Reviews & Interviews

Praise for Life of the Garment:

In poem after poem in Life of the Garment, Deborah Gorlin clothes us in her fabric of sung words, with characters unique and familiar, and facsimiles of love that open and close their eyes, comfort, and gaze upon us. Read this fine collection—you will see for yourself.

                       GARY MARGOLIS, 2014 May Sarton New Hampshire Poetry Prize judge and   author of Raking the Winter Leaves

Deborah Gorlin lusts after thingness—the facts, the names, the machines—even as she knows its eerie emptiness will disenchant in the end. A wizard of description, and with humor that bears burdens at its core, she focuses her raw wonder on the real until it’s revealed as if new. Poem after poem, the elations and elegies of Gorlin’s language melt in your mouth like hard candies. Emptiness and fullness, in these poems we sample a taste of each.

            ALICE FOGEL, Poet Laureate of New Hampshire, author of Interval

Life of the Garment ranges freely through two worlds: the familiar, recognizable one, and the one that has beneath its surface, a place rich with imaginative metaphor. Deborah Gorlin is unafraid of the truths and dangers that lie coiled beneath every surface, and stubbornly determined to see everything, even “God, naked, underneath the clothing.” Her poems are full of sleights of hand, disarming warmth, and humor, with a maturity that brings each revelation to full fruition. This is a rich, surprising and moving book.

CHASE TWICHELL, author of Horses Where the Answers Should Have Been

From the “spill of creation,” Deborah Gorlin celebrates and elegizes the “human hullaballoo,” her metaphors a dazzling fest of language and music. She links the spiritual realm to the embodied world, exploring, for example, how dolls serve as effigies and talismans. An exuberant sense of humor illuminates popular culture; a love of art history and folk traditions delights. Gorlin’s great achievement here—a rich rendering of how we “dress” our nakedness—makes Life of the Garment a book of stunning originality.

ROBIN BECKER, author of Tiger Heron

Praise for Bodily Course, 1996 White Pine Press Poetry Prize

“In Deborah Gorlin’s Bodily Course, a complex love affair occurs just at the juncture where language and the unsayable collide. These poems crackle with urgent verve. Consciousness here roots itself with unexpected ferocity squarely in the realm of the physical but then, too, radiate the imagination’s strange and lovely fires sparked by a wild, good love of language and of life. These poems, from start to finish, show the world transformed by original vision, by a finely honed intellect and by an open heart. Ms. Gorlin is one of the freshest and most surprising poets I’ve read in years. I’ll carry her poems with me for a long, long time.”

Mekeel McBride, judge

“The poems in Bodily Course are intelligent to the point of being scientific, and sensuous to the point of danger. Deborah Gorlin is mistress of ‘really a riotous cornucopia’ of language, observation, wild sensation.”

Alicia Ostriker

Deborah Gorlin is a poet of visceral wisdom. ‘You can’t botch dying,’ she says in her poem ‘Graces,’ writing as a scientist of the human condition, always observing what is or might be under the skin in her meditations about parents, children, and paintings of such subjects. In ‘Art Supplies’ she presents herself as someone so hungry for art that, like a southern clay-eater, her response to crayons and other art supplies is to want to eat them. Thus art is physiological for her, a form of organic life and her poems are almost biological specimens, in their beautifully observed representations of the world.

Diane Wakoski

Interview with Rich Michelson on WHMP

Steve Farrer/ Book Bag Daily Hampshire Gazette, Hampshire Life, July 3, 2015

 Interview with Peter Biello, New Hampshire NPR, July 24, 2015,

Interview with Chris Mays, Bennington Banner, August 18, 2015 to Know Deborah Gorlin  Mass Poetry


LIFE OF THE GARMENT from Daily  Hampshire Gazette

By Deborah Gorlin

Bauhan Publishing

In “Life of the Garment,” her new collection of poems, Deborah Gorlin examines her family history and the more general idea of what constitutes life in all its glory, joy, pain and weirdness. From considering the perspective of a doll, or what it’s like to be a loaf of bread, Gorlin, the codirector of the writing program at Hampshire College, brings both humor and insight to her verse.

In “The Garden in the Machine,” she inverts the title of a noted volume of literary criticism from 1964 to recall a childhood in an industrial neighborhood: “In the midst of factories close to my house, / I sought the human whenever I could because I never understood / the dies, jigs and fixtures, liquid oxygen, burglar and fire alarms / corrugated boxes, pipes and toilet floats, floor trucks … I list these products in a rousing democracy of inclusion.”

In her memory, it is still a time of strange innocence, when “we swam in a pool downwind of an incinerator / played with our dolls in a stream purple with pollutants but smoothly flowing into our fantasies, / slept and ate and lived with the noise, the smoke, the stink, in our garden / in the machine, within the same mysterious Eden.”

And in “Mix and Match,” the seeming incongruity of items from a local store becomes a metaphor for how one might make sense of life’s confusion and complexity: “I’m puzzled by the merchandise at Dave’s Soda and Pet Food City, / where you can buy bulk Alpo and Purina Cat Chow / down the aisle from Pepsi or lemon spritzer, / or rhinestone-studded cat collars, tacky décor / for the fish tank, hammocks for ferrets.”

“I admit I fear many pairings,” Gorlin writes, “not always boxed or caged. / When those phenomena come, let me gain strength / from Dave’s surreal retail: accept these kooky groupings as a matter of course, / all kinds of commerce under a single roof.”

Gorlin, who lives in Amherst, is also a poetry editor at The Massachusetts Review. The winner of the 2014 May Sarton New Hampshire Poetry Prize, she has published in a range of journals including The Harvard Review, Antioch Review, the Women’s Review of Books and American Poetry Review.Getting to know deborah gorlin and her new book Life of the garment

Deborah Gorlin has published in a wide range of journals including Poetry, Antioch Review, American Poetry Review, Seneca Review, The Massachusetts Review, The Harvard Review, Green Mountains Review, Bomb, Connecticut Review, Women’s Review of Books, New England Review, and Best Spiritual Writing 2000.Before winning the 2014 May Sarton New Hampshire Poetry Prize, Gorlin won the 1996 White Pine Press Poetry Prize for her first book of poems, Bodily Course. Gorlin received her B.A. from Rutgers University and an M.F.A. from the University of California, Irvine. Since 1991 she has taught writing at Hampshire College, where she serves as codirector of the Writing Program. She is also a poetry editor at The Massachusetts Review.Gorlin currently lives in Amherst, MA.

When did you first encounter poetry? How did you discover that you wanted to write poems?
I had an extraordinary teacher in sixth grade, and later again as a freshman in high school, to whom I directly and gratefully trace my origins, inspiration, and endurance as a poet and a writer. Among other subjects, she taught us the elegant logic of grammar, especially the antiquated process of diagramming sentences. I was terrible at math, but I loved doing this verbal geometry.  Too, she was a mystic in her way. One day, when we were studying astronomy, she drew with chalk a nest of circles, increasing in size, on a blackboard that spanned the whole front of our classroom. Those circles were meant to illustrate the earth, the planets, the solar system, the galaxies, the universe, and finally, without circumference, the vast unknown. Waving her chalk she made a tiny dot, the size of a pinprick, in the smallest of the circles. After a dramatic pause, she said, “That’s us.” I still recall the collective astonishment in the room; my classmates gasped, thrilled to the core by our local Copernican revelation.

Thus began my education in awe and wonder. That same year I had a formative experience. Cutting through my neighbor’s backyard to get to my house, I saw a robin perched on a hedge. The afternoon light was waning. Without warning, the world grew strangely small and quiet, as though just the two of us, me and the world, existed within an intimate room. The fabulous freakiness of aliveness swept over me, the sudden fat fact of myself, this individual being within creation. That experience was foundational. Afterwards, I was on fire to write about it, ineffable as it was. When I attempted, in pencil on yellow scrap paper, I apparently bowled over my beloved teacher. She pronounced me a poet and made me copy it formally, with fountain pen, for her to keep and frame.

Do you have a writing routine? A favorite time or place to write?
I had a nerdy-looking English Literature professor in graduate school, who wore your classic Ivy League uniform of buttoned-down cotton shirt, beige chinos, and patched-sleeved tweed sports jacket. He was also a successful novelist. To keep those two identities separate, critic versus fiction writer, he wrote under a pseudonym. But to do the actual work of a novelist, to activate his powers of imagination, he said that he needed props, to dress for the part, to honor his notion of the required outfit. His consisted of a silver lame jumpsuit, Elvis-style, complete with a sparkly cape and shiny rings, and a wig to cover up his bald head!

By contrast, I need no such get-ups; indeed, I’m after comfort, pajamas or sweats. Whereas my poet husband is a nester, man-caver, presiding over his palatial desk, I am more of a nomad, a hoarder of the horizontal, though my terrain is our average-sized suburban house. Mostly, I sprawl in a few select spots, along with my tools, which include my pens ( they must be V-Ball Pilots, black, semi-fine nib), my notebooks and my MacBook Pro. Spread out, I can then alternate among a few sofas, the occasional armchair, and the kitchen table. I put my feet up everywhere.

Time is always an issue. Though I try to snatch a day here or there during the school year, it’s hard to pursue writing single-mindedly and without interruption. I write best during the summers when I’m not consumed or distracted by the demands of my teaching job. The last few years, I’ve been fortunate enough to spend two months in Santa Cruz, California, where I can have my very own solitary writing retreat. I get up quite early, make my latte– we have an cherished espresso machine that has saved us a fortune in Starbucks— breakfast a bit, maybe glance at the morning paper, and then, GO! I’m at it.  Really, truly, at it. With a break for lunch, I work pretty much until mid-afternoon. In the preliminary stages of a poem, I write longhand in notebooks; I indulge and buy those with pretty covers, rather than the spiral cheapies that Natalie Goldberg recommends. When I feel like I’ve sufficiently “hunted and gathered,” I move operations onto the laptop, where the poem is quickening, taking a kind of direction or shape or momentum, or popping in places with lingual promise.

Where do your poems most often come from—an image, a sound, a phrase, an idea?
    All of the above, but underlying all those points of origin, is some force or instinct even more basic and inarticulate: I initially feel a poem bodily, in my gut or my heart or my head: it’s like an intangible pressure, tension, even an ache; a sensation of incompletion; a kind of inchoate yearning, a hunger, a pestering, which I must not ignore or dismiss or discount or refuse. The impulse for a poem forces me to recognize, to follow it out intuitively, and ultimately to satisfy it through verbal expression, to manifest its lingual equivalent. As I compose a poem, every mode of my consciousness eventually engages in varying degrees, perception, emotion, sensation, cognition, imagination, but its seed resides in my body. I wonder if that’s the reason for the belief among early peoples that the soul is located in the stomach.

On a more mundane plane, these days many of my poems come from an interest or an inexplicable fascination with subject matter— for example, a curious attraction to particular objects or artifacts, stories about others in the news, and my own experiences, provided they’re mysterious, vexing, complicating, something that needs “figuring”–not just out, but as in “giving a shape.” For some poems, perhaps because I was once a feature news writer, I often research, gather information, sometimes via the Internet (though that’s a dangerous rabbit hole) or from books and other sources. In Life of the Garment, the sequence of personae poems about dolls is based on a children’s book I picked up for my daughter when she was little. On occasion, I do on-the-ground field work, whether it’s getting a manicure or facial for the first time, or interviewing textile conservators about the prison uniforms at Auschwitz in the collections at the Holocaust Museum. I try with all my sonic lingual skills to make music of exposition, to write a poetry of facts, personal or otherwise. Admittedly, I am a bit of a voyeur, an experience slut.

Since I’m not a great love poet, by default I suppose my sexy subject is the big “D”, aka dying and death. What poet at my age doesn’t butt up against this eventuality? So I have a new series of poems about working for a few years as a volunteer in a residential hospice. But over all, if I’ve learned anything about being a poet after all these years, I now know not to second guess, equivocate, or ignore these inklings, even if they don’t seem appropriately “poetic,” or fail to create something in the end.  My job is to follow those hunches, as wacky as they might seem, and take my chances. Sometimes, in the process, my poetic impulses and imaginings may be informed by the qualities of other art forms. I can feel like a sculptor, concerned with texture and contour; like a painter describing an image, a dancer intent on movement; and an actor getting into character.

Which writers (living or dead) do you feel have influenced you the most?
  On my top five (or six) list: Whitman, who puts me to shame, with his cosmic embrace of all living beings, his all-inclusive catalogues; Emily Dickinson, who complicates Whitman, to reveal the nitty-gritty, the psycho-spiritual struggles, paradoxes, and difficulties involved in achieving that state of gracious generosity. I have benefitted from the marvelous interiority, the deep mysteries and beauty of Rilke’s poetry, and his insistence upon a writer’s need for solitude, though I think he took it way too far by refusing to attend his own daughter’s wedding because he’d lose his focus! For sheer sensual pleasure of language and image, I have learned from Keats and Plath; and on the opposite spectrum, I admire the plain speech, the wit, wisdom and heart of the Polish poet, Wislawa Symbiorska.

Tell us a little bit about your new collection: what’s the significance of the title? are there over-arching themes? what was the process of assembling it? was it a project book? etc.
My first book, Bodily Course, was a phenomenological investigation into the nature and life of the body itself. A poet friend of mine said that the poems in that book could’ve been written by a baby who was continually putting things in her mouth that she shouldn’t. With Life of the Garment, thankfully, I’ve evolved from the oral stage! The poems in this new book move out of the immediate locale of the body.  Rather than nature, they explore the diverse and multiplying sources of our “nurture,” which I metaphorically call “the garment,” or that which “garbs or dresses” us: family, history, geography, religion, gender, and class, all of which define the self. The poems are roughly organized based upon the concept of “near to far,” drawing from the notion of relative distance, beginning at the point closest to my own actual experiences and memories, and ending with those that are the farthest and most abstract. The first part of the book is a monument in print to my family, my father, my mother, the World War II generation, “my dead,” as I call them, and a belated love song to an unlikely place, Hillside, New Jersey, an industrial suburb, juat outside of Newark, where I grew up.

In the middle portion, the home girl extends her reach and adopts different personae, those of dolls from around the world with their differing functions, geographical and historical origins. At the end, the poems metaphorically take their position skyward, placed within the heavens and the vast unknown, and their associations with matters of the spirit, transcendence, the anxieties and joys of our encounters—if we are lucky and work hard— with the divine.




Read a sample poem from Life of the Garment and listen to an audio recording from NHPR here:

The Sorrow of Cars

 Cars sorrow too, their glittering

surfaces, metal wigs on wheels,
just shams.

Like puppets, they need us to animate them,
steer their wheels, accelerate, brake, turn.

Dependent on a tiny key,
homunculus, the god that blossoms them.

their motors run,
follow our every cue,
witless without us.

Poor brooders, parked
insomniacs, alone in their garages,
cattle in lots.

Chronic movement or stasis
means a bipolar soullessness.

Dopes, they desire impossibly:
vehicles that yearn to be tenors,
pant for their own expressways.

They dream of teapots and fireplaces
centered in their engines, a mobile Jerusalem,
where their tires caress the road, where

a pristine soul, despite the grease,
could live in their machine—headlights for eyes—
and no longer disconsolate, they at last can stop

their performance, their fiery march, up down, up down,
becoming stilled wind when they want, or free transport.