Former Utah Poet Laureate and Guggenheim Fellow Katharine Coles is 15 Bytes’ inaugural Sunday Blog Read. Each month we’ll be posting for your reading enjoyment literary works-in-progress…works soon-to-be-published…or, as in the case of today, works recently released.
The Sunday Blog Read is a glimpse into the working minds and hearts of writers with a Utah connection. And we’re pretty confident you’ll be inspired.
So…curl up on the couch with your favorite cup-a-joe and enjoy!
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We caught up with Katharine on the eve of the publication of her new collection, The Earth is Not Flat (Red Hen Press), which will launch Friday, March 1 at the King’s English Bookshop in Salt Lake City at 7 pm.
15B: This volume of poetry started with an excursion to Antarctica. I’m sure you had a vision, or notion of what the book might be like before you left. How has that changed now that the book is out?
KC: I hate to say it, but I don’t think I did have such a vision before I left, which was both frightening and exciting. Really, I was much more accustomed to writing about art, philosophy, and science/scientific ideas than about raw nature, which is what you are surrounded by down there. I knew, I think, that I was entering a situation and a world that were going to be in some ways completely new to me, and I was hoping against hope that all the advance reading I had done and was doing would somehow come together with and inflect the experience in such a way that (tada!) poems would emerge. Fortunately, the scientists were wonderful guides to and mediators of the world I was encountering, so that helped a lot.
SAILING TO ANTARCTICA
The problem is the voices
I can’t get out of my head. On the bridge, the captain’s playing
“Break On Through”; he’s been
Playing “Stormy Weather.” Go ahead, Google World’s
Roughest Crossing. Google
Shipwreck, and Lost at Sea. Meanwhile, the ship
Is tearing itself
Apart beam by steel beam; the ship is gnawing its own liver
And the sea is eating
Its heart out and wants me to sashay right on by and take
A look. Lean over
The rail, little one, lean a little farther. The problem is the voices. Sea,
Sea, you’re all foam
Vanishing, cry of shearwater and albatross wing knitting
You to sky; you are height
And depth and open mouth, and I am barely a morsel. Sea, I can’t get out
Of my head, or is it you’re
What I can’t get my poor head around, what I don’t know how to measure—
A 20-foot sea, a 30-foot sea. Not a falling so much as a
Career, a sinking
So much as a gulp. Measure from where the surface would be
If I could find it, if
The idea of surface hadn’t become a moving target I plummet
Past into the trough and know
No better on the ride back up into yippee, though on the wave’s crest
Three days out
I swear I can see South America. This is the best
Thing ever, clinging
To the rail watching another wave crash all the way over the bow, over
The captain high
In his bridge, the captain who will carry us through with his instruments
And playlist and steel-hulled
Gut, though he says everyone has a threshold, even him. Chris and Jenny,
Most of the passengers
Green in their berths along with half the crew. And me, I am used
To the world appearing
To wish me well. All those summer weeks spent reading in the Jeep
While Dad careened us down
The roughest roads he could find, Mom rigged to some near
Cliff face by
Thin rope. Isn’t a mountain a wave moving slow? I am
Used to the best
Kind of luck and a stomach that can ride out anything, even
Of my own hubris. All day I stand on deck with the birds
And spray, birds
That can sail across oceans without moving their wings. Wherever
I look, infinity’s blue
And gray, and I say Okay already, give me all you’ve got.
(reprinted with permission of Red Hen Press. First published in Virginia Quarterly Review)
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TWO KINDS OF PEOPLE
Those who love the wind, and. Those
Who believe in words. Or who believe
In time as if an instant were something
Anyone could measure, who believe anything
Can be divided into two. Or three. And.
Those who leave all the lights
Blazing the darkest night of the year; who sit
Alone under one lamp reading, waiting
For the eclipse even if the moon does
Take all damned night and the sun
Never sets; who fly
As far as they must to find—
Who may, who knows, be the same
People. Our friend Torsten says there are
Those who dream of climbing a ladder
Down any hole in the ice, who would, waving
Hats overhead, fling themselves into
Volcano or blizzard, into the sea’s
Lowest trough and over the next crest, and those
Like Deb who would say, I support you
But what, are you crazy? Who
Are you? Which am I? One, then
The other, takes two hearts in hand
And sails into almost any
Earthly end, then returns to solid
Ground rocking, each other’s arms.
(reprinted with permission of Red Hen Press)
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Katharine Coles’ fifth collection of poems, The Earth Is Not Flat, will be published on March 1 by Red Hen Press, which will also publish her sixth collection, Flight, in 2015. Her poems, stories, and essays have appeared in Poetry, The Kenyon Review, The Seneca Review, Virginia Quarterly Review, and The Paris Review, among many other journals. In 2009-10, she served as the inaugural director of the Harriet Monroe Poetry Institute for the Poetry Foundation; on stepping down, she traveled to Antarctica to write poems under the auspices of the National Science Foundation’s Antarctic Artists and Writers Program. She is a 2012 Guggenheim Foundation Fellow and a professor of English at the University of Utah, where she also founded and co-directs the Utah Symposium in Science and Literature. She served as the Utah State Poet Laureate from 2006 to 2012.
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