Kathleen Winter

April 30, 2020

I’ve always enjoyed the poetry of Kathleen Winter, author of three collections. You can get a taste of her tremendous wit and daring just by looking at the book titles: Nostalgia for the Criminal Past (Elixir Press, 2012); I will not kick my friends (Elixir Press, 2018) and, most recently Transformer (The Word Works, 2020). She’s always struck me as a poet who takes us to familiar places in ways we haven’t experienced before. There is passion in her work, yes; there is intelligence in her work, yes; there is humor and grief for sure, but there is also something I recognize as the Kathleen Winter edge, always.

“…Winter isn’t afraid to archly remind us that ‘gentle’ isn’t always gentle, but the means to break a horse.'” Rebecca Hazleton

Winter’s first collection, Nostalgia for the Criminal Past, won the Texas Institute of Letters Bob Bush Memorial Award and the Antivenom Poetry Prize. Her second collection, I will not kick my friends, won the Elixir Poetry Prize. She is also the recipient of the Poetry Society of America Award, The Writer Magazine/Emily Dickinson Award and the Ralph Johnston Fellowship at University of Texas’s Dobie Paisano Ranch.

Transformer is the perfect title for her latest collection. In turning the pages we witness transformation over and over again — whether it’s within the emotion-packed worlds of trauma and violence against women, or the incidents of Winter’s own life blended with historical figures like Henry VIII, or even the pace in which the poems travel through time and place. Some of the topics of the poems may seem difficult to read — during the time of this Covid pandemic we can’t help but be reminded of domestic violence waged against women in quarantine with their abusers — but the brilliant, truly powerful language Winter uses to shed the truest light on the darkest corners pulls us in and makes us grateful for having spent time there with her. The epigraph for the book is a quote by the magnificent poet Larry Levis, and it is perfect:

I am the nicest guy in the world,

closing his switchblade and whistling.

“This world is full of knives and slaps, slammed doors, and cruel words…It can seem there is no escape, but the poems in Transformer are spells to bind this violence. Winter binds it with her exquisite knots of interlocking rhyme and rhythm, binds it with her transfixing imagery…These are poems for a new wave of activism, one rooted in telling the truth, in demanding to be believed, in tearing down a silent wall of fear one line at a time.” — Kathleen Nuernberger

.

Like so many fine books of poetry being released during our current quarantine, Transformer may not be getting the attention it deserves. For more information, you can visit wordworksbooks.org. Please feel free to leave your comments on this WordTemple post or send me any questions. Here now are a few poems from Transformer.


Finally, the girls

just have to talk about their hearts.

My heart keeps me up all night;

.

I’m extremely adjacent to it.

My heart’s the warm helium core,

.

I’m a thin film of rubber

which keeps it from escaping into

.

rain that’s more fast footsteps than

hands, more rockslide is my heart

.

as it makes itself felt, a horse

in a restaurant corridor,

.

blocking the bathroom.

How many times did I

.

try to deport it with poisons —

liquid, pills, or granular —

.

but my heart is myriad nests

recurring like fire ants in the yard

.

or in seams between river rocks

that form the porch’s floor.

.

Louder than storm or dream

my heart accelerates

.

in the tail lights, mass of leather-legged

leather-jacketed long-haired

.

or hairless bikers — how many?

fifty sixty seventy? I pull

.

to the shoulder, it keeps streaming —

foreign & familiar, I can’t think

.

of anything else till it’s over.

.

.

Watery Lord

Circles & circles of sorrow

where I let myself go. Narcissus,

I says, you are one sensitive

creature. No one else

can see your wrinkles.

I squint, they magnify.

On the surface find reflections

of hieroglyphic branches,

dead of alder asking:

Can’t I ride the shaft of time,

not be caught in its cycles

like flotsam in a whirlpool,

sport of greater forces?

Flocked by famishing

attendants, cormorant seducers,

I opened a weather eye. Young,

I wrestled with my executioner.

Circles & circles, the mob

surged in to see. Young, I was

the Antichrist of Ingratitude.

Now try to stop my mouth

from saying Please

and Thank you to the air.

.

.

South Huntington Apartments

And you were breathless in the laundry room.

Hiding behind a closet door, ajar. Listening

for him to take the cellar stairs. Is it possible he was frightened

he might kill you? You could see his shoes through the strip

between hinges, high-tops that looked innocent even

when he kicked you. Rounded rubber

at the toes is stiff, can bruise a shin thigh

— hell, what’s not soft enough to blacken

when you’re twenty-four. Your ears, eyes

are accurate, are sharp and clear. You stare

at green laces wrapped over his ankles.

Horses drown in the molasses time

that floods a shadow-tinted room.

Until his fear spins him around

and up the cement stairs, a chemical wind

rising to find some spark to light it. Three flights up

he sprints but you just need to gain one floor to leave.

You just need one story

and it isn’t his.

.

.

Published by Katherine Hastings

Katherine Hastings is the author of three collections from Spuyten Duyvil Press (NYC): Shakespeare & Stein Walk Into a Bar (2016); Nighthawks (2014); and Cloud Fire (2012), as well as several chapbooks. Poet laureate emerita of Sonoma County, CA, Hastings edited Know Me Here — An Anthology of Poetry by Women; Digging Our Poetic Roots — Poems from Sonoma County; and What Redwoods Know — Poems from California State Parks, published as a benefit for the California State Parks Foundation when 70 parks were faced with permanent closure. Her work has appeared in numerous anthologies, including The Book of Forms — A Handbook of Poetics (University Press of New England, Lewis Putnam Turco, editor); Verde Que Te Quiero Verde — Poems After Federico Garcia Lorca (Open Country Press, Natalie Peeterse, Editor); Changing Harm to Harmony — Bullies & Bystanders Project (Marin Poetry Center, Joseph Zaccardi, editor); Beatitude — Golden Anniversary (Latif Harris and Neeli Cherkovski, editors), among others. She hosted WordTemple on NPR affiliate KRCB FM from 2017 — 2017 and founded the WordTemple Poetry Series in Sonoma County (2006 — 2017) where she also taught craft-focused poetry workshops. Following the October 2017 wildfires, Hastings moved with her partner to Western New York in 2018. "Shakespeare & Stein Walk in to Bar is animated by the two most rewarding and replenishing of poetic forces: dexterous formal diversity and a fierce, unflinching searching..." — Malachi Black "Rooted in what Hastings calls the "momentary forever," these marvelous poems, so rich with detail and so full of duende, explore the paradoxes of transience. Yes, the poet reminds us: 'The alarm is set and ticking' for each least thing in the living world..." — Susan Kelly-DeWitt On Cloud Fire: "Lovely...it's your veiled history." — Lawrence Ferlinghetti "For Katherine Hastings, 'The mirror is a lake of longing'. Her poems are told us by 'a woman with a moon in her chest;' their surprising images embrace close observation, deeply dramatized love and losses, and have the power of crossing boundaries of spirit to reveal truths otherwise unseen." — Daniel Hoffman, US Poet Laureate, 1973 — 1974

2 thoughts on “Kathleen Winter

  1. Thank you, Katherine, for featuring Kathleen Winter. I just finished reading Transformer this morning. You are right about her poems “shedding light on the dark corners”. She shows both great courage and restraint in sharing vulnerabilities and fears. And, of course, her deftness of language and facility with form are impressive. Readers of this blog, I hope you will check out this book!

    Like

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