Description

Underdog

Poems

Katrina Roberts

  • Published: 2013
  • Subject Listing: Poetry
  • Bibliographic information: 96 pp., 6.125 x 9.25 in.
  • Series: Pacific Northwest Poetry Series
  • Contents

In Underdog, poet Katrina Roberts draws on wide-ranging historical and cultural sources to consider questions of identity, to ask us to meditate on how each of us is "other" - native, immigrant, sojourner, alien - and to examine our at-once shared and foreign frontiers and margins. Throughout the book, the writer's "home" becomes a palimpsest of characters erased and resurrected. In boldly inventive poems, she addresses the lives of Chinese immigrants, the appeal of African Dogon tribal lore, the heroics and defeats of artists, canine astronauts, and Mexican farm laborers, to name just a few.

Dramatic and lyrical, many poems become repositories for spells, memories, and tales. Here landscapes are faces to be studied and memorized; forgotten and overlooked legends and objects (whether quotidian, pop-cultural, ancient, or obscure), as well as characters from this planet and beyond, are retrieved and acknowledged. Other poems are concise prismatic shards, refracting and seeking specific meaning and even beauty in a world that is often both unpredictable and inscrutable. All are stitched together with unflinching compassion and a keen desire to bear witness, to comprehend something of the self's relevance in a global context.

The poems, often meticulously researched, are elaborate matrices of associations, translations, re-imaginings. Age-old mind-body questions emerge: how did we get here, these poems ask urgently, and in what ways will we carry on? What does it mean "to be" and "to belong" in times of crisis? They wonder at how individuals through the ages have handled, often with grace, tremendous injustice, and they seek to comprehend the mysteries of our perpetual migrations away from and toward each other.


Their Flight is Practically Silent

He says one thing meaning
its opposite. Before water starts to run,
an ache in the jaw leaves me
speechless. A packet of photos: each face has been
cut out. This one: me, a child holding a wafer

of sky - a robin's egg. They used to say you have
her eyes. Another: wrists slashed
by light, lifted to offer the world a melon, caught up
hair in a twist off the shoulders, the neck,
my neck - impossible and elegant - a swan's.

Such grace shocks me. Who is this? That night
before the baby died: barn owls calling across
the creek. Did he say: Hear them? Never
to be born at all; some people
would say not even a baby, not "viable."

A small sound - sizzle of bacon
curling on a flat black pan, unseen. His arms
re-crossed. And this vessel
made of ash, this monument rising
from dust? I didn't want any of it and I said so.
Katrina Roberts is the Mina Schwabacher Professor in English and the Humanities and the Paul Garrett Fellow in the Humanties at Whitman College. She is author of Friendly Fire, Winner of the Idaho Prize in Poetry; How Late Desire Looks, which won the Peregrine Smith Poetry Prize; and The Quick, an early volume in the Pacific Northwest Series. Her work appears in The Pushcart Prize Anthology, Best American Poetry, and The Bread Loaf Anthology of New American Poets, among other anthologies.
Reviews

"She offers a kaleidoscope that mingles vistas, a visionary telescope that can also isolate the particular of everyday."
-Susan Grimm, Barn Owl Reviews, February 2012

"The poetry, though infused with compassion for beings caught between rocks and hard places, doesn't plead their case in abstractions, but pinpoints the heartrending details of their predicaments."
-Craig Lambert, Harvard Magazine, January 2012

"It seems any moment can be caught and brought to light, and by the act of being caught, turned into something permanent. . . . Readers attracted to courageous, erudite poems with existential undercurrents will find a great deal in this volume to love."
-Shevi Berlinger, Contrary, Autumn 2011

"These poems have all the instinct and fangs of a canine, and the plush, electric fur of a wolf . . . Poets seeking to write poems that tell narratives in a new way . . . would be wise to read this book."
-Sean Singer, The Rumpus, August 2011