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Interview with Poet Kathryn Kirkpatrick

I reviewed Our Held Animal Breath by Kathryn Kirkpatrick back in June and found that the book stayed with me long afterward, forcing me to revisit some particularly resonant pieces, like “Millennium” and “At the Turkey Farm,” that question the loneliness we feel when what we should see and feel is that connection we have with the animals and world around us.  There is so much to discuss in the collection, that it would make an interesting book club discussion.  I was intrigued enough to pose my own questions to the poet, and today, I share with you her answers.

Please give Kathryn Kirkpatrick a warm welcome.

Our Held Animal Breath seems to refer to the connections between ourselves and the wider animal kingdom; what is your view of humanity’s place in the animal kingdom and nature?

I’ve always felt myself to be what would now be called bio-centric or eco-centric.  That means our species doesn’t have any greater right to the planet than any other; we should be sharing it with all the other creatures.  I can remember as a sophomore in college giving an impassioned report to my biology class on endangered species.  That was back in the early 1970s when it was becoming widely known how human activities were depriving so many species of their habitats.  As a poet, I am increasingly working to develop my already strong empathy for animals.

How hard is it to change perceptions about how humans should treat animals and the environment and how important is it that we do so, in your opinion?

I think it’s critical that we change because our anthropomorphic beliefs and behaviors have already created what Bill McKibben has called Eaarth; he’s changed the spelling of earth to denote the radical shifts that have already happened to our atmosphere and our oceans such that the severe effects of climate change are now here and coming.  I find it heartbreaking that this wasn’t inevitable; the scientists have been warning us for decades.

But perhaps what the scientists missed was that at the root of this environmental crisis is the human assumption that nature is here exclusively for our use, and we can see this everywhere in the U.S., most especially in our attitudes toward and our treatment of animals.  We value those animals who serve a function for us–as companions, as workers; we encroach on the habitats of wild animals; and, we warehouse animals for food in the most appalling conditions.  But animals are subjects of their own lives, and if we believed that we would respect their habitats and see that ultimately treating the earth with respect and gratitude is good for both us and all the others.

Most people actually love animals, and it takes a lot of work by the dominant culture to get them to ignore the suffering of animals.  So when I can evoke feelings in a poem for other creatures, I can remind readers of the empathy they have always had.  That might be some small step toward changing behaviors.

Ecofeminist ideas seem to make their way into your poems as well, have you studied the philosophy and its principles or stumbled upon them?

I’ve had my thinking transformed by the great eco-feminist thinkers of the last decades—Carol Adams, Val Plumwood, Vandana Shiva, Karen Warren, Greta Gaard.  They make the crucial connections between oppressions of women, other marginalized peoples, and nature.  It’s the most compelling philosophy we’ve come up with as a species, and if I were to have one hope for the 21st century, it’s that we’d act on those insights.

As a poet, do you find it difficult to build readership in today’s Internet driven world or is it easier?

The Internet, assuming we can keep it free, is a wonderful tool, and I think it’s brought poetry to a great many more people than ever before.  A poem in a good online magazine reaches far more people than it does in a print journal.  That doesn’t mean I think we should get rid of print journals—there’s a place for all of it.  The monolithic thinking that says we’re all digital is the same kind of thinking that has brought us monocultures in all their limiting forms—in our food, our languages, our mindsets.

Finally, what are some of your favorite poems/poets who you’d like to see gain a wider audience?

I’d include in any list of my favorite poets Adrienne Rich, Seamus Heaney, Eavan Boland, Denise Levertov, Sylvia Plath, Paula Meehan, Gary Snyder, William Butler Yeats, and Carolyn Kizer.  I have written a number of essays in the last ten years on the work of the Dublin poet, Paula Meehan.  There is no one working today that I know of whose craft and vision interest me more.

Thanks, Kathryn, for sharing your views on nature, poetry, and behavior with us today.

Our Held Animal Breath by Kathryn Kirkpatrick

Source: Wordtech Communications and TLC Book Tours
Paperback, 96 pages
I am an Amazon Affiliate

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.

Mailbox Monday #220

Mailbox Monday (click the icon to check out the new blog) has gone on tour since Marcia at A Girl and Her Books, formerly The Printed Page passed the torch. May’s host is 4 the LOVE of BOOKS.

The meme allows bloggers to share what books they receive in the mail or through other means over the past week.

Just be warned that these posts can increase your TBR piles and wish lists.

Here’s what I received for review:

1.  The Neruda Case by Roberto Ampuero for review from Penguin.

Roberto Ampuero’s novels starring the wonderfully roguish Cayetano Brulé are an international sensation. In The Neruda Case, readers are introduced to Cayetano as he takes on his first case as a private eye. Set against the fraught political world of pre-Pinochet Chile, Castro’s Cuba, and perilous behind-the-Wall East Berlin, this mystery spans countries, cultures, and political ideas, and features one of literature’s most beloved figures—Pablo Neruda.

Cayetano meets the poet at a party in Chile in the 1970s. The dying Neruda recruits Cayetano to help him solve the last great mystery of his life. As Cayetano fumbles around his first case, finding it hard to embrace the new inspector identity foisted upon him, he begins to learn more about Neruda’s hidden agenda. Neruda sends him on a whirlwind expedition around the world, ending back in Chile, where Pinochet’s coup plays out against the final revelations of their journey.

2.  Our Held Animal Breath by Kathryn Kirkpatrick for review for TLC Book Tours.

Our Held Animal Breath is a collection of poems grappling with the failure of human political and social structures to effectively address the dilemmas of our crucial historical moment.  Registering an eco-feminist consciousness, the narrators of these poems expose the intertwined vulnerabilities of women, animals, and the land to masculinist agendas of mastering nature for profit.

Poems in the opening section explore the ways powerful elites compromise the habitats of human and non-human animals alike.  The lives of tethered foxes, bewildered squirrels, displaced buffalo, and factory-farmed turkeys echo the lives of ordinary citizens experiencing degradation and disenfranchisement in the face of climate change, war-mongering, and political corruption.

3.  Marilyn’s Red Diary by E.Z. Friedel, which came unexpectedly from Meryll L. Moss Media that will likely find a new home.

Based on shocking new information, MARILYN’S RED DIARY documents Miss Monroe’s roller-coaster final years, culminating in her murder.The star, yearning to become a mother, suffers several miscarriages. Distraught, she becomes infatuated with the Kennedy’s, only to be brought down by their enemies. Through her renowned psychiatrist, Marilyn’s medical problems, drug use, and cause of death are explained.

In June of 1960, on the urging of psychiatrist Ralph Greenson, Marilyn Monroe begins keeping a diary. The former foster child feels unloved, unfulfilled, and unappreciated. Professionally, she wants to be considered a serious dramatic actress. Her husband, honored playwright Arthur Miller. has penned THE MISFITS script for her next project. Emotionally, she fervently hopes for a child to begin her family. Despite several pregnancies, Marilyn has been unable to carry to term. She blames her supportive older partner and her own severe gynecological scarring. Extremely promiscuous, she remains hopelessly in love with John Kennedy, the dashing Senator who is beginning his presidential campaign. After a decade long affair, they are once again hot and heavy.

4.  The Cinnamon Peeler by Michael Ondaatje, which I got at the library sale.

Michael Ondaatje’s new selected poems, The Cinnamon Peeler, brings together poems written between 1963 and 1990, including work from his most recent collection, Secular Love. These poems bear witness to the extraordinary gifts that have won high praise for this truly original poet and novelist.

5. Letters from Skye by Jessica Brockmole from the publisher for a TLC Book Tour.

A sweeping story told in letters, spanning two continents and two world wars, Jessica Brockmole’s atmospheric debut novel captures the indelible ways that people fall in love, and celebrates the power of the written word to stir the heart.   March 1912: Twenty-four-year-old Elspeth Dunn, a published poet, has never seen the world beyond her home on Scotland’s remote Isle of Skye. So she is astonished when her first fan letter arrives, from a college student, David Graham, in far-away America. As the two strike up a correspondence—sharing their favorite books, wildest hopes, and deepest secrets—their exchanges blossom into friendship, and eventually into love.

But as World War I engulfs Europe and David volunteers as an ambulance driver on the Western front, Elspeth can only wait for him on Skye, hoping he’ll survive.   June 1940: At the start of World War II, Elspeth’s daughter, Margaret, has fallen for a pilot in the Royal Air Force. Her mother warns her against seeking love in wartime, an admonition Margaret doesn’t understand. Then, after a bomb rocks Elspeth’s house, and letters that were hidden in a wall come raining down, Elspeth disappears. Only a single letter remains as a clue to Elspeth’s whereabouts. As Margaret sets out to discover where her mother has gone, she must also face the truth of what happened to her family long ago.

What did you receive?