Professor Heather Treseler’s prize-winning poetry collection published

April 16, 2024
By: Rebecca Cross

Professor Heather Treseler’s first full-length book of poetry, Auguries & Divinations, was released on April 10 by Bauhan Publishing. The book was selected for the 2023 May Sarton New Hampshire Poetry Prize.

Treseler previously won the 2019 chapbook award from the Munster Literature Centre in Cork, Ireland, for her chapbook Parturition (Southword, 2020) and has won prizes from Narrative, Missouri Review, Frontier Poetry, and the W. B. Yeats Society for individual poems.

She will be giving a series of readings this spring, starting with a book launch on April 23 in Eager Auditorium on the Worcester State campus. This free reading will start at 2:30 p.m. Books provided by Bedlam Book Cafe will be on sale at the event. Other local readings will take place at the Cambridge Center for Adult Learning on May 6 and the Grolier Poetry Book Shop on June 5. In May, she will attend and give a reading at the Cork International Poetry Festival in Cork, Ireland.

We spoke with Treseler about her new book.

Q: How did this collection come about?

A: Auguries & Divinations took about eight years; I started assembling it in 2015, and I worked closely with a friend who is also a poet and non-fiction writer through its many iterations. The book molted wholesale during that time: none of the poems in the first version are in the published book. 

My work with Worcester State students in creative writing courses also helped. Their courage, candor, and seriousness kept me going.

Q: You write at length about several women: your mother, your friend Lucie, Anne Sexton, Sophia Hawthorne. Why was it important to write about them?

A: As a young person, I read Alice Munro’s short stories, which often focus on the lives of women in post-war Canada. Her protagonists exert agency within—or outside of—the strictures of social class, domestic roles, and limited economic opportunities. It helped me imagine what my mother, grandmothers, and great-grandmothers had encountered and, in some cases, suffered in order to provide me with various freedoms that I had largely taken for granted. As I got serious about writing, I was able to study with the novelist and Nobel Laureate Saul Bellow and the poet Michael Harper. Both encouraged me to delve into untold stories, subplots, and so-called secondary characters: to look for what is missing from our mythologies or obscured in the archives. My mother Marita; my friend Lucie; and the artists Anne Sexton and Sophia Hawthorne all encountered significant obstacles in pursuing their lives and dreams but found ways of continuing, widening the path for others in the process.

Q: Where did the title come from?

A: I’m not a classicist, but I studied Latin literature in college, and I got interested in the ancient Roman practice of augury in which priests provided counsel based on their observation of birds’ flight patterns, behaviors, and even entrails. The timing of major battles, political decisions, and other crucial matters of state hinged on what the auguries revealed. 

I was interested in this habit of reading the natural world for clues to the human one. The narrator in the book is also trying to interpret what she encounters in the various worlds she moves through—a childhood in New England suburbia, a sojourn in the Midwest, the education of a friendship, a return to a homeplace, and the claiming of an artistic independent life and its loves.

Q: How do you approach the craft of poetry?

A: I try to write the best poem I can, letting the material guide the sonics, shape, cadence, and arc of the story. I also write essays and criticism for general and scholarly audiences, and I enjoy working in corollary genres. There is almost always something I can write, even if I’m between ideas for poems.

Q: How does it feel to win the May Sarton New Hampshire Poetry Prize?

A: I am honored. May Sarton was a prolific multi-genre writer who produced over fifty volumes of poetry, memoirs, novels, and journals. In 1915, she and her parents fled the German occupation of Belgium, where she had been born, and settled in metro-Boston; in her work, there is an awareness of how political realities can profoundly shape personal lives. While she traveled widely as an adult, Sarton made New England her home, and she draws on its landscapes and seasons in her writing while exploring the dynamics of friendship and love, autonomy and mutual recognition. It’s a great honor to receive a prize in her name.

Top photo by Rick Bern

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