Rebecca Gambale, Festival Assistant
You can’t read an article about poet Kathleen Graber without seeing her referred to as a “success story.” She says her interest in poetry was stirred “fairly late in [her] life, in comparison, say, to Keats” – when, as a high school English teacher, she took her class to the High School Student Day at the Poetry Festival. Graber says in an interview with the Cape May County Herald, “While I cannot claim that any of them were so inspired as to change their lives, I was.”
Graber grew up in Wildwood, NJ, where her parents owned, at separate times, a mini-golf course and an arcade—the latter being a place of employment for a good portion of her young life. This unconventional upbringing made Graber feel hesitant toward what she perceived to be the academia of poetry. In the above mentioned interview, Graber explores the two disparate worlds and the value of experiencing both: “I thought all ‘real poets’ must be so much more sophisticated, so much better educated, and so worldly. Yet if you set out to sever yourself from your past, you risk cutting yourself off from yourself in a way that now feels very dangerous to me.”
Writing her first poem at the age of 35 during a writing workshop at the “Winter Poetry and Prose Getaway” in Cape May, it is possible that Graber had saved up the right words and experiences until she was ready to produce her work. Care and thoughtful use of language is crucial to Kathleen Graber’s poems. Perhaps those years leading up to her discovery of poetry allowed her to form the generous, long-lined and rich poems which she produces today. You can see the examples of this in Graber’s pieces which have been featured in the New Yorker: The Magic Kingdom and The Drunkenness of Noah.
From this launching point, Graber started enrolling in workshops close to her Wildwood home. She began to study at Richard Stockton College with Stephen Dunn and Peter Murphy, two award-winning poets who helped Graber to grow as an artist. She went on to graduate from New York University’s creative writing program in 2002 and began shopping her manuscript for her book, Correspondence, the following year. Shortly thereafter, in 2005, Correspondence was chosen by poet Bob Hicok to receive the 2005 Saturnalia Books Poetry Prize, and Graber won an Artist Fellowship from the New Jersey State Council of the Arts and a Rona Jaffe Writer’s Award. You can read a poem from Correspondence here.
In 2007, Graber was awarded the Hodder Fellowship at Princeton University, followed by the Amy Lowell Traveling Scholarship which allows a poet to travel and write “in whatever place the recipient deems best suited to advance the art of poetry as practiced by (the poet).” This travel time was spent working on her newest publication, The Eternal City.
Despite being referred to as a “success story” and even a “rockstar” by Peter Murphy, Graber remains humble and balanced. Her first goal is producing work which is of great quality. In an interview with poet Kate Greenstreet, Graber said “There are a lot of superb poems out in the world to read already. If we want to add to that, we should be as thoughtful about that as we can…I think we should try to put out there only the very best we have, even if that means publishing less frequently.”
She admits that she is not a role-model for the solicitation and promotion of one’s work, but she remarks simply and earnestly that “the people who have managed to find [my book] and read it seem to like it. Whenever I give a reading, people seem to buy the book. That’s been extremely encouraging.”
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The Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival in Newark is October 7 – 10
For more information, visit the Poetry website