“Poetry for me is always about discovery,” says Mary Pinard, professor of English at Babson. Portal, her first book, is a collection of poems that attempts to make sense of the loss of her brother, who drowned in a tugboat accident. He died in an estuary in Grays Harbor, Washington, where the Army Corps of Engineers had been dredging for many years. “My first impulse was to mourn,” says Pinard, “but then I wanted to understand, to find answers.”
Pinard uses poetry as a means to tell stories, which she says are influenced by their settings, such as the estuary where her brother died. “I thought of the estuary and how it was formed by nature and re-formed by the Army Corps,” she says. In “Song Net for an Estuary,” Pinard explores the accident through 15 linked sonnets about her brother’s life, tugboats, and marine biology. “Each sonnet stands on its own, separate though connected,” she says.
Pinard wrote “Salvagings,” a poem in 13 parts, during a monthlong, summer writers residency. The 12th part, “Seeing Peonies,” addresses her brother, trying to make peace with his death. “Every day I would ride my bike along a rural road and see those peonies, how they were falling over, blowzy and fragrant,” says Pinard. “I began to think of connections. How the peonies bowed over, how their blossoms would fall down and let go. I realized I would like to let go of my grief. I was ready to move on.”
When creating a poem, Pinard normally works with parts of ideas. “When I don’t have uninterrupted time to write, I work a lot in my head,” she says. “In order not to lose contact with a poem in process, I think about it while I’m doing the dishes, while I’m at the market. So when I get back to my desk, I can add to it.”
Pinard encourages her students to experiment with poetry. “Poetry is not an elite art form,” she says. “It helps us understand who we are and our relationship to the world. We all have the capability to write poetry. We just need encouragement and guidance.”