BOONE—Kathryn Kirkpatrick, a professor of English at Appalachian State University, has received the Brockman-Campbell Award for her collection of poetry “Our Held Animal Breath.”
The award is presented annually by the N.C. Poetry Society for the book of poetry judged to be the best published by a North Carolinian in the preceding year. It was presented during the society’s annual fall meeting held Sept. 21 in Southern Pines.
This is the second time that Kirkpatrick has received the honor. The first was in 1997 for “The Body’s Horizon.”
“We have a state of fabulous writers and poets who are part of a really strong community. I was completely and utterly surprised that I won it,” Kirkpatrick said of the honor. She said receiving the award for the second time, particularly when looking at the list of past awardees, validates her work and its staying power. Past award recipients include former N.C. Poet Laureates Kathryn Stripling Byer and Fred Chappell, Michael Chitwood and Robert Morgan.
This year’s competition was judged by Chard DeNiord, co-founder of the New England College MFA program in poetry and professor of English at Providence College.
“Any strong book of poetry is rare in its own original way,” he wrote. “The particular magic in Kathryn Kirkpatrick’s new book of poems, ‘Our Held Animal Breath,’ emanates from a courageously mature voice that speaks memorably about ordinary subjects … Like the ‘delicate bombs’ Robert Lowell called Elizabeth Bishop’s poems, Kirkpatrick’s poems detonate with a subtle, continual power, betraying a lapidary skill well attuned to the legacy of poetry.”
Bishop’s work inspired Kirkpatrick’s writing when she was an undergraduate at Winthrop University. “For DeNiord to recognize Bishop’s influence on my work, that he read it with such attention, acknowledged the long years of work and influence represented by this collection and that he got what I was trying to do and appreciated it, meant as much to me as receiving the award,” Kirkpatrick said. “That is a remarkable gift to give to another writer.”
Much of her poetry also deals with the environment and environmental issues.
“The collection was inspired by my need and desire to work through my grief over climate change,” she said of the poems written over the course of 15 years. “I have been studying and admiring the Irish poets for my entire career,” Kirkpatrick said. “They write political poems in the best way. There is a narrator who is witnessing and experiencing on a personal level what’s going on in the larger world.”
She said writing the poems included in “Our Held Animal Breath” helped her come to terms with what she views as an environmental and political crisis, and she hopes they will help her readers do the same.
“It’s a hard thing to write about,” Kirkpatrick said of her environmentally aware work. “We can see some changes that are occurring in our local environment, but so much (of my writing) is based on news stories of events happening somewhere else. I wanted to witness to that feeling of unreality. I wanted to say (environmental change) is happening and this is how it affects all of the people paying attention and integrate that experience into our everyday reality, because I think there is a lot that is kind of protecting us and keeping it at arm’s length.”
Kirkpatrick has taught courses in environmental humanities in the Department of Sustainable Development for the past four years. Topics have included classics in sustainable development, green poetry, ecofeminism and the representation of animals.
Kirkpatrick has a sixth collection of poetry to be published in 2014 – “Her Small Hands Were Not Beautiful” inspired by a quotation from W.B. Yeats about the Irish revolutionary Maud Gonne. The publication will contain her Irish-themed poetry and will be launched at University College Dublin during the American Conference for Irish Studies to be held in June.