The following feature story appeared in the campus publication MOSAIC in October, 1999.
PERCEIVING HUMAN CONSCIOUSNESS THROUGH AWARD-WINNING POETRY
If she had had her way, Chase Twichells life work would have been creating art on canvass. But due to a twist of fate, words became her artistic medium.
"When I was shipped off to boarding school, my parents decided I was too obsessively involved in painting," recalls Twichell, who today is an award-winning poet. "It was worked out between them and the school that I should not study art for at least a year. So I took my revenge on the powers that be by starting to write poems seriously when I was about 14. It started out as a kind of secret life. But my journal was a place for me to discover that language had power, and that it had a secret life of its own."
The author of five books of poems, Twichell has been described as a poet of "dazzling and profound imagination." Her books include Northern Spy (1981), about frictions between men and women; The Odds (1986), about her realization that the mind creates itself; Perdido, (1991) about desire, sexuality and dreams; the Ghost of Eden (1995), about the destruction of the earth; and The Snow Watcher (1998), which covers Twichells work as a student of Zen Buddhism. She has won awards from the Artists Foundation of Boston and the New Jersey State Council on the Arts, and fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts. In 1994, the American Academy of Arts and Letters honored her with its Academy Award in Literature, and in 1997, the Poetry Society of America awarded her the Alice Fay Di Castagnola Award for The Snow Watcher.
A native of New Haven, CT, Twichell took a circuitous route to Trinity. She spent a year at Mills College, a womens college in California, followed by a semester at Reed College in Oregon, then known as a hotbed of political activity. She says she felt out of place at both schools. When she returned east to attend Trinity, she says she found a home.
"When I came to Trinity, I found Professor of English and poet Hugh Ogden," she says. "Hugh was absolutely passionate about poetry. He used to burst into tears in class on a fairly regular basis reading Milton or whatever. Hugh is a true poetry fan: a promoter, supporter, and a fabulous guy."
At Trinity, Twichell also took "Psychoanalysis and Literature" with Professor of English Dianne Hunter. "She just opened my eyes to all the worlds beneath the worlds," Twichell says. Another person who proved to be an important resource and source of inspiration for Twichell was Professor of Modern Language Dori Katz. "I studied translation with her, and even though my translations from the French were absolutely hopeless, she was a wonderful teacher and critic of poetry." Twichell also studied with the celebrated poet Richard Wilbur at Wesleyan, through a reciprocal arrangement that allows Trinity students to take courses at Wesleyan that are not offered at the College.
Recalling his former student, with whom he remains in contact, Ogden says, "From the beginning, Chase was a great student who was gifted linguistically and committed to poetry. She was wonderful with images. Some of the poems she wrote as a student were revised and used in her first book; that says something about her diligence and commitment to the art." While at Trinity, Twichell contributed to the Colleges literary magazine and won the Underwood Memorial Prize in Poetry for two consecutive years. Trinity bestowed its Alumni Achievement Award on her in 1998.
After graduating from Trinity with honors in English, Twichell enrolled at the University of Iowa's writer's workshop in 1974, where she held a teaching and writing fellowship. While there, she indulged her interest in art and started exploring the mechanics and aesthetics of publishing. After earning her M.F.A. in 1976, she returned to the east to work as printer, bookbinder, and designer at Pennyroyal Press in Hatsfield, MA. While there, she continued to hone her writing skills and, in 1983, began to share her insights on her craft with students at Hampshire College. In 1984, she headed south to teach in the master of fine arts program at the University of Alabama, where she also co-edited the Alabama Poetry Series, published by University of Alabama Press. She stayed in Alabama for three years, but once again felt out of her element. "I am too speedy and too Yankee and I stuck out like a sore thumb," she recalls. One person who made her feel more at ease in these environs was a visiting professor and fellow New Englander, the novelist Russell Banks, whom she later married.
She has taught at Vermonts Goddard College and continues to teach on a sporadic basis at Princeton University, which she has done since 1989. The co-editor of The Practice of Poetry: Writing Exercises From Poets Who Teach, she currently teaches in the Warren Wilson College M.F.A. program for writers. To provide another vehicle for poetry, Twichell recently fulfilled a longtime dream and started a small press, Ausable Press. She operates out of her home in Keene, NY, and plans to publish poetry and books of regional interest.
Twichells interest and commitment to poetry have not wavered since they were born during her boarding school days. "Poetry is an expression of not only the way that I perceive the world, but the way I perceive human consciousness in the world," she says. "Not being able to pursue it would be like suddenly being unable to speak."