By: Gail Obenreder
“A few months ago, I heard someone say, ‘You have to know your why.’ And it seems I have found mine: keep learning, keep writing, pay it forward.”
Masters Fellow Linda Blaskey was a writer from the start: “I was always getting into trouble in school because I was writing stories rather than paying attention in class.” Fortunately, she had encouraging teachers, and once she set out on her path, there was no turning back. “I think it’s a shame that really good teachers don’t always get to know what a positive, lifelong influence they have on their students.”
Blaskey wasn’t always a poet. Before she was “swept away by poetry,” she had carved out a career as a successful short story writer, with published works and one (“The Haircut”) adapted for performance by Philadelphia’s InterAct Theatre. But she admits that though drawn to the genre’s precision, focus, and brevity, “poetry always used to scare me.” It was another teacher – former Delaware Poet Laureate Fleda Brown – whose guidance instilled the confidence to write poems. Another mentor told her that “writing poetry wasn’t about the take-off and the landing, but about being in the air,” leading her to realize that “telling the truth . . . would give my words the lift to move into another realm.” So Blaskey dug deep, moving inward and forward.
The accomplished writer lived much of her childhood on the Kansas plains and the Ozark Mountains of Arkansas. Her family of five (parents and three siblings) moved to Delaware when she was in 7th grade, and Blaskey now lives on a small Sussex County horse-and-goat farm. But her work is still influenced by those early years. Among her awards (including a 2013 Division Fellowship) is the publication in Best New Poets 2014 of her poem “Looking West Toward the Ozarks.”
Blaskey is inspired by “the local poets that are my friends – their desire to create keeps me going.” Her ever-expanding oeuvre includes three books – the latest, White Horses, published in 2019 by Mojave River Press – and her poems have appeared in multiple anthologies, exhibitions, and collections. “There is something deeply satisfying about working hard on a poem, finishing it, and knowing that it’s good.”
The town where I grew up is tucked in folds of sandstone, shale, and chert,
at the heel of red-dirt hills formed not from tectonic clash but domes
built up from Paleozoic ocean floor, layer upon layer of settling silt
and the dying bodies of crinoids. There are caverns still to be spelunked,
and closed grottos, some small as a child’s play house. No fossils to be found
except trilobite and ammonite impressions in sedimentary stone;
artifact arrowheads flint-knapped into shape by Osage and Quapaw.
We lived above the tree line on a bald knob visible from the valley;
people below on the old road looked up at night, strained to see
through car windows the porch light oft mistaken for a steady star,
and said there as if a benediction bestowed, but it was only our house
of tar paper and tin–hounds in the yard, a flink of cows cud-chewing
in the night, hogs snuffling around the scum-slick pond–but a beacon
to those finding their way while we slept unaware, swimming through
the ancient ocean of our dreams, preserving ourselves for the waking hours.
This is where you capture my hand and I stay, each of us sleeping
serene as stone.
But sharing and helping others is another of her great rewards: “I think it’s all about paying it forward,” and she takes that belief into action. Blaskey is a regular presenter at conferences and panels, and one of her latest projects is founding and editing Quartet, an online poetry journal featuring the work of women aged fifty-plus that has been read in over 40 countries. She is also working with various foundations to establish a position for a county poet laureate.
Blaskey continues to write and reach out, but the pandemic impacted her greatly, making it impossible to share and sell her two latest publications via the readings and appearances that are a poet’s lifeblood. “I have two boxes of books sitting on my living room floor with very limited ways to get them out into the world.” But it also forced her to work on her own, without workshops or groups, and “it was a great confidence builder . . . my work improved greatly because I was listening to no one but myself.”
Blaskey plans to use her award to continue learning (“once you think you know it all you’re lost”), to finish her fourth book, attend a retreat, and buy a new laptop. She also plans to keep improving the newly founded Quartet.
For Blaskey, receiving the prestigious Masters Fellowship is culmination of a long relationship with the Division of the Arts that has been enormously important and meaningful. “DDOA has been at my side since the very first Cape Henlopen Writers’ Retreat in 2002, and here we are 20 years later!” Her work has been deeply influenced by the association with DDOA and the support it has provided. “I don’t think there are words to express that appreciation,” she states, “and that comes from someone who works with words!”Fellowship Home
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