The poems of Anna Lena Phillips Bell are remarkable for their sustained attention to music, their meticulous mapping of the natural world, and their care for the wilderness found in nature and in every human being. Her work, which often moves through received rhythms and forms, also exhibits a curiosity about the ways in which language, and the bodies it’s used to describe, outgrows those restrictions. As she says in her poem “Sheen,” which appeared in the Fall 2019 issue of the Sewanee Review, “pretending I was this / had a limit, and I’d reached it.”
In this episode, Managing Editor and Poetry Editor Eric Smith talks to Anna Lena about her work as a poet, editor, and printmaker, and how those roles intersect with her concern for our planet and the systems—both living and nonliving—that keep it alive. As she says in the interview, “It can seem like those systems are going to keep doing what they’re doing forever, but they’re under all kinds of threat.” Thinking about such threats—and living through them—is, she admits, exhausting. It’s an exhaustion Bell understands first hand, having lived with the impact of Hurricane Florence on her home in Wilmington, North Carolina. But such threats provide opportunities to build community, to encourage mindful stewardship, and to rethink not only to where we live but how. For Bell, a creative life equips us for that work, to manage what she describes as “the terror of being alive right now.”
Their conversation, recorded during the 2019 Sewanee Writers’ Conference, veers from southern accents to climatological crisis, from cedar fenceposts to sonnets, and even pauses to marvel at the vestibule of the most beautiful post office in America. At the heart of their conversation is a central question: “How do you think about all of the catastrophes at once?”
The Sewanee Review Podcast is recorded in the Ralston Listening Room at the University of the South. It is produced by Hellen Wainaina and edited by Alex Martin with music by Annie Bowers. Don’t miss any of our conversations with some of today’s best writers. Subscribe to the Sewanee Review Podcast on Apple Podcasts and Spotify.