a variety of demanding formal structures such as terza rima and the double sestina, Osherow’s poetry is both conversational and learned, concerned with the intricacies of faith and the weight of history. As a reviewer for Publishers Weekly noted, Osherow is “a poet who offers opinions and reactions to the weightiest questions of history and religion, while sounding less like an authority than like a particularly well-traveled friend.” She is particularly interested in biblical inconsistencies, and her psalms have their root in the holy poems she heard as a child at temple. In a 1999 essay for the Poetry Society of America, Osherow wrote, “If I write out of a specific poetic tradition, it is the Jewish poetic tradition, American poet though I am.”
She has been awarded the Witter Bynner Prize by the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters, several prizes from the Poetry Society of America, and fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Ingram Merrill Foundation.
Osherow’s work has been anthologized in Twentieth Century American Poetry (2003), The Wadsworth Anthology of Poetry (2005), Jewish American Literature: A Norton Anthology (2000), and The Penguin Book of the Sonnet (2001), and twice in Best American Poetry.