|photo: Elizabeth Flenniken
Kathleen Flenniken won the Washington State Book Award for her poetry collection Plume. Her first book, Famous, won the Prairie Schooner Book Prize in Poetry and was named a Notable Book by the American Library Association. Flenniken's other awards include a Pushcart Prize and fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and Artist Trust. She served as Washington State Poet Laureate from 2012 to 2014. Her third collection, Post Romantic, is available now from the University of Washington Press.
On your nightstand now:
Bury My Heart at Chuck E. Cheese's by Tiffany Midge (University of Nebraska Press). I've been a fan of Tiffany's poems, now here are her witty and thoughtful essays on American culture and a Native American life. It was a finalist for the 2020 Washington State Book Award.
Favorite book when you were a child:
The Blue Fairy Book and The Yellow Fairy Book, edited by Andrew Lang. I learned some unfortunate tropes about love that will take a couple of lifetimes to undo.
Your top five authors:
This is impossible.
I was only able to deal with this question by pretty much leaving out poets. I absolutely could not choose my top five poets.
Book you've faked reading:
It's not that I actively lied about reading books, but before I started writing (in my 30s) and reading became my master class, I used to be quite gifted at picking up on reviews and what other people said about books I hadn't read and then adding in my own two cents (oh I had opinions). But Dante's Inferno.
Book you're an evangelist for:
The Selected Letters of Marianne Moore. I learned I love reading letters. Moore is authentically odd for her time (she refers to herself as "rat" and third-person "he") and brilliant, and her letters serve as a guide to the poets of the early and mid-20th century.
Book you've bought for the cover:
Can I please substitute a record album? Because I have an immediate won't-ever-forget-it answer: Tom Waits, Rain Dogs. I didn't know what Tom Waits sounded like when I bought it. That was a surprise.
Book you hid from your parents:
The Happy Hooker.
Book that changed your life:
Or if not changed, deepened? Duino Elegies by Rainer Maria Rilke. It's hard to change in one's 50s, hard to be changed by a book, so the mark Duino Elegies left on me is all the more remarkable. It became my lodestar for probably a year. I read Gary Miranda's translation first (from wonderful Tavern Books). It's a brilliant companion to translations by Stephen Mitchell and Edward Snow. Many of the poems in Post Romantic were written in conversation with Duino Elegies, sometimes explicitly.
Favorite line from a book:
Currently it's a line from Duino Elegies that serves as the epigraph for Post Romantic:
"Isn't it time/ that our loving freed us from the one we love?" The layers in it!
Five books you'll never part with:
My dad's Collegiate Webster's Dictionary, 5th edition, with a "Vocabulary of Rhymes" and "Pronouncing Gazetteer." It was my steady homework companion when I was growing up and helped spark my interest in words.
My dad's copy of The Bog People by P.V. Glob, with glossy photos of thousands-year-old dead people, still with hair and skin, forehead wrinkles and fingernails. It was an object of fascination and the punchline of many family jokes and games.
Folklore and Fable: Aesop, Grimm, and Andersen, which is No. 17 from "The Five-Foot Shelf of Harvard Classics." It got me through many hours of adolescent boredom and ingratitude at my uncle's ranch.
The cookbook that my mother and dad compiled of their favorite recipes, and the memories that go with them, one copy for each of their children. Mother hoped it would get splattered and stained with years of cooking and family life, and it has.
The Book, a gorgeous letterpress handbound anthology created by the late Julius Friedman and edited by Dianne Aprile. It's a work of art.
Obviously, these are all dear to me as physical objects, not just writings. They're portals to my past. I can buy replacements for most favorite books.
Book you most want to read again for the first time:
Flying Blind by Sharon Bryan (Sarabande). I still remember finding this beautiful book of poems in a used bookstore, and discovering its smart, heady, soulful voice and mysterious avoidance of the "I." As proof of the book's impact, I later wrote to Sharon, a stranger, and asked her to be my poetry mentor, and she agreed. Now she's my dear friend.
Book for this time and this world:
Some of our problems are new, but some, sadly, don't change. The books I go to for answers are changing. I'm learning from and moved by Audre Lorde's Collected Poems, and grateful for her fire and wisdom across the years.