Poet Chelsea Wagenaar writes about the ways we are all “bent to the wild will / of instinct.” Among her favorite themes is the position of the human within nature. Her poems constantly surprise; a feeling of observatory exclamation appears and reappears, with images of bare-limbed trees, a “darkening winterplum sky,” or the “redly skittish sprint of a fox.” She writes about a sense of exile upon earth, our common lineage, and above all, instinct: for sorrow, for praise, for the earth, for desire and fear. In our bodily reflexes, the tangible intersects with the sublime. As life advances, our limitations shift with the passing of time. As Wagenaar examines the resonances of original creation within the natural world, her subject matter moves from the jellied disc of a lower vertebrae to opalescent berries. Her attentiveness to small details like these gives her poetry a prescient awareness of the human position, physical and metaphysical: our lives, she writes, are “weighed against a feather, // already counted up.”
Chelsea Wagenaar received her B.A. from the University of Virginia, where she graduated from the Area Program in Poetry Writing. She went on to receive a Ph.D. in English with an emphasis in creative writing from the University of North Texas. Her first collection of poetry, Mercy Spurs the Bone (Anhinga, 2015), was selected by Philip Levine to win the 2013 Philip Levine Prize. She is currently a postdoctoral Lilly Fellow at Valparaiso University, where she teaches in the interdisciplinary honors college in addition to creative writing courses. She and her husband, poet Mark Wagenaar, welcomed a daughter in 2015.
Her current project is a collection of poems entitled The Spinning Place, which borrows its title from the epigraph by Dylan Thomas, from “Fern Hill.” The poems in this collection think broadly and metaphorically about notions of origin, exile, and the often inextricable relationship of praise to sorrow. She is also at work on a few pieces of creative nonfiction, and most recently finished a personal essay about the way in which breastfeeding can redefine a mother’s sense of time.
The Image archive is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts.