Thursday, April 12, 2012

NC Poet Profile: Katherine Soniat, Traveler Through Space and Time


Originally from New Orleans, poet extraordinaire Katherine Soniat has taught at the University of New Orleans, Hollins University, and for twenty years was on the faculty at Virginia Tech University. Recently, she moved to Asheville and began teaching in the Great Smokies Writers’ Program through the University of NC at Asheville. In addition to these professional journeys, Soniat has been a world traveler as well, visiting such places as Crete, the Andes, and the Bavarian Alps.

Such peripatetic history plays a vital role in Soniat’s poetic work, as settings often seem central to her poems. Soniat, however, cannot have been the typical casual traveler one might call a tourist. Rather it seems she must successfully immerse herself in the culture and history of the places she goes, for her poems often uniquely express the personal through the complex intricacies of setting and vice versa. It is almost as if her own identity becomes interwoven with that of her surroundings such that in writing about one, she inevitably reveals the other.

Soniat’s fifth collection of poems, The Swing Girl, was recently named winner of this year’s Oscar Arnold Young Award for the best book of poetry from NC in the previous year. She will receive her award and give a reading from her book at Poetry Day to be held in the Catawba Valley Community College Student Center on Saturday, April 14. The event, including awards and readings in 9 poetic categories and a live-judged Poetry Slam, will begin at 9:30 and extend to 3:00. It is free and open to the public.

Soniat’s previous books have won the Iowa Prize, the Virginia Prize for Poetry, and the Camden Poetry Prize. She is the recipient of two Virginia Commission for the Arts Grants, a William Faulkner Award, a Jane Kenyon Award, the Anne Stanford Award, and Fellowships to Yaddo, The MacDowell Colony, and Bread Loaf Writers Conference. Her sixth collection A Raft, A Boat, A Bridge will be published by Dream Horse Press this fall.

This excerpt from the title poem of Swing Child is based on an image from a Greek burial relic and suggests both the relic’s ability and the author’s desire to move between cultures of the present and past as well as between the temporality of experience and the permanence of symbol. It also suggests that such movement, such broadening and deepening of experience is exactly what poetry and art make possible for the reader.

(O, to fly abroad again on her board roped to the limb.)

The territory that girl could cover, her eyes peering birdlike
across the grove. The air, a vector.

Return to the days of her swing, not this relic. To warriors
crossing the sea, ready to cross out generations with spears
then settle their weight down on this island.

Far past that sack of the sacred, I hear a donkey bray,
tied to the thorn tree. Empty snail shells bleach on boulders
near the tomb entrance.

(Old inching of the soul thirsty for a last sip of nightshade.)

1 comment:

  1. We enjoyed hearing Katherine read at Poetry Day at Catawba Valley Community College.
    This was my first time going to Poetry Day and I enjoyed hearing all the poets.