BOONE—Irish revolutionary Maud Gonne haunted Kathryn Kirkpatrick’s creative thoughts for more than a dozen years.
A poet and professor in Appalachian State University’s Department of English, Kirkpatrick had long wanted to write about Gonne, who was a muse to William Butler Yeats, but she was uncertain of the creative device – such as lyric or dramatic monologue – that she wanted to use.
What resulted is a creative weaving of portions of interviews about Gonne that is included in Kirkpatrick’s poetry collection “Her Small Hands Were Not Beautiful,” published in 2014 by Clemson University Digital Press. The collection has been awarded the Brockman-Campbell Book Award from the N.C. Poetry Society, Kirkpatrick’s third award from the society.
“Each part of the book had a different genesis,” Kirkpatrick said. “It draws on ancestral voices and connects to my interest in Ireland and Irish culture.” Some of the poems in the book are based on quirky stories that Kirkpatrick found about Yeats playing golf and croquet.
The last part of the book is Kirkpatrick’s experimental poem about Maud Gonne. The title refers to a line from a W.B. Yeats poem in which he “speaks” to Gonne, with whom he was in love. Gonne, however, did not return his romantic affections.
“I became interested in her from W.B. Yeats’ poems,” Kirkpatrick said. “You get a certain kind of picture of Maud Gonne and her great beauty, but also of her cantankerousness, of her shrillness. I knew I wanted to work with her story somehow, but nothing seemed to come together for a number of years.”
While conducting research in the 1990s at the New York Public Library, Kirkpatrick read a collection of letters between Gonne and Yeats. “I kept being astonished, because her voice in those letters was nothing like the ways Yeats had portrayed her in his poems. In letter after letter she was thoughtful, compassionate and savvy.”
Then in 2004, while at Emory University researching material for another project, she discovered a collection of interviews a Yeats scholar had conducted with Gonne’s family members and close friends.
“I realized my interest in Gonne was that they were all telling these wildly, different contradictory kinds of stories,” she said. She constructed a poem about Gonne in which phrases from the interviews are woven together “as if in parallel conversation with each other” in what she calls, a found poem of voices and dialogue.
“Honestly, I have never been on quite such a journey to poems as I have been with this book,” she said. “It was a lot of labor of a kind I’m not used to. You work very hard to revise poems, but I had never put together a poem in quite that way. It is especially delightful to receive the Brockman-Campbell Book Award and have this work affirmed.”
Carolyn Kreiter Foronda, a former Virginia poet laureate, was the judge for this year’s Brockman-Campbell Book Award competition. She wrote that Kirkpatrick’s collection “relies on impeccable research and a keen insight into the intricacies of form to enliven figures as engaging as William Butler Yeats, the Irish revolutionary Maud Gonne, and Queen Maeve.”
She complemented Kirkpatrick’s typographical arrangement in the book’s section on Maud Gonne, “whose personality comes to live through the dramatic rendering of voices, fine-tuned and sculpted from snippets of unpublished interviews,” She added, “Kirkpatrick possesses the mental acumen to pace this perceptive poem so that it skillfully illuminates Gonne’s traits as viewed by family, friends, and others. Throughout the book, the author enthralls the reader with well-honed gems that sing her familiar connections to Ireland while revealing a masterful command of language.”
About Appalachian State University
As the premier public undergraduate institution in the state of North Carolina, Appalachian State University prepares students to lead purposeful lives as global citizens who understand and engage their responsibilities in creating a sustainable future for all. The Appalachian Experience promotes a spirit of inclusion that brings people together in inspiring ways to acquire and create knowledge, to grow holistically, to act with passion and determination, and to embrace diversity and difference. Located in the Blue Ridge Mountains, Appalachian is one of 17 campuses in the University of North Carolina System. Appalachian enrolls more than 20,000 students, has a low student-to-faculty ratio and offers more than 150 undergraduate and graduate majors.
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