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Think Out Loud

Stephanie Lenox And The Poetry of Voice

Pete Springer/OPB

I can tell you that it hurts
to keep going,
that nothing matters
more than a quiet,
average life.

But if I did stop,
who would count
each ordinary breath?
Who would bless me?

That’s the ending of Stephanie Lenox’s poem “Longest Sneezing Fit, Day 977.” It’s written in the voice of a woman named Donna Griffiths, who was in the Guinness Book of World’s Records for — as you might have guessed — the longest sneezing fit on record. (It lasted 978 days, in case you were curious.)

Griffiths is one of many people from the Guinness Book that Lenox channeled in her recent collection, Congress of Strange People. She puts herself into the minds of a snake handler and a four-leaf-clover collector, the man who has lived the longest with a rare heart condition and the woman who made the longest chain of paperclips. They’re bravura performances of empathy, of seeing through the eyes of others.

Even when she writes about her own experiences, and her own life, Lenox takes an oblique approach. “I want to come in through the side window of my memories,” she told Think Out Loud.

We’ll talk to Lenox about her funny and moving persona poems, her path as a writer, and the book she’s working on now: a collection of poems about office life (think bosses, secretaries, cubicles, and passive agressive notes).

Have you read Lenox’s work? Have you seen her read? What would you like to ask her?

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OPB | Broadcast: May 6, 2013