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Katie Peterson

Katie Peterson was born in Menlo Park, California, in 1974. She received a BA from Stanford University and a PhD from Harvard University, where she received the Howard Mumford Jones Prize for her dissertation on Emily Dickinson.

She is the author of The Accounts (University of Chicago Press, 2013), winner of the 2014 Rilke Prize from the University of North Texas; Permission (New Issues, 2013); and This One Tree (New Issues, 2006), winner of the 2005 New Issues Poetry Prize. She is also the editor of Robert Lowell’s New Selected Poems (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2017).

Of her work, August Kleinzahler writes, “It is a poetry of search, chiefly for completion or wholeness, amidst the world of forms and various weathers.”

Peterson is the recipient of fellowships from the Foundation for Contemporary Arts and the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, among others. She has previously taught at Deep Springs College, Bennington College, and Tufts University. She currently teaches at the University of California–Davis and lives in Woodland, California.


Bibliography

The Accounts (University of Chicago Press, 2013
Permission (New Issues Poetry & Prose, 2013)
This One Tree (New Issues Poetry & Prose, 2006)

By This Poet

5

At the Very Beginning

When I named you I was on the verge
of a discovery, I was accumulating

data, my condition was that of a person
sitting late at night in a yellowing kitchen

over steeping tea mumbling
as his wife remotely does the laundry.

My condition was that of a mathematician
who cannot put the names to colors,

who, confusing speaking and addition,
identifies with confidence the rain

soaked broad trunked redwood tree (whose
scent releases all of winter) saying as he passes one

Pleasure

I remembered what it was like,
knowing what you want to eat and then making it,
forgetting about the ending in the middle,
looking at the ocean for 
a long time without restlessness,
or with restlessness not inhabiting the joints,
sitting Indian style on a porch
overlooking that water, smooth like good cake frosting. 
And then I experienced it, falling so deeply
into the storyline, I laughed as soon as my character entered
the picture, humming the theme music even when I’d told myself
I wanted to be quiet by some freezing river
and never talk to anyone again. 
And I thought, now is the right time to cut up your shirt. 

After the Disaster

A picnic in the sequoias, light
filtered into planes, and the canopy
cut through. Fire raged in that place
one month ago. Since I’d been there,
I’d have to see it burning.
Nature of events to brush
against us like the leaves
of aspens brush against each
other in a grove full of them
carved with the initials
of people from the small weird town
hikers only like for gas. Messages
get past borders—water
across the cut stem of the sent
sunflower alive with good
intentions. People who mistake
clarity for certainty haven’t learned
that listening isn’t taking
a transcript, it’s not speech
the voice longs for, it’s something
deeper inside the throat.
Now, from the beginning, recite
the alphabet of everything
you should have wanted, silverware,
a husband, a house to live in
like a castle, but I wanted
fame among the brave
.
A winter night in desert light:
trucks carving out air-corridors
of headlight on the interstate
at intervals only a vigil
could keep. Constellations
so clean you can see
the possibilities denied.
Talking about philosophy
might never be dinner
but can return
your body to a state
of wonder before sleep.
The night reduced us
to our elements.
I wanted water, and whatever
found itself unborn
in me to stay alive.