Mount Greylock Grad Returns to Read Best-Selling Poems
Mount Greylock High graduate Diana Sabot Whitney will read from her works at Water Street Books on Thursday.
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — Diana Sabot Whitney is a Williamstown native, an alumna of Mount Greylock Regional School, a Junior Olympics medalist, a Rhodes Scholar, a syndicated columnist and, as of this month, a best-selling poet.
Whitney's debut volume of poetry, "Wanting It," this month hit the No. 1 spot on Small Press Distribution's Poetry Bestsellers List, moving up No. 15 in July.
Whitney will present a reading from the book on Thursday, Oct. 9, at 6:30 p.m., at Water Street Books.
The Brattleboro, Vt., resident said she is excited to be coming back to the Village Beautiful.
"I graduated from Mount Greylock in 1991," said Whitney, who went on to ski cross country at Dartmouth College.
"There are a few poems in the book that evoke the Mount Greylock hallways."
Whitney was known as Diana Sabot when she roamed those hallways. Today, she is known to readers of Vermont's Rutland Herald and Brattleboro Reformer as the author of the irreverent parenting column "Spilt Milk" and to listeners of Vermont Public Radio as a commentator.
"Wanting It" was launched this summer to critical acclaim.
"Readers will scarcely miss the erotic element in Diana Whitney’s saucily entitled and brilliant book," said Vermont Poet Laureate Sydney Lea. "Her hungry heart and eye invade her entire universe to such an extent that, if it did not exist, we should have to invent the adjective charged. These poems virtually leap at us from the page."
Whitney took a few minutes to talk about the "Wanting It," and her visit to the area with iBerkshires.com.
Question: In addition to the reading at Water Street Books, you're going to be speaking to an English Class at Mount Greylock. How did that come about?
Whitney: A friend suggested that I visit with a high school English class while I'm there. At first, I was apprehensive. But Blair Dils, the English teacher, was so enthusiastic about the idea that that solidified it for me.
Question: Have you spoken to high school groups back home in Brattleboro?
Whitney: I've been speaking to quite a bunch of student groups but all college students. I did a talk at Dartmouth, where I went to college. I did a reading and went to an advanced poetry workshop. That was a great experience.
The students were so bright and engaged and interested in my poetry and larger questions about writing. Last week at UVM [the University of Vermont], I did the same thing.
This will be my first time talking to high school students about poetry and writing and publishing.
I'm a yoga teacher, so I work in a different forum teaching and presenting to students of all ages, but I'm not familiar with being in a high school classroom.
Question: What do you plan to talk with them about?
Whitney: I think [the talk] will focus on poetry at the English class. According to their curriculum, they're not supposed to study poetry until after the new year, but I think [Dils] wants to use this as a springboard to talking about what makes a poem. I'll be talking about imagery and emotion.
I'm interested at Mount Greylock in talking about identity. ... Living with depression has been tough. Writing for me was a lifeline. That's something I want to talk about — how we can express ourselves through our writing.
I know you wrote pretty frankly about on spiltmilkvt.com
about your experience with depression.
Whitney: It's been cyclical. I've always been able to pull out of depression. Other people, obviously, can't. I've been able to manage my depression.
I wrote [in my column] about the longest, deepest period I've had, which was scary.
High school was the beginning, and it's a difficult time to live with depression. You're not at liberty to walk around the hallways of high school and say, 'I'm depressed.'
My parents were great. They sent me to a therapist, but that was taboo. So I didn't talk to anyone at school about what I was going through.
Coming back now, I feel like I want to say people can feel like this, and it's OK to seek help and you can emerge from tough times.
Question: Let's talk about the book, 'Wanting It.' Where do these poems come from?
Whitney: It's a book about self discovery and often discovering yourself through the experience of desire, longing, love.
A lot of the poems were written in my late 20s.
It's from an open-ended time before I was married and became a mother. There are poems that go back to high school, college, graduate school. There's a poem that talk about kindergarten and being chased by a boy.
The unifying theme is restlessness and longing.
Question: Are there poems that were written in high school?
Whitney: I started writing ... In first grade, I was writing in my journal. In third and fourth grade, I wrote longer stories. It was at Mount Greylock that I first started writing poetry, which I cringe to read now.
Question: You still have copies?
Whitney: I have one memorized. I probably would not bring it into the public.
Question: But your career as a poet, in a way, got started at Mount Greylock.
Whitney: Two of my English teachers were absolutely key to why I continued writing. They encouraged my writing and inspired me with what they had us read and write and talk about in class.
You're so vulnerable as a teenager. I could have absolutely been shut down, but they were absolutely encouraging.
Question: Were these poems written to be part of a collection?
Whitney: This really came out of what I wrote in graduate school earning my [master's of fine arts]. Some of the poems date back to 2000 or the very late '90s.
After that I entered a period of silence after I had my babies. ... I was rendered mute by motherhood. That was another kind of depression. I didn't go deeply into poetry again until my kids were older.
In 2012, I was catalogued by a group of poets I met. That's when I put the anthology together with newer work and older work.
I didn't know whether the new work would fit with the old. I wasn't sure. So I worked with an editor. I sent him an early draft of the manuscript in May or June of 2013. Luckily for me, this editor was great at helping me sequence the poems.
Question: Did you find yourself editing the older poems when you went to add them to the collection?
Whitney: I revised some of the older ones not radically, but I tightened them up and sequenced them so they made a coherent story.
I think I always knew I wanted to write a book. And I had this sheaf of poems in a folder. I called it my manuscript, but it just sat in a drawer.
When I started writing again, it was almost a channelling. The poems were written with a sense of urgency. Some people call it being possessed by the muse.
Once they were out there, the question was could they work with the old poems and become a book.
Question: What was the process like of getting the book into print?
Whitney: In hindsight, it was very quick. I guess I finished the manuscript in May and started sending it out in June, and it was accepted in late July. I had been prepared for it to take a few years. It's a tough market. I was prepared to work slowly and surely and keep sending it out.
I guess I sent it out to 12 places. Harbor Mountain, which is a small poetry press here in Vermont, accepted it.
Question: What kind of reaction has it received?
Whitney: It's been great. The book is in its second printing, which is exciting. The first run was 500. Hitting that milestone was great.
The Poetry Best Seller List by [Berkeley, Calif.'s] Small Press Distribution had it for July and August. We'll find out for September [she was interviewed before the September list]. That's been really, really exciting.
Question: Is there a second volume of poetry to come?
Whitney: I've been writing new poetry all along, even things from last June that didn't make it into the book.
I have the first makings of a second collection, but it's going to take a long time. Hopefully not as long as the first one, which was over a decade.
What I am working on really immediately is a memoir in essay form. It's the best of parenting column, 'Spilt Milk.' I'm sending it out to agents and getting good responses. That's my focus for 2015.
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