Every year since 1907, Baltimore Magazine releases a list of what of the best Baltimore has to offer. Its “Best of 2016” edition pinpoints Baltimore’s best in arts/culture, food/drink, lifestyle/home, and news/media.
This year, the magazine listed Lia Purpura as Baltimore’s “Best Poet of 2016”. Lia Purpura is a writer in residence in UMBC’s English department. When she was offered the position, she could not pass it up, describing UMBC as her “home.” Purpura believes that students at UMBC are willing to take risks in their writing and are willing to listen to one another; this contributes to meaningful discussion. She also teaches poetry, nonfiction workshops, and other English courses at UMBC.
She has written three collections of essays (Rough Likeness, Sarabande Books, 2012; On Looking, Sarabande Books, 2006; Increase, University of Georgia Press, 2006), three collections of poems (King Baby, Alice James Books, 2008; Stone Sky Lifting, Ohio State University Press, 2000; The Brighter the Veil, Orchises Press, 1996) and a collection of translations (Poems of Grzegorz Musial: Berliner Tagebuch & Taste of Ash, Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1998).
Purpura’s work additionally appears in Agni, Field, The Georgia Review, Orion, The New Republic, The New Yorker, The Paris Review, Best American Essays, and more. She has been awarded a Pushcart Prize for her essay “Scream or, Never Minding” and received recognition for her poem “Resolution,” which was actually a feature piece on The Academy of American Poets website. “On Looking” was a finalist for the National Books Critics Award.
Her most recent collection It Shouldn’t Have Been Beautiful was pinpointed by Baltimore Magazine and was described as delivering “poignant insight into our existence without pomp and circumstance.” When creating this particular collection, Purpura states that it began “really as an experiment, a mode of discovery.” She was interested in how shorter poetry can demonstrate depth with the amount of space required around them as shorter poems creates a “single, very precise ringing encounter that kept shimmering on.”
When describing her daily writing routine, Purpura states that she gets up relatively early, has a lot of coffee, and then sits down and writes for a few hours. In order to keep herself moving, she periodically gets up and lifts weights or does yoga. Additionally, she also reads the work of others in order to prime herself before writing. When Purpura was first published, she described it as a key turning in a door. She had a good understanding of the procedure, length, revision, and mistakes required in order for it to be published.
Lia Purpura was first inspired to pursue poetry as a child, when she had a quote book in which she documented intriguing words, overheard conversations, bits of conversation, loved or hated words, titles, descriptions of people and places and animals. She would also read a lot and was inspired to want to pursue writing.
There are also poems she has written that she regrets because something about the language hasn’t yet worked out. However, when asked what her favorite self-written poem is, she was unable to name one as there are certain poems that “come into the light” after certain difficulty and there are others that “arrive like gifts, mostly unbidden and feel complete after only a few easy drafts”. Additionally, other poems are likable to her because they “remain really independent” of her and they “sort of write themselves”.
To find out more information regarding Lia Purpura, check out liapurpura.com or check out more information regarding her on UMBC’s English department website.