BY VAL PETSCHE
Author Kathryn Nuernberger recited enchanting poems at the “Writers on the Shore” series this past Wednesday, describing nature with the acuity of a scientist and the breadth of a writer.
Nuernberger is an associate professor of creative writing at the University of Central Missouri as well as the director of Pleiades Press. She has lived on an exhausted dairy farm in southeastern Ohio with her husband and daughter in addition to her previous residences around the U.S., including Missouri, Louisiana, Montana and Washington.
Nuernberger presented literature from her two poetry collections, The End of Pink and Rag & Bone, both of which have received prestigious awards, including the Antivenom Prize from Elixir Press for the latter.
“A dozen dark backs undulating wavelessly through the mist. The Queen said poetically: These are the great diving beasts of a deeply held breath,” Nuernberger read from her poem about narwhals.
An appreciation for nature can be seen in her discussion of the organic realm, infusing scientific terminology into a harmonious arrangement of poetic lyricism.
Rag & Bone is Kathryn Nuernberger’s debut poetry collection, confessing a love affair with nature, paramecium-mottled screens and everyday oddities.
Her poem titled “U.S. EPA Reg. No. 524-474,” begins, “Gene-splicing the beetle-resistant Basillus. Thuringiensis with a potato sounds surgical, but it’s just a matter of firing a .22 shell dipped in DNA solution at the stem, straggling out from the russet eye.”
The audience was given the opportunity to ask questions following the poetry reading. One such question centered around Nuernberger’s fascination with fairytales bordering the dark and twisted.
She then recounted a favorite bedtime story which involves the devil vying for a farmer’s daughter, and an act of witchcraft that ends with the reader unsure of whether the devil is really gone. Nuernberger explained of the significance of this storytelling as opposed to the innocent versions with fairies and princesses.
“My critical apparatus justifying this messed-up mothering is that the tales that are scary are actually really satisfying because they don’t take it literally, so they don’t feel like they’re experiencing a deeply violent thing.”
Nuernberger further reasoned, “She finds it really cathartic. The world is scary to them, too. There’s death and there’s loss out there.”
With a final resolution, she explained, “Giving fairytales is a way of acknowledging the full complexity of their emerging humanity, and giving them the tools to learn how to harness all the feelings they have.”
Molly Likovich, a recent Salisbury graduate holding an English degree stated, “I fell in love with her almost prosaic way of looking at poetry. I feel like her work falls into stories and let’s the reader consume enough content for fifty poems with the succinctness of one. ”
Likovich discovered Kathryn’s work over a year ago through John Nieves, following a recommendation for Rag & Bone.
“I also just think, as a woman and as a poet, I deeply connect to a lot of the ways she sees the world—from animals, to metaphors, to ancient research, to creepy fairytales—and getting to meet her in person was everything I could’ve ever dreamed of,” Likovich added.
Preceding the Q&A, Nuernberger discussed her melancholy over the recent order to loosen hunting regulations on wolves in North America.
“It broke my coping mechanisms,” she stated. To Nuernberger, it became the symbol of everything else, and the wolves presented a single entity which she could use to contain her frustration on everything else going on.
“It seems like it’s rooted in this very old, ancient human impulse to be like, ‘I want to be the mega predator because it makes me feel less afraid,’” she later concluded.
Likovich is currently reading, The End of Pink, Nuernberger’s second book.
“As a rape survivor, her poems, that especially touch on how blame-the-victim culture works today, are especially astonishing to me,” Likovich explained. “She hits the nail on the head of what so many women are feeling.”
Likovich discussed one of the author’s most central works related to the topic.
“The way she uses the ancient myths of mermaids as a metaphor for the urban term of calling a girl a ‘tease’ is brilliant,” she said, referring to the short story titled “P.T. Barnum’s Fiji Mermaid Exhibition as I Was Not the Girl I think I Was.”
The reading was a demonstration of human creativity bridging the gap between science and literature. It was made possible through the “Writers on the Shore” series, an event showcasing established authors in Delmarva for over thirty years.