Jennifer Barber, '78, Poet and Editor

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At Colby, Jennifer Barber developed “ a good work ethic” and a love of poetry, working with Peter Harris and Ira Sadoff who shared “ their own poetry and their knowledge of the writing process, with all of its joys and vicissitudes.” Since then, she has published Rigging the Wind, a poetry collection that won the 2002 Kore Press First Book Award, founded the literary magazine Salamander, and taught at various universities.

“ I love those moments when I’m immersed in a draft of a poem and can see that the individual lines are cohering, taking on a shape. The feeling is that anything is possible: I don’t know exactly where the poem is heading, but I can tell it’ s heading somewhere. At such times, the poem is the thing that seems real, and all of life’ s other aspects hover conveniently out of sight,” says Barber. She is inspired to write by what she sees, like “ the architecture of a city, clothes hanging on a line, a box of kitchen matches,” or sometimes a simple phrase “ rattling around in [her] mind” on the trolley that transmutes into an entire poem. Other times, it is the work of other poets that provides “ a strong gravitational pull” of inspiration and “ enlarges [her] sense of what is possible in a poem.” Barber finds revision enjoyable and revises often. “ At times, though, I can get into loops where I’ m making numerous tiny changes when I know I’ d be better off taking a complete break, in order to look at the poem later with fresh eyes,” she admits.


Barber characterizes her poems as “ lyric meditations,” which range from “ thinking about history – [she’ s] especially drawn to the twelfth and fifteenth centuries in Spain – to inquiries into the nature of longing, desire, or grief.” Her poetry is an attempt to “ balance the known and the unknown, language and silence” of the world. Through editing Salamander, she has come to a new appreciation of “ what creates interest in a poem” by reading thousands of poems each year. “ It has to do with the poet’ s vision and the embodiment of that vision in language… a poem’ s ability to take us places we haven’ t been before,” she says.

The idea for Salamander came to her as a way “ to create a new venue for poems and stories that were fully realized artistically but written by emerging authors.” Barber’ s editing over the years has allowed her to observe the development of writers that were published in the journal early in their careers, and continue to submit work. Barber has recently completed a new collection of poetry called Given Away, which will be published in 2012. Its poems range from “ dialogue[s] with the psalms or places in the writings of the prophets” to “ travel to Ireland, to Spain, and to rural areas of New England.” After finishing that collection, with its wide variety of subjects, Barber is presently writing poems that are more “ rooted in daily life.”

- Katerina Faust, ’ 14, William D. Adams Presidential Scholar

Click here to check out the website for Salamander, the literary magazine that Barber founded.