by Courtney Murphy | Editor-in-Chief
Spokane poet Kathryn Smith is the English department’s writer-in-residence this semester. English Professor Thom Caraway and other professors selected Smith because she is a local poet, recently published her first book, called “Book of Exodus,” and has strong ties to Whitworth.
A Northwest native from Port Angeles, Smith graduated from Whitworth and shares some of the experiences of current students.
“I was an English major, I did the writing track, and Laurie Lamon was my first poetry teacher,” Smith said.
Smith said she knew she wanted to write poetry upon entering college, but Lamon helped her realize poetry was her vocation.
“Seeing someone who was crafting a life for herself where she could have a job and nurture students and be important, but I could see it was very important for her to have her own time and work on her own poetry…it helped me see that was possible,” Smith said.
After graduating from Whitworth in 1999, Smith participated in an Americorps program setting up a recycling center and sustainability initiatives in Berkeley, California. After a few years she decided she wanted to get back into writing, so she moved back to Spokane and pursued a Masters of Fine Arts in Poetry at Eastern Washington University, in the same cohort as Caraway.
Upon graduating with her MFA in 2004, Smith got a job as a copy editor for the Spokesman-Review, and barely wrote poetry for a while.
“It was hard enough to do one thing at a time, and I had a job, so that was the one thing I had to do,” Smith said. “Some people finish grad school and they’re like, ‘and now I wrote this book and I’m ready to go,’ but for me I was still kind of figuring out who I was and what I wanted to say and I wasn’t totally confident in that yet. It just kind of took a while.”
However after a few years, Smith recommitted to writing poetry and started devoting more time to the craft. She started working part time instead of full time so she could have more time to write, and got involved with the poetry community in Spokane.
As a poet, Smith says she feels like she is always changing. Her poetry is rooted in her own experiences, but she also uses narrative and persona to tell stories. “Book of Exodus” revolves around one family that has experienced hardship and isolation, living alone in the wilderness.
“I write a lot about the natural world too and just especially like small details, looking at relationships between humans and other species or between species, how humans are and are not animals, how we exhibit the same instincts, how we try and pretend we don’t have the same instincts, how the natural world is often kinda brutal and dangerous,” Smith said. A lot of people have nature poems and they think…everything is glorious, but it’s also bloody and there’s a lot of death and the universe depends on that. I like to look at that side of it.”
This view of nature is related to Smith’s understanding of what poetry is about. Poetry and art are vital, and the job of the poet is to serve as a voice of protest when necessary, Smith said.
Before Smith’s book was published, “Rock & Sling” published some of the earlier poems in “Book of Exodus” as a chapbook. But, with encouragement from Caraway and other friends, Smith challenged herself to expand the collection. She sent the manuscript to a few publishers and ended up working with local novelist and proprietor of Scablands Books, Sharma Shields.
“She jumped on [the project] right away, and that was a little less than a year ago,” Smith said. Scablands Books works with local editors, graphic designers and printers all based on Spokane.
As writer-in-residence, Smith attends poetry classes, assists student-editors at “Rock & Sling,” and holds office hours for students to come talk with her about poetry or personal interests. She wants to be a different voice than students are used to hearing, and to give them another example of people who pursue creative writing outside of the academic setting.
“For me it’s cool because I don’t, I’ve never really been a teacher in an academic sense, that wasn’t something I was interested in pursuing, it’s not super natural for me,” Smith said. “But it gives me an opportunity to share what I know and meet young aspiring writers and continue to teach in a non-traditional kind of way.”
Smith is giving a reading on Wednesday, Nov. 15 at 7 p.m. at Stage II, where she will read from “Book of Exodus.” Students who are interested in talking to Smith should attend the reading and visit her at her office hours. For times, email Karly Bosma at firstname.lastname@example.org.