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Helen Pruitt Wallace

Helen Pruitt Wallace


2009 Dry Stack Vineyard Grenache

Read more of Helen's poetry

There’s something of the human soul in every creative act — a laying bare, an offering. But where does poetry come from? The poet Li-Young Lee has said poems come from “feeling the hair on the back of your neck,” and often they do for me. They also come from surprising moments in the natural world, snippets of dialogue, the music of language itself, or images: the child’s red sneaker by the side of the road shows up in a poem’s first line.

I teach Poetry and Creative Nonfiction at Eckerd College where I explore with students how imagery and metaphor are key in poetry. A good poem tastes like an ancient recipe passed down through generations: nourishing — right words in the right order, syntax taut and sweet as ripe corn.

Images invite the reader to experience the poem as more than words on a page. By invoking the senses (the way we all know the world), the poet reaches beyond the self toward something shared, a connection.

Is that why many of us turn to poetry during life’s biggest moments, both public and private? Grief, joy, birth, death, are all heightened by poetry. Wanting to experience these events with others, we console ourselves in the language of poetry to give shape and sound to a collective emotion there’s no other language for. As Marie Howe suggests, poetry contains “the soul of the human race.” Words that mark our lives feed remembrance. 

Writing poems is my small attempt to conjure order from chaos. When it comes to publishing, I’m sure I’ve been luckier than I deserve; I have many mentors to thank for helping me hone my craft. I earned a Ph.D. in English/Creative Writing from Florida State University, and my first book, Shimming the Glass House, won the 2007 Richard Snyder Prize and was published by Ashland Poetry Press. It was then chosen for a 2008 Florida Book Award.

I write to uncover what I never knew I lost, and celebrate being unable to name it (while wanting it more than ever?). For me, the music of poetry (maybe all forms of art?) speaks to a primordial desire.

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