Pioneer Valley Poets: Shutesbury poet will read from her new collection

  • Shutesbury poet Janet MacFadyen will launch her new collection, “Waiting to Be Born: American Ghazals and Other Journeys,” at Amherst Books, Wednesday, Nov. 8, at 7 p.m. Courtesy Steve Schmidt

  • Trish Crapo

For The Recorder
Published: 10/25/2017 1:44:25 PM

Recently, I sat down with Shutesbury poet Janet MacFadyen to talk about her new full-length collection, “Waiting to Be Born: American Ghazals and Other Journeys,” just out from Dos Madres Press.

MacFadyen will be holding a book launch at Amherst Books, 8 Main St., Amherst on Wednesday, Nov. 8, 7 p.m.

The collection includes poems written during a residency in one of the remote shacks out in the dunes of the Cape Cod National Seashore near Provincetown, as well as poems that draw from experiences in Ireland, Newfoundland, California and Western Massachusetts. A freelance editor and managing editor of Slate Roof Press in Northfield, MacFadyen draws inspiration and solace from spending time in wild places.

Many of the poems in MacFadyen’s new book are ghazals, a Middle Eastern form with roots going back to the seventh century. MacFadyen readily admits that her poems do not adhere to all of the traditional rules of the form. For instance, the lines of her stanzas fall in triplets, as opposed to couplets, and she does not use a repeating word throughout.

“I tried to stay close to the spirit of the ghazal,” MacFadyen says. “And the logic.”

Traditionally, ghazals are concerned with love, she says. “And that can be spiritual, metaphysical, or that can be actual erotic love.”

A ghazal is a kind of conversation, she adds. In her poems, she vacillates between addressing herself, talking to someone else, or invoking the reader as listener.

Another quality of ghazals is that each stanza is supposed to be able to stand alone. MacFadyen compares the stanzas to individual pearls in a necklace.

“What I tried to do was to make them almost little individual poems, each one,” she says.

“Connections between stanzas can be very tangential,” MacFadyen adds. “Some of mine are more narrative than others. But there should be something connecting them — mood, or image, or something.”

The form allows you to launch into a lot of different subject matters, MacFadyen says. For the poems in this new book, she drew from material in journals she’d kept on various trips as well as from research she was doing for a book on the non-Western roots of science. In the book’s title poem, “Waiting to Be Born,” the detail about the Mayans making paint from flowers and then licking their brushes clean came from that research.

The opening of the poem came from a dream she’d had, in which she’d been walking through a landscape similar to the grasslands in the Golden Hills of California. As she walked, she began to be aware that there was a path running parallel to hers.

“I knew there was a mountain lion on the other path and that sooner or later the two paths would converge,” MacFadyen said.

In the last stanza, MacFadyen is invoking one of the traditional aspects of the ghazal form when she addresses herself: “Oh, Janet, you need one more line about the sweetness/ of things.”

“It felt risky to be naming myself at all,” MacFadyen says, “But it also felt kind of tender, in this funny way.”

She tells the story of a meditation class she took in which the instructor advised her students to reel their attention back in from distracting thoughts by refocusing on their breath and saying to themselves, “Welcome back, dear one.”

“In my family, that would have been ironic, sarcastic, or even said in the middle of a fight,” MacFadyen says. “But she was serious. … So I thought, what’s that like, to try on the idea that your own self is valued?

“This whole book was sort of a wake-up call for me. ‘Waiting to be born,’ well I don’t feel that I’ve been born yet, in some fashion, in the willingness to really speak out and the willingness to really see what the world is like. To really feel like I have a right to walk in the world.”

MacFadyen says that this realization began during a Nor’easter in the dune shack, an experience that drove home to her how tenuous our lives are, and how tenuous the earth itself is.

“Well, it seems like the act of writing poems brings you back to that over and over again,” I say. “If there were nothing left to learn or no way to grow, we’d probably stop writing poems. We’d be done. So I guess, just to say, you’re never actually going to ‘get there.’”

“Yes,” MacFadyen agrees. “I still haven’t got there. Every day I wake up and continue traveling.”

Hear Janet MacFadyen read from “Waiting to Be Born” at Amherst Books, 8 Main St., Amherst on Wednesday, Nov. 8, 7 p.m. For more info: 413-256-1547 or visit MacFadyen’s book is available at Amherst Books, at World Eye Bookshop, 134 Main St., Greenfield, or online at

Trish Crapo is a writer and photographer who lives in Leyden. She is always looking for poets, writers and artists to interview for her columns. She can be reached at


Support Local Journalism

Subscribe to the Greenfield Recorder, keeping Franklin County informed since 1792.

Greenfield Recorder

14 Hope Street
Greenfield, MA 01302-1367
Phone: (413) 772-0261


Copyright © 2021 by Newspapers of Massachusetts, Inc.
Terms & Conditions - Privacy Policy