Our Held Animal Breath by Kathryn Kirkpatrick

Source: Wordtech Communications and TLC Book Tours
Paperback, 96 pages
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Our Held Animal Breath by Kathryn Kirkpatrick is a slim volume of poetry that is broken into three sections.  Although there is a deep sense of anger and hurt over current events and the rape of the world by humanity, many of these poems also have a personal side to them — deep personal losses of friends and family.  At times, the narrator is baffled at how some things come to be, like in “Millennium” where the narrator is left with an altar in a room flooded with light.  “How did I come by this altar,/these windows of stained glass?/When I meet the fox again,/I set her free./The meadow she finds/is neither desert nor glacier.”  (page 11)

Kirkpatrick wonders about the connections between humans and nature, particularly animals.  She postulates in “At the Turkey Farm” whether we absorb the loneliness and longing of turkeys when we eat them during holidays, but at the same time she talks about their only solace as being able to stand in the fading light in their own poop.  At the heart of the poem, the narrator is exploring the existence of these animals as walking corpses and ghosts haunting the farms but not really living.  In a way the poem itself is haunting, forcing readers to contemplate these farms where animals are bred to be something other than themselves, serving mostly as food.

Strange Meeting (page 22-3)

Is this how an animal feels
on the other side of a human eye?

I was a woman speaking
to men I didn’t know.

Large and strong, they
knew about power
in ways I may never

I sat framed and assessed
no threat a square jaw decided
negligible bent knuckles said

I looked back through my animal
eye, saw

the slit throat of the cow
in the leather shoe

the poisons deep in the soil
where the cotton grew

the felled trees
of the papers stacked

the mountains leveled
in the electric hum of light and heat
where we sat.

I saw clearly
all they had done and would do
to make a world we’d be losing fast.

I saw why it was lost.
And I saw how we would lose it.

In some poems, Kirkpatrick weaves in the teachings of Buddhism, but in some instances, those teachings cannot stop the suffering. “After Zazen” explores the many forms of suffering facing humanity, including accidental swallowing of stones to cause near suffocation and death and the invasion of one country into another. Raising questions about suffering on many fronts, the narrators are searching for ways to end it or at least ease the pain. Meditation may not be the best solution or it could be. Beyond these moments of suffering, the narrator blur the lines between animal and human to find the similarities of feelings and behaviors, but to also outline the loyalties that have been forgotten, like that of a dog and master. Perhaps that loyalty should be expanded to include other aspects of nature.

Our Held Animal Breath by Kathryn Kirkpatrick offers a wide range of poems for discussion in book clubs, focused on the impact of human activity on the environment and the changes that are possible if we just think outside the box.  What are the ways that we can brainstorm to feed ourselves and continue to live and grow without harming other animals and nature.  While the brown of the cover is a bit off-putting; the shoe seems out of place on the wire fence, though that may be on purpose given the sometimes out of place nature of our own existence in the world.

About the Poet:

Raised in the nomadic subculture of the U.S. military, Kathryn Kirkpatrick was born in Columbia, South Carolina, and grew up in the Phillipines, Germany, Texas and the Carolinas.  Today she lives with her husband, Will, and their two shelties in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, and she currently holds a dual appointment at Appalachian State University as a Professor in the English Department and the Sustainable Development Program. She has a Ph.D. in Interdisciplinary Studies from Emory University, where she received an Academy of American Poets poetry prize.

Giveaway:  1 copy of Our Held Animal Breath

Want to win a copy of her book?  Leave a comment below with an email

I’ll contact the randomly drawn winner, who must be age 18 or older and live in US or Canada as the publisher is sponsoring the giveaway.  Deadline to enter is June 17, 2013 at 11:59 PM EST

This is my 23rd book for the Dive Into Poetry Challenge 2013.




This is my 35th book for the 2013 New Authors Challenge.


  1. I just finished reading this, and was struck by how good the beginnings of the poems are but how, at least sometimes, she gets a bit didactic at the end.

  2. “Perhaps that loyalty should be expanded to include other aspects of nature.” This is definitely a topic for discussion, perhaps for a book club.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this one for the tour Serena. And congrats on your 6 year blogiversary!

  3. It does sound like a collection that makes you think.