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Awakin Calls » Barbara Crooker

Barbara Crooker: Poet, Speaker, Teacher
Jul 30, 2016: Chronicling Life's Loves, Losses, and Disabilities Through Poetry



Read: Call Transcript

Barbara Crooker has been writing poetry since the late 1970’s.  Her work, for which she has won many awards, incorporates themes of nature, home, family, love, loss, and disability. Over 700 of her poems have been published in anthologies and magazines, as well as compiled in several books and clapbooks, including The Lost Children (1989), Ordinary Life (2001), Radiance (2005), Line Dance (2008), and More (2010).  Her latest collection, Gold (2013), was published in the Poeima Poetry Series by Cascade Books.  Crooker frequently reads her poetry and gives lectures to the public. She resides in Fogelsville, Pennsylvania, in Lehigh County. Crooker began writing poetry following the stillbirth of her first daughter and a divorce from her then-husband.  She See full.
Barbara Crooker has been writing poetry since the late 1970’s.  Her work, for which she has won many awards, incorporates themes of nature, home, family, love, loss, and disability. Over 700 of her poems have been published in anthologies and magazines, as well as compiled in several books and clapbooks, including The Lost Children (1989), Ordinary Life (2001), Radiance (2005), Line Dance (2008), and More (2010).  Her latest collection, Gold (2013), was published in the Poeima Poetry Series by Cascade Books.  Crooker frequently reads her poetry and gives lectures to the public. She resides in Fogelsville, Pennsylvania, in Lehigh County.

Crooker began writing poetry following the stillbirth of her first daughter and a divorce from her then-husband.  She initially wrote about family, birth, love, and loss, drawing on the hardship, joy, and bereavement she experienced as a mother. Her most widely reprinted poem, “The Lost Children,” was the first poem she published. It was included in The Poetry Review, a journal for the Poetry Society of America. It appeared again in three anthologies on parenting, two online journals, six magazines, and several books on loss. Crooker believes this poem was so popular because it provided healing power for other parents who shared similar emotions and experiences.

Following her marriage to Richard Crooker, she had three more children – daughters Stacey and Rebecca, and a son David.  Her children again became the main characters in her poems. These poems were later collected in Ordinary Life (2001). Much of the poetry in this collection focuses on Crooker’s son, David, who was diagnosed with autism when he was about two years old. The poems David inspired reflect on emotional issues involved with raising a disabled child and worrying about his future. Many of these poems have been reprinted in disability and parenting journals.

“My son and his different abilities (not his dis-abilities) have shaped my work in ways that are both varied and mysterious,” Barbara has noted. “Some of them are: how the notion of metaphor works as a way of grasping the world; how, as a mother, I have been forced to see beyond the conventional paradigms of good/bad, normal/abnormal; how abled writers need to be sensitive about what is exploitive versus the need to own one's own experience; how things that are seen as negatives by therapists and educators, such as obsessive behavior, can be viewed as writing tools; and how autism can be seen as a different way of visioning.”

Ordinary Life won the ByLine Chapbook competition in 2001, and Impressionism won the Grayson Books Chapbook competition in 2004. Crooker also received the 2007 Pen and Brush Poetry Prize, the 2006 Ekphrastic Poetry Award from Rosebud, thirty-two nominations for the Pushcart Prize, five Best of the Net nominations, and she was a 1997 Grammy Awards Finalist for her part in the audio version of the popular anthology, Grow Old Along With Me—The Best is Yet to Be (Papier Mache Press).

Radiance (2005), her first full-length book, won the Word Press First Book competition in its publication year and the Paterson Poetry Prize in 2006. She tells Diane Lockward in an interview, “[The book] was organized like a quilt patch, with each section containing poems on the main themes: a child with autism, an aging parent’s decline, the search for spiritual meaning in a secular age, love in a long-term relationship, ekphrasis (poems on paintings); all of these touching on some aspect of light.”

Her second full-length collection, Line Dance (2008) won the Paterson Award for Literary Excellence. She says of her full-length collection, More (2010): “I’m using a block construction, with all the poems on the same subjects (art, my mother’s illness, family poems) grouped in the same section, each one dealing with a different definition or aspect or function of the word “more”: the hunger for more, (“Everybody’s got a hungry heart,” Springsteen); the desire for more love (“There is no remedy but to love more,” Thoreau); the need for more beauty, via art and culture (“It is the artist’s duty to create a world that is more beautiful,” Van Gogh); the reach for more of everything (“All I ever wanted was more,” anonymous).”

Over the years Crooker has become nationally recognized; Garrison Keillor has read seven of her poems on his National Public Radio (NPR) program The Writer’s Almanac. Her work has been read on the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) and the Australian Broadcasting Company (ABC). Known internationally, Crooker's work has been translated into both German and Korean, and has appeared in several journals in England, Ireland, Italy, France, and New Zealand.

“Some of [my poetry],” Crooker says, “is a reminder of the many ways in which we are not alone in our experiences of joy and suffering, even though we all walk different paths. Some of my topics include autism (my son, age 32, has this as his diagnosis), traumatic brain injury (my middle daughter had one when she was 18), loss (one of my books, GOLD, is concerned with my mother's death and the path through grief and mourning, and I have many poems on neo-natal loss; my first daughter was stillborn), cancer (I have a sequence of 22 poems on breast cancer), global climate change and its consequences), and (for the joy part) love in a long-term relationship, gardening, art, cooking and food.”


Five Questions for Barbara

What Makes You Come Alive?
When a poem I've written (which means wrestled with through fifty or more drafts) finds its way in the world, and some readers respond to it.

Your Greatest Inspiration?
The death of my first child, a walk through fire.

An Act of Kindness You'll Never Forget?
When a stranger noticed we'd left our camera on the bus (this was before disposable cameras/cell phones) and got off at the next stop, 1/2 a mile away. She was breathless, having run through a park (this was in Honolulu), but wanted to get the camera back to "the lady with the red haired children" (she knew she'd be able to pick us out in the aquarium, as their hair is really striking).

One Thing On Your Bucket List?
I don't have a bucket list; I've lived in (on writing residencies) and visited Ireland and France . . .

One-line Message for the World?
A line from one of my poems: "Sometimes, just what you have / manages to be enough." ("Happiness")


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