Monday, May 16, 2011

Monday Muse: Indiana's State Poet Laureate

Karen Kovacik is Indiana's new State Poet Laureate, succeeding Norbert Krapf whom I profiled here. (Please see the Krapf post for background on the position.) She was selected by a seven-member Indiana Arts Commission panel representing both state-supported and private higher education institutions. 

Kovacik's two-year term begins in January 2012.

According to this Indiana University-Purdue University press release about the appointment, announced earlier this month, Kovacik intends during her tenure to write a literary blog on Indiana writers, create a poetry-teaching "toolkit" for the Indiana Humanities Council, and sponsor literary events at schools and libraries throughout the state. She also plans to "break down barriers [between academic and spoken word or "slam" poetry] and get diverse groups of poets talking together."

* * * * *
Poets have always been the voices of opposition, the voices of
 conscience. Some of the most urgent images of the horrors 
of war have been given to us by our poets. . . 
Poetry can offer a historical analogy. . .  It fortifies our 
historical imagination. That's so crucial in a country
 lacking that connection with the past. Poetry
 can provide a much needed antidote. . . .
~ Karen Kovacik on Poetry's Use in Dissent*

Karen Kovacik, Ph.D., is a poet, translator, short story writer, and essayist. She is the author, most recently, of Metropolis Burning (Imagination Series, Poetry Center, Cleveland State University, 2005), which draws partly on her own experiences in Poland. Her other collections include Beyond the Velvet Curtain (Wick Poetry First Book Series, Kent State University Press, 1999), which received the Stan and Tom Wick Poetry Prize, and Nixon and I (Wick Poetry Chapbook Series, Kent State University Press, 1998). Kovacik also is an highly regarded translator of contemporary Polish poetry. Her short story "My Polish Widower" is included in Warsaw Tales (New Europe Writers, 2005), a compilation edited by James G. Coon.

Art, world history, politics, ancestry, cultural history, new world/old world contrasts, the immigrant experience: you'll find these themes in abundance in Kovacik's work.

Here are excerpts from several of Kovacik's poems. Note especially the careful selection and combination of imaginative detail, vivid imagery, and skillful creation of atmosphere and scene. Kovacik has a great "ear", an assured voice, and sharp wit; her poems are bright with erudition that's never pedantic.

Your Kino Moscow gleams like a pink dish
with the films of Clint Eastwood and French farce.

I feel like an umbrella in for repair.
I'd rather be a telescope, to see past
the scrim of things American,
to smell past pickles, smoke, and grief
and understand the idiom of uprisings.

You are the map that exists and the ones that have disappeared.
You are the cigarette that makes the slow bus come.

I'm a thin glass of oolong, lucky in lust,
in this province of lip and teeth
where syllables squeak like sugar
and our hands are always hot
and my marriage dies on double beds of cake. . . .
~ From "To Warsaw" in Metropolis Burning

A tricycle somersaults
in a maple tree
and in the cloud a violin
bulging with music— 
the girl spots it—
is about to rain down
thirty-second notes
on a cat disguised
as a coil of garden hose. . . .
~ From "Ars Poetica: Highlights for Children"

With us, it is easy: a tug on the tie, the ubiquitous zipper.
But with a woman, you can never be certain how deep
the layers go. First, perhaps, a jacket of mink, gloves

lapping up the greedy length of the arm, shoes
like airy Eiffels for the feet. Then the untethering
of beads and bracelets, the slow dismantling

of those hanging gardens of skirt
crashing around foundations of lace and bone. . . .
~ From "Nixon on the Pleasures of Undressing a Woman"

Kovacik has published poems in Glimmer Train, Chelsea, Hamilton Stone Review, Indiana ReviewMassachusetts Review, Not Just AirSalmagundi, and Valparaiso Poetry Review, among other literary periodicals. Her translations of Polish poetry have appeared in American Poetry ReviewBoston Review, Crazyhorse, Mid-American Review, Southern Review, and other publications. One of Kovacik's poem "Moving Forward", is showcased in three bus shelters along the Indianapolis Cultural Trail as part of a public art project honoring published writers. Another, "Invisible Movements", won the Moving Forward Contest. Kovacik's "Requiem for the Buddhas of Bamiyan" was awarded First Place in the 2002 Barbara Mandigo Kelly Peace Poetry competition sponsored by the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation. 

Among honors Kovacik has received are the 2011 and 2007 Trustees' Teaching Award, the 2006 Best Book of Indiana Award (for Metropolis Burning), and a 2007 Charity Randall Citation from the International Poetry Forum in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Her short fiction received a 2001 Chelsea Award. Kovacik also is the recipient of a Fulbright research grant to Poland, was a Fellow at the University of Wisconsin Institute for Creative Writing, and was awarded an Arts Council of Indianapolis Creative Renewal Fellowship. Kovacik is one of 17 faculty members at Indiana University to be awarded in 2011 a grant through the New Frontiers in the Arts and Humanities program, for her project "Calling Out to Yeti: An Anthology of Polish Women Poets" (the announcement is here).

Kovacik directs the creative writing program in the School of Liberal Arts at Indiana University-Purdue University/Indianapolis, where she is also a professor of English and adjunct professor of women's studies.


* Quoted in "Patriotic Protest: Poetry, Plays + Posters" by Jim Walker at NUVO Newsweekly, February 19, 2003

Karen Kovacik Profile at Indiana University-Purdue University School of Liberal Arts

Karen Kovacik Essays Online: "Between L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E and Lyric: The Poetry of Pink-Collar Resistance" (Abstract) at NWSA Journal

Karen Kovacik Poetry Online: "Pandora Speaks" at Indiana Humanities Think. Read. Talk; "Invisible Movements" at Indianapolis Cultural Trail; "Ars Poetica: Highlights for Children" at Hamilton Stone Review; "Warsaw Architect" at Poetry Magazine (Winter 2011); "In the Letter R" and "Woman at Streetcar Stop" at Poetry Magazine; "My Mother the Monopolist" and "Return to the Mother Tongue" at Poetry Magazine; "The Bird People", "Means of Flights", and "During the Sorties Over Baghdad" at Artful Dodge; "Flooding the House" at Valparaiso Poetry Review; "Nixon on the Pleasure of Undressing a Woman" at Versedaily; "Versions of Irena" at Living in Partial Light ("Versions of Irena" also appears at Writing the Polish Diaspora); "Elegy for My Sex Life" at Versedaily (also appears at The RetroLounge Daily Poem Thread Journal, April 13, 2009); "The Art of Poetry" and "If my grandfather had not emigrated from Silesia" from Metropolis Burning at GoogleBooks (click on Contents to access poems); "Chrysalis" (translation of poem by Izabela Filipiak) at Boston Review

A number of Kovacik's translations of Izabela Filipiak's poetry can be found here. Her "Against Descartes", a translation of a poem by Katarzya Borun-Jagodzinska, is here; others are here (see last three poems).

Karen Kovacik on LinkedIn and Flickr

Arc Publications (Kovacik is one of a number of translators included in Arc's 2009 Six Polish Poets, edited by Jacek Dehnel.)

Art of the Matter Podcast, WFYI, with Karen Kovick and Terry Kirts (Kovacik talks here about the Reiberg Reading Series ad IUPUI Creative Writing Program. She appears at about the 38:40-minute mark.)

Ann Curran, "Poetry Review: Two Poets' Readings Draw Varied Responses", Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, March 9, 2007 (This article reviews a reading by Kovacik and Linda Pastan for the International Poetry Forum.)

Leonard Kress, "Everything's Better in Poland", Artful Dodge Reviews (This includes a review of Kovacik's Beyond the Velvet Curtain, which addreses the Cold War and America of the 1950s and 1960s, with Richard M. Nixon a particularly prominent subject.) 

Philip Metres, "Introduction to Come Together: Imagine Peace"  (Kovacik's poem "Song for a Belgrade Baker" is included in section 8 of the anthology.)

Indiana Historical Bureau (Two of Kovacik's collections are listed here.)

The Writers' Center of Indiana (This site describes the "Moving Forward" public art project for Indiana Poets. As noted above, Kovacik's poem "Invisible Movements" is one of three selected for public art bus shelters.)


Louise Gallagher said...


She reads like a treasure trove of ancient Egyptian artifacts. Rich and gleaming.

Anonymous said...

i like the part about breaking down barriers...