Charting Her Own Course

From the Lawrenceville Patch

Charting Her Own Course: Lawrence poet Nancy Scott is willing to follow the detours and make her own way.
by V. Sarada Holt, December 19, 2010

Inspiration for the title of Nancy Scott’s fourth book of poetry, Detours & Diversions, came in part from the path she said she’d taken in life—one that often wanders from a predetermined course.

The idea came to her recently on a walk in Lawrenceville with her 4-her old granddaughter, recounted in a poem in the new collection. “Stay on the path,” her granddaughter said. “She tells me, ‘Don’t step out there, there are snakes and toadstools,’” Scott said.

This is where the impetus for Detours & Diversions comes from, Scott said. “I did all these things that were not pre-charted for me,” she said. “This 4-year old told me to stay on the path as my family had done.”

The path has taken her from Chicago to her current residence in Lawrence Township. She has lived in the area since 1966, when she came to New Jersey because her then-husband became a professor at Princeton University. Over the years, that post brought with it travel around the world on sabbaticals and she began her own career here in social work for the state, from which she retired in 2005.

Her experience working in the state Department of Community Affairs and the Division of Youth and Family Services since the 1970s emerges in her poetry in carefully-wrought portrayals of the people whose stories are rarely heard by mainstream America.

“There are a million stories out there and none of them make good cocktail conversation,” she said. “People want you to take care of it, but they don’t want to hear about it.”

Her social work began in 1970, trying to find homes for minority, disabled and sibling groups of children. She became an adoptive parent of three, in addition to having a biological son and many experiences in fostering children. In the 1970s, she served on the Mercer County Mental Health Board and in the ’80s with the New Jersey Foster Parents’ Association. She also worked finding homes for the homeless through the Section 8 Rental Assistance Program. When she began writing poetry in the ’90s as a way to record some of which she had witnessed, these stories began to take narrative form.

Her work is oriented toward people and places. The subject matter ranges from description of lives afflicted by poverty and abuse to her personal reflection on being the wife of an Ivy League university faculty member in the 1960s.

“I don’t write about the environment or the trees or the seashore,” she observed. She characterizes her writing style as narrative and straightforward. “You don’t have to wonder, ‘What is she trying to say’—I’m telling you,” she said.

One poem, “Herman Sharp”, is about her great-uncle, who died in 1918 in World War I. She found a story about him in the archives of his Illinois hometown, but most what she knows of the young fallen soldier was from a single photograph of him posing with a canon.

Some poems are inspired by her travels –“memory poems,” she describes them. “Hampstead” describes a place where she spent time with her family when her children were young. Her poem “English Summer” was written the night of the moon landing.

Other poems in her new collection are humorous, like “Dumping the Emu,” which recounts an unusual news story about law enforcement trying to capture the flightless bird in Mississippi.

More recently she has sought inspiration from art both as an observer and a creator.

Having taken a course at Bucks County Community College in the spring in ekphrastic poetry—poetry inspired by art—she has been mixing her love of creating collages with her poetry. An upcoming Lawrenceville Main Street Artists Network exhibit will focus on artists and poets inspired by each other’s work. A selection of her collage work is visible at her website, along with excerpts from her poetry books.

Scott is also managing editor of U.S. 1 Worksheets, the journal of the U.S.1 Poets’ Cooperative, a group she describes as vital and brimming with talent and ideas. The U.S. 1 Poets’ Cooperative meets weekly in members’ homes. “We comment that the level of poetry that is being produced has gotten so much better,” she said. “(with) the group support and the dedication in writing and publishing, it’s an exciting time.

Because online venues are more prevalent than print journals due to the ease of publishing online, “You end up finding new strategies to get your work out there,” Scott said. That includes a lot of public readings, something she said she was surprised she enjoyed immensely.

Her first two books, Down to the Quick and One Stands Guard, One Sleeps, were published in 2007and 2009 by Plain View Press. A third, A Siege of Raptors, was published by Finishing Line Press as a chapbook in 2010.

“It’s exciting that people want to publish these books,” she said. The most recent book, published by Main Street Rag and available in February 2011, was accepted two weeks after she submitted her work. The book includes many episodes from her life and includes both humorous and serious poems.

“When I write, I just write. I don’t think, ‘I’m going to write x number of poems about this or that.’ I find that I’m in a mindset where I’m writing things from a certain point of view. Unbeknownst to me they have a theme.”

Although her life has included many detours from the path others would have chosen for her, Scott said in her poem, “Stay on the Path, Mimi” that she is happy with the one she is on now. “I don’t want to be anywhere else / except on the path that has brought us both here.”

For information on ordering Nancy Scott’s books, visit or contact Nancy at