Caroline N. Simpson


Photo: Sandra F. Simpson

Literature: Poetry

By: Gail Obenreder

“Writing poetry is much more about process than product . . . There’s a stillness and a peace to being in this space. I’m more aware and feel more connected to the earth.”

Though she’s taught writing and literature throughout her career and has been twice nominated for the Pushcart Prize, Caroline N. Simpson only began to write poetry when she was 29 years old. Tasked with teaching it in “a rigorous course at an international high school in Ankara, Turkey,” Simpson prepared diligently, studying letters between poets and biographers as well as reading their writing. “By working so hard to figure out how to unlock poetry for my Turkish students, I found the key for myself.”

Simpson grew up in Princeton, New Jersey and has also been a teacher internationally in Spain. Also an educator in Montana and the Seattle area before her 2018 move to Wilmington, Simpson has taught in a variety of American locales and in differing educational niches – including at Delaware State University last year and at The Tatnall School now. The variety of “myths, history, and landscapes” that she’s experienced throughout her career has provided her with “a sense of ‘the other’ that is at the heart of [her] life and writing.”

from poetry collection, Unless I Swim Skyward, 2017-2019

The Cornice

We thought we were far enough
from the edge of the snow-covered ridge
that hovered above a glacier-carved ravine,
yet when Annica tripped on her shoelace,
we gasped until she was on her feet again.
We had entered this high point riddled with caution signs,
chose to walk along this finger pointing to an imminent death,
even paused to eat our lunch perched atop its severity,
haunted by ghostly implications inhaled as cold mountain breaths.
I feared the sound of snow cracking beneath my feet,
the beginning of a fall, my stomach lodged in my throat,
gravity pulling the rest of my body down,
these two parts of me a rubber band
stretched to its breaking point.
I feared the awareness of death
that would surface
in such a moment.
I find myself again at the abyss,
this time on a cornice of my own making.
This is a fall that will begin when she is born and last my entire life.
People tell me about their own plunges, what they found below, how they felt.
I can’t know this expanse from looking over its edge,
not who she is, how I’ll feel, what our connection will be.
I only know this gravity will take me somewhere deep.
I’ve come to this cliff precisely
for this unknown.

How rarely in life I’ve created my own precipice,
walked past the caution signs, stepped onto the edge
not by accident, but excited by a vastness I can never contain,
nervous for the fall, for all is unknown.
Yet here I am leaning
toward mine.

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First influenced by the poets she taught in Ankara – Seamus Heaney, Elizabeth Bishop, John Keats – Simpson is also influenced by imagists like William Carlos Williams and Ezra Pound. To improve her language skills while teaching in Turkey, she began to translate the works of 20th century Turkish poet Orhan Veli, and spending “such intimate time” with his words helped her verse to be, “like his, richer in hyperbole and metaphor.”

Simpson’s artistic goal is to “make sense of [her] experiences in a way that’s beautiful and resonant for others,” and she works slowly through many drafts. “I am a revisionist. The initial draft and the finished product will be very different.” Challenged by finding writing time while caring for her daughter, she’s also been studying tango for ten years (beginning in Turkey) and as an avid outdoorswoman, she loves to rock-climb. Though they might seem widely divergent interests, both “turn off my language-brain and put me entirely in my body and the present.”

For a new Delawarean, the Fellowship means a welcome ability to connect with other local artists, as well as being able to offer readings and workshops, which she enjoys, feeling “they are part of [her] literary duty.” Simpson is working on a collection of poems, Unless I Swim Skyward, inspired by the tale of Orpheus, and she’s grateful for the warm reception she’s received here: “The Delaware writing community is a very special one!”

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