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UNT’s New $10,000 Rilke Poetry Prize Winner Loves Willie Nelson’s Music

Katie Peterson Photo (2)The latest winner of a $10,000 poetry prize at UNT loves poems that are heartbreakers. She says that’s also why she loves country music. KERA’s Jerome Weeks has this story.

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Katie Peterson has a bachelor’s from Stanford, a doctorate from Harvard, she teaches at Tufts University in Massachusetts – and she loves the heartbreak in Willie Nelson’s music.

“I’m drawn to subjects that have something to do with loss and loneliness,” she explains. “And like country music, I think there’s something really beautiful about both of those things. I don’t think sadness is just sad. And so there’s a lot of melancholy in my work, but I think melancholy is a way of celebrating the things that we love that are perishable.”

Peterson is the third winner of the $10,000 Rilke Prize, which UNT created as an annual, mid-career award. It’s named for the great German poet Rainer Maria Rilke, and it’s given to a book by a poet who’s just becoming established. Peterson’s third book, called The Accounts, is the one being honored, and the heartbreak in The Accounts comes from the loss of Peterson’s mother to cancer in 2008.

“I was very conscious,” Peterson says, “when I was writing The Accounts that I was writing a personal book about the destruction of my world – in the middle of a world that feels like it’s being destroyed or at the very least changing very rapidly.”

Corey Marks is the director of creative writing at UNT. He says handling the personal, the immediate, while considering larger implications is key to Peterson’s poetry. He calls her poems “meditative.”

The Accounts Cover (2)“I think this is work that is both intensely moving as it grapples with a personal loss and also fiercely intelligent in thinking about the kind of pressure that loss places on our lives.”

Peterson herself feels her poetry exists in a tug of war between East and  West coasts. She grew up in California, and she says the wide-open spaces of the Mojave Desert remain her “mental landscape.” But much of her education was in Boston, and she feels a kinship with what she calls cranky, Yankee poets. These are the poets of isolation and meditation – poets like Emily Dickinson and Robert Frost.

“Those poets teach us what it’s like to be a democratic American subject,” says Peterson. “They teach us what it’s like to be alone and slightly unhappy a lot of the time. And so I’m such a Californian in terms of in my love of big landscapes and freedom. But in terms of poetry, my taste and my practice is a lot more like these contrarians and religious doubters.”

As part of the Rilke Prize, Peterson will give two readings in April, one at UNT and one at the Dallas Institute of Humanities and Culture.

  • Hear Katie Peterson read her poem, ‘Ars Poetica: Fuschia’:

Ars Poetica: Fuchsia

[author's note: an ars poetica is a poem about poetry]

The music of free verse is easier
than the music of the sonnet. Which is why
I have avoided sonnets
in speaking of my mother–
to make the difficulty louder.

At the Citadel, the military
academy in South Carolina, one teacher
of composition forbid, for years,
the passive voice, calling it
womanly, across the fifties

and then, in the sixties, changed
the accusations he flung at grammatical
offenders to homosexual, though
for the most part, he used the derogatory
colloquial: pansy.

My mother was raised in the fifties
by a woman with impeccable manners
in a house full of crosses. On Sundays,
she covered her extremities
with white gloves and black mantillas.

In the picture I have of her
in her going-away
outfit, plaid, with a slender belt,
on her wedding day, her expression
marries confidence and disbelief,

looking at a friend, while my father
looks directly at the camera.
I want to look like that.
I loved the alphabet,
when I was a girl.

On the wall of my room,
fairies named after flowers
stood for every letter.
After much deliberation,
I decided to be Fuchsia.

 

The full release:

20014 UNT Rilke Prize Winner: Katie Peterson’s The Accounts

Katie  Peterson’s The Accounts, published by the University of Chicago Press, has won the 2014 UNT Rilke Prize. The  $10,000 prize recognizes a book written by a mid-­‐career poet and published in the preceding  year that demonstrates exceptional artistry and vision.  Peterson will read at the University of North Texas on Tuesday,  April  8  and  at  the  Dallas  Institute  of Humanities  and  Culture  on  Wednesday, April  9,  2014.
In  her  astonishing  third  book,  The  Accounts,  Katie  Peterson  explores  with  tremendous  lyric  precision  and emotional  power  not  merely  the  heartbreak  of  personal  tragedy  but  also  the  desire  to  make  a beleaguered  world  new  against  the  pressure  of  loss.    Ovid’s  spirit  of  metamorphosis  haunts  these  poems  and  asks  us to  reconsider  the  redemptive  power  implicit  in  an  account,  how  it  is  made,  given,  and  made  again.  To fashion  an  account  is  to  reckon,  to  reconcile,  to  recall,  to  count  and  so  to  number,  to  make  things matter.   As  Peterson says  in  her  opening  poem  entitled  “Spring”:
Everything,  everything,  and  before
everything  the  possibility  of  something  else,
the  moment  when  a  moral  gets  minced  by  an  account
a  body  makes  of  any  other  body,
and  time  takes  place  instead  of  taking  time.
So too, in the title  poem, time is less mastered than engaged, less stilled than quickened by birdsong and its longing, its will, its imaginative grace.  Here a nest cradles a purpose so full of adoration, it lures us to the future in the past, the past in the future, the heaven in the earth below.
Katie  Peterson  is  the  author  of  three  collections  of  poetry:  The  Accounts  (University  of  Chicago  2013), Permission  (New  Issues  2013),  and  This  One  Tree  (New  Issues  2006).

 

  • Schedule  of  Events: 

Tuesday,  April  8,  2014:       University  of  North  Texas
4:00  p.m.  Q  &  A,  Curry  Hall,  Room  103
8:00  p.m.  Reading  &  Book  Signing,  Business  Leadership  Building,  Room  180
Wednesday,  April  9,  2014:     The  Dallas  Institute  of  Humanities  and  Culture
6:30  p.m.  Reception
7:30  p.m.  Reading
Peterson’s other recognitions include fellowships from the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, the Foundation for Contemporary Arts, the Radcliffe  Institute  for  Advanced  Study,  and  Yaddo.  Her  work  in  poetry  and criticism  has  appeared  in  the  American Poetry  Review, Boston Review, the Chicago Tribune, GREY, the Iron Horse Literary Review, the Kenyon Review,  and many other publications. Her poem “Filibuste to Delay the Spring”  received  the  Stanley  Kunitz  Award  from  the  American  Poetry  Review  in  2013,  and  she  has  been
nominated  for  a  Pushcart  Prize  twice.  She has taught at Bennington  College in Vermont and Deep Springs College in the high Mojave Desert of California, and she is currently Professor of the Practice of Poetry at Tufts University.  Next year she will return to Deep Springs as Distinguished Professor of Humanities. She was born in California.
The  judges  also  selected  three  finalists  for  this  year’s  Rilke  Prize:  Hadara  Bar-­‐Nadav’s  Lullaby  (with  Exit  Sign)  (Saturnalia  Books),  Peter Campion’s  El  Dorado  (The  University  of  Chicago  Press),  and  Angie  Estes’  Enchantée  (Oberlin  College  Press).