Untitled Page

Kate Barnes

Kate Barnes was Maine’s first Poet Laureate. And rightfully so. There is an incandescence to her work -- a delicacy of touch, utter clarity, and lightness that you carry it home with you and think about it for a while. Often, Kate writes about the natural world as a metaphor for the human experience of intimacy and loss. She is greatly influenced by the Chinese poets she admires. And, there is a humor in her writing, not a belly laugh but a chuckle of recognition.

She spent much of her youth in Maine at Chimney Farm in Nobleboro, a farm that she says “only grew words” – her parents were writers. Her father, Henry Beston, was a naturalist. Her mother, Elizabeth Coatsworth wrote poetry and many children’s books.

Selected Publications:
Talking in Your Sleep, Blackberry Books, 1986
Crossing the Field, Blackberry Books, 1992
Where the Deer Were, Godine, 1994
Kneeling Orion, Godine, 2004

Use the audio player to hear an interview excerpt and readings by Kate Barnes.>>

Excerpts from an interview with Kate Barnes at her home in Appleton, Maine, October, 2007.

Kate –Very often you get a first line and you can keep it for half a year or more. And the time comes when it is right and the rest of the poem comes out. It’s not a completely, in NO WAY, is this a completely conscious process. I remember being in my late teens thinking “Gee, the ones I like of my own poetry are the ones that tell me something that I didn’t know.” And that is still true.

Rob – But if they came from you, how could they tell you something you didn’t know?

Kate – Because we all have a big unconscious in there. Laughs… I remember being in my late teens and getting the line “In the February sliver of our lives” and I went around with that for about six months. And then I got the poem. That’s the only one I remember but it’s happened many times.

Rob – What is it that happens during those six months.

Kate – You live! Laughs. You live along. And when the right time comes it comes of itself. I don’t think I’m going to make a poem out of that line today. You maybe you are just feeling good that day, you’ve had a good cup of coffee and away you go.

Who was it who said “The first version doesn’t matter. What you first write down is like the froth on the lips of a medium.” Then in time, you work and work and work and you make it right. I would often have 40 or more revisions.

I will say one other thing about me in poetry. I’ve had a great luxury in my life. I was brought hearing a great deal of poetry thanks to my mother who read aloud an enormous amount. And read lots of story poems to the children, exciting ones. Then when I went off to boarding school at 13, I was very lonely. I just read poetry all the time. I had a copy of the Oxford Book of English Verse. I was such a dolt that I didn’t even notice that it was done in terms of time. For me they were all existing at the same time. All my life poetry has been my – sigh – I don’t know, the thing that I turned to and read all the time. That’s still true. That’s a great luxury in somebody’s life. I’ve been very lucky about that.