Alice Derry’s fourth full collection, Tremolo, forthcoming from Red Hen Press (2011), continues the strands of her three previous collections, discovering new ground and reaching deeper into her focus on our lives with each other. Beginning with the musical term, the book takes the reader on a journey of trembling which ultimately arrives at steady ground. Central to the manuscript is the relationship of mother to daughter. The book continues to explore the stories of Germans tangled in their past and poems about language itself. Tremolo also contains the languages of music and visual art, which need no translation, depicting how separations that make up a life are balanced by our connections to others, to art, to lives of courage and discipline.
Alice Derry’s third volume of poems, Strangers to Their Courage, was published by Louisiana State University Press on September 4, 2001. Distilled from more than thirty years of experiences with the Germans and their language, the book explores the meaning of Derry’s investment in a population compromised and reviled. In addition to poems, the manuscript contains a lengthy introductory essay. Li-Young Lee has written of the work: “Here is a book whose ostensible subject is the story of a specific European family, but whose deeper subject is the human family in general. Written with the personal life at stake, these poems achieve a transpersonal significance and beauty. This book also asks us to surrender our simplistic ideas about race and prejudice, memory and forgetfulness, and begin to uncover a new paradigm for ‘human.’” Linda Bierds writes: “With clear prose and evocative poetry, Alice Derry has crafted a challenging book—a must-read for all concerned with the issues of human brutality and atonement.” Strangers to Their Courage was a finalist for the 2002 Washington Book Award.
Mary Ann Gwinn reviewed the book in The Seattle Times on December 14, 2001. She writes: “Derry has a poet’s ear. The stories of hardship and pain . . . are distilled into spare, unstinting verse . . . . this is tough stuff, but beautifully rendered.”
Derry’s second collection, Clearwater, was published in 1997 by Blue Begonia Press of Yakima, Washington. Lisel Mueller writes of this book: “This is a rare and astonishing book and its publication is cause for rejoicing. I know of no one else who writes like Alice Derry. The impact of these unsparingly honest and intimate poems is overwhelming, as they take us inside the poet’s mind, into the actual and felt life of a mother, wife and teacher, a life that is as rich as it is contradictory and uncontrollable. The poems unfold unpredictably, in the way we think and speak, allowing interruptions, leaps, digressions and one-word sentences. As readers, we are not so much addressed as included and embraced. All of us are enlarged by the empathy and candor of this extraordinary poet.”
In a review of Clearwater which appeared in Calyx, Volume 8, Nr. 3, Paulann Peterson writes: “This is the voice of Alice Derry: clear as the clear water of her book’s title. In these poems that explore her life, it’s a voice that compels and informs, illuminates and bears witness, a voice that has—to borrow from her own words—’. . .come this far / into the unreachable world.’ Far enough for us to see, and hear, and give thanks for its clarity and poignancy.”
Derry’s first manuscript, Stages 0f Twilight, was chosen by Raymond Carver as the l986 King County (Seattle) Arts Publication Award winner. Breitenbush Books published the manuscript in November of l986.
Carver said of the poems in a Seattle Times interview: “I felt she was writing about real things, things that counted. Her poems seemed honest in their conception and execution—they made a claim on my interest right away. I would even say they made a claim on my heart.” Lisel Mueller writes of the book: “These poems, while they are reflective, are never solitary, because they are about human connectedness . . . . This is the work of a clear-voiced, clear-sighted poet, who loves the world deeply.”
Stages of Twilight was also reviewed by Stephen Corey in the Spring l988 issue of The Georgia Review. He writes: “Derry’s language is nearly always heightened yet plain, her project large yet simple: exploration of incidents in the human heart, in the name of survival and perhaps even betterment. Sensitive to both the uncertainties and verities of daily existence, she is constantly open to finding images and metaphors that might help her to capture such bedrock ambiguities.”
Derry was born in Oregon and raised in Washington and Montana. She holds an M.F.A. from Goddard College in Vermont, as well as an M.A. in English from The American University in Washington, D.C. Her poems have appeared in periodicals such as Southern Poetry Review, Poetry, Ploughshares, Prairie Schooner, Portland Review, The Seattle Review, Hubbub, Crab Creek Review and Raven Chronicles. Derry’s poems have been nominated for the Pushcart Prize six times. Her poems have also appeared in a number of anthologies. Until she retired in 2009 after thirty-seven years of teaching, Derry taught English and German at Peninsula College in Port Angeles, Washington, where she had co-directed the Foothills Writers’ Series since 1980. She is married to Bruce Murdock, and they have a daughter, Lisel.
In l988 Derry was awarded an Individual Artist Fellowship from the Washington State Arts Commission. A chapbook, Getting Used to the Body, appeared in l989 from Sagittarius Press in Port Townsend, Washington.
A second chapbook, Not as You Once Imagined, was published in 1993 by Trask House Boks of Portland, Oregon. Lisel Mueller writes of the book: “Alice Derry loves the real world so intensely that she trusts and delights in the authenticity of its smallest gesture . . . . She has made her peace with imperfection. These poems are acts of praise, not lightly won, arising from a truthful and noble spirit.”
In May, 2002, Pleasure Boat Studio of New York City released a chapbook of eleven of Derry’s translations from the German poet, Rainer Rilke. The book is now in its second printing. Gary Miranda writes of the translations: “Alice Derry’s renditions of Rilke’s short but difficult New Poems have an ease that comes only from living with the originals for a long time and letting them blossom from within. . . .Most impressively, these translations manage to capture the tone of controlled urgency that is unmistakable Rilke.”
In 1996 Derry was awarded the Washington Community and Technical College Humanities Association Exemplary Status Award for her work in poetry—both for her own and for the promotion of others’. Derry has been chosen four times to present at the Skagit River Poetry Festival in La Conner, Washington. In February of 2005, Derry was named Poet-in-Residence at the biennial conference of the National Association for Humanities Education. Her poetry and that of a colleague framed the two-day conference. Derry is an accomplished reader of her work and has read widely.