“Long live the weeds and the wilderness yet.” –Gerard Manley Hopkins
The breadth of Kathleen Willard’s poetry in her chapbook, The Divide Pastorals, and her full manuscript, The Incendiary Season, is remarkable. She acknowledges the influence of Gerard Manley Hopkins, and, indeed, we can witness what Hopkins called “inscape” in his work, in Willard’s work as well. Though Hopkins never fully defined what he meant by inscape, scholars have identified it as a unique complex of characteristics that gives each thing its uniqueness, or as a particular way of knowing beauty.
Consider, for example these lines from “Pastoral #4”: “The morning begins glorious with
the red fox/ravishing our backyard orchard gorging on windfall apples.” The fox is uniquely beautiful, as is the morning that “begins glorious.”
I read Willard’s work attentively and with great interest. I wondered, at first, though, at the title of the chapbook. “Divide,” as in a great divide? As it turned out my speculation was correct. Willard writes:
In Colorado, we are surrounded by one of the most beautiful ecosystems on the planet and as residents we take that for granted. The pastorals sing praises to the landscape of the West. The Anti-Pastorals speak to what we have traditionally done to the Colorado landscape: dominion over the land with an historic eye to mineral extraction. These poems speak to the accepted destruction of the land for profit and the disregard to those circumstances. I want to place these poems alongside the Pastorals for contrast. So we can see the light and dark, the beautiful and the ugly in one sitting. I want these poems to mediate between his love of the land, my experience and awe of the land and the audience. I hope they bring wild places inside.
Among the Anti-Pastorals are these: “Fracking,” “Benzene Spill, San Creek, Denver,” and “Leadville, Colorado Superfund Site Update.” In the latter poem are these lines: “Inside the mountains there may be gold still, a vein rich in silver,/but the quiet mines spill cocktails of toxins/and the legacy of slagheaps obscuring vistas/leeches cadmium, zinc into the dead zone downriver.” These are frightening lines, dark lines, descriptive of the ugliness and destruction humans have created in our beautiful Colorado.
“Incendiary.” This word in the title of Willard’s manuscript brought to mind fire, fire starting, fire-making. Before I read the poems, I looked it up, wanting to extend my sense of the meaning. “Incendiary: ‘something designed to cause fires.’” In the context of the title, an adjective, of course, but then also, as a noun: “a person who commits arson, or one who excites factions, an agitator.” Interesting. If we dare to personify the word in the title, we find even more resonance. Willard describes the manuscript this way:
This Incendiary Season is a book that deals with my identity and the loss of my mother … that weaves revelations about my place in the world, [including] my experiences and my obsessions…The book traces my month-long journey to India where I was dealing with my mother’s final throes of cancer…in a time when I was not in communication with my mother [no Facebook or cellphone]. I had no idea while I was traveling if she was alive or if she had died while I was on the trip. Again, I am confronting the terrible and the beautiful, life and death, light and dark.
I have some particular favorites in the manuscript: “Woman Who Fell from the Sky,” “The Diviner,” (which speaks especially to passion, fire, and the incendiary), and “It Was.”
The last stanza of “The Diviner” reads: “I urge you—/tell your daughters/the fate of the woman who fell from the sky/ teach them to navigate/the stratosphere,/to conceal themselves among the stars.” Lovely and chilling. A beautiful closing image.
Kathleen Willard has traveled the globe. She received her BA in English at Windham College, her MA in English at Middlebury College, and her MFA in Creative Writing/Poetry at Colorado State University. She says she has a “lifelong obsession with writing, publishing and reading poetry.” She has traveled to India on a Fulbright, and to Turkey and Portugal, for the Disquiet International Literary Program, and to England, Ireland, Wales, Scotland, France, Azores, and Italy multiple times. She will soon be traveling with anthropologist Associate Professor Elizabeth Cullen Dunn of University of Indiana University to Poland and Romania to investigate CIA Black Ops torture sites as part of her cultural anthropology team in the role of poet-in-residence. She is working with Ross Chaney, Sundance Native Producing Fellow, writing a screenplay in the form of a poem for a short film called Severe Storm Warning. She teaches in public schools and as an adjunct at Colorado State University, Front Range Community College, and the University of Northern Colorado. She also considers herself a full time writer and poet.
She says of her lyric poetry that “it springs from my Irish-American heritage. The Irish are storytellers attuned to nature, the plight of people, and have roots in magical realism, history, folk and fairy tale. Irish traditions are inherent in my poetry and part of my heritage.”
Willard is working on finding alternative spaces and places for poetry and has several outside-the-book projects, such as a film that uses her poems as its text. She has created a mask commissioned by the Fort Collin Museum of Modern Art using both an Emily Dickinson poem and one of her poems as part of the piece. She received a Colorado Art Shares Grant administered by the Denver Botanic Gardens and the Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art to have three of her Pastorals into letterpress broadsides to be purchased by patrons of both organizations.
Poetry manuscripts completed and looking for a publisher: The Next Noise is Our Hearts and This Incendiary Season.
In Willard we see an incendiary mind—a mind on fire! I earnestly look forward to seeing her books in print. Soon.