I met Kathryn when I joined the Board of the former South Carolina Writers’ Workshop, now the South Carolina Writers Association. She was already on the Board and I saw her as a mentor, but she quickly became a good friend. We worked on a couple committees together and while always dedicated to the work, she also has a sense of humor that made the work fun and interesting.
Kathryn has won numerous awards for her poetry and prose including a Virginia Center of the Arts fellow, an individual artist grant from the SC Arts Commission, and recently was named the Elizabeth Boatwright Coker Fiction Fellow by the SC Writers Association. This latest award was judged by the novelist, Wiley Cash.
Last year Kathryn finished her first poetry collection, Where Comparison Ends, and asked if I’d write a blurb for the cover. It’s always an honor to read someone else’s manuscript before it gets to print, and a challenge to condense all you want to say into a brief review. This was especially true for Kathryn’s book. Each poem is like holding a brief breath – that pause between here and there, between then and now; or the ethereal space of wakefulness, memory, and regret. There is great beauty and tension in that space and Kathryn’s poetry draws the reader to feel all of it.
When Kathryn’s book arrived I was a little surprised at how thin it was. While I was reading the manuscript the length and weight of the poems seemed larger. But then, that’s what liminal space is, that thin slip of space between meaningful moments of time.
So here’s Kathryn!
Do you remember the first poem you ever wrote? How old were you? What was it about?
The first poem I wrote was when I was not yet 13. I spent a lot of time alone that year. My darling grandfather was dying; my parents were at the hosptial and working, and I was deep into the blues of coming into the tween years. I don’t remember what the poem was about, but certainly it was about my own poor suffering. All the poems I had read were about suffering and lost love–the romantic poets and their stories: Shelley and Byron and Keats.–also I found Sarah Teasdale and Edna St Vincent Millay and Dickinson on my own. Male poets were the main features in my English classes ane I suppose everyone’s then. But they all spoke to me (usually in rhymed iambic pentameter), and certainly, they added to my teenage angst.
That brings me to your second question, who I’d love to have tea with. Well, I could say Mary Oliver, because who wouldn’t? But instead, I would say
Walt Whitman. The discovery of Leaves of Grass opened a door for me. He showed me how words could break into a song rather than a dirge. He celebrated the body, the mind and nature in a way that made me feel as if I were lolling and studying a single blade of grass right beside him. He made his own rules, which was, basically, no rules except listening to his own ear. Hey, and he was self-published, so double good for him that he had that kind of belief in his work.
With Kathryn’s permission I’m sharing two poems from her collection. (Titles are bolded).
Under this sun, the ghost of my grandmother appears;
my mother follows, a shimmer in her wake.
The two stand ankle-deep in nettles and wicker baskets.
Their teeth are rows of clothespins.
They move down the line in unison,
pitching tails of bleached sheets skyward.
A snatch of wrists seeds the day with billows
of telling dreams and white percale.
Unborn beneath a skein of bees and mimosa,
I wait for the clear blue of August to pass,
wait for the wind-bearing lungs of deep autumn,
the harvest of amber honey and myself.
My mothers will fetch me once they’re done.
They will finish here and come lift
the thought of me into the folds of their aprons,
pick sleep from our eyes and take me home.
Even now, their pocket charms sing in my ear:
river rock, pulley-bone, blade and spoon.
Nothing has begun yet, and nothing is over.
Sweat of a morning’s weeding bleeds through
his yellow shirt and makes him rise, a dry stalk
among bold shoots, staked vines, companion plants.
He rattles salt from his thinning bones as if
he could shake the burn of hard work and time.
A scarecrow stretch draws him sunward,
spins him till he settles down at boyhood.
Tranquility of smoked bees, sharp grasses, clouds
of apple blossoms–all gone now
to the seed of invisible fences, a three-car garage.
He falls back to his task and into his habits,
memory and regret. How good the money sounded,
how hard the orchards fell.
Called Forth first appeared in The Petigrew Review
Kathryn Etters Lovatt ~ Where Comparison Ends
Available through Main Street Rag Publishing Co.