Nancy Mitchell, Poet Laureate of Salisbury Maryland, on poet Linda Blaskey
I had heard of the poet Linda Blaskey long before Milan Kundera’s “birds of fortuity” arranged for our meeting. Her name is so synonymously linked with the poetry community in Sussex County Delaware that Linda Blaskey and Poetry were spoken of in the same breath. For decades she organized annual Poetry Workshops led by esteemed guest-poets, directed The Dog Fish Head Poetry Contest, and hosted the winner with a celebratory reading. Up until this moment, she served as the senior poetry editor of the national “The Broadkill Review.” A loyal member of a decades-old poetry workshop, she was valued for her astute suggestions, and she tirelessly supported local poets by arranging reading in various venues. Until I got to know Linda, it was a mystery how Linda found time to write and publish her own collections of poetry.
Although I was not introduced to Linda at the time, I first laid eyes on her in 2009 when I read from my second book “Grief Hut” at Books and Coffee in Dewey Beach Delaware. “Grief Hut” is, among other lamentations of loss, a harrowing saga of a son’s addiction into recovery told primarily from a mother’s perspective of as she struggles to assimilate the unvarnished truth the son mercilessly reveals. Although “Grief Hut’ has of late found a larger, more receptive readership in response to the recent opioid crisis, in 2009 my readings often left audiences at a loss for words. At the Q and A after each, there were rarely questions, and I expected the silence which followed the Books and Coffee reading. What I did not expect was the clear voice, tangy with an Arkansas twang, of the woman with piercing blue eyes who asked “how could you, as a mother, write with such cold objectivity about the horrors of your son’s life as an addict?” The question threw me, not because I didn’t have an answer but because I had never been asked it, by anyone. As I struggled to gather my thoughts, I was overwhelmed with the memories of the emotional transitions required to reach that level of objectivity. I might have mumbled something like “that answer would require more time than we have here,” never suspecting that Linda would give me the time and space to answer that question more fully in her interview with me entitled “Brave” published over a decade later in The Broadkill Review.
After the Dewey Beach reading, Linda sailed purposely out the door without a backward glance. I would later learn that Linda had no truck for the small talk, schmoozing, and networking which generally followed poetry readings; she had horses, dogs, and goats to feed and a farm to run. When I asked a friend who that woman might be, she whispered in a tone tinged with awe “That’s Linda Blaskey.”
I was finally formally introduced to "the" Linda Blaskey in the spring of 2018 when she and I read with other poets selected by poet-in-residence Gerry La Femina at the close of Poetry Week in Salisbury, Maryland. Linda’s poems spoke as Linda speaks; economically, with the most precise language and imagery in service to the most expedient route to the heart of the matter. I was dazzled; like the goddess of the hunt Diana, she cut to the chase, and each poem was like a golden arrow unerringly finding its mark.
During the following fall, Linda came to a few of our Salisbury workshops. I saw first hand how her critiques had earned her the reputation for being honest and outspoken, qualities that have served her well as an editor. She has an uncanny ear and eye for precision and "calls them as she sees them". And Linda welcomed an honest critique of her own work and brushed off what she felt was undeserved praise. I came to trust her implicitly and counted on her counsel and candor. Since I have known her, I have not once seen her curry favor by flattery or further her own career by brokering any quid pro quo; her strict allegiance is to Poetry, not to Po-biz. Linda shines with that rare, almost extinct, and luminous quality of integrity, and I’m grateful that my life has been lit in proximity to it.
Nancy Mitchell is the Poet Laureate of Salisbury, Maryland. Her poems have appeared in Agni, Washington Square Review, The Broadkill Review, and other journals. Mitchell is a 2012 Pushcart Prize winner in Poetry and the author of three collections of poetry, the latest being The Out of Body Shop.