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Former poet laureate shares Antarctica poems

[media-credit name=”Cade Clark” align=”alignleft” width=”300″][/media-credit]Former Utah poet laureate Katharine Coles shared her experiences of visiting Antarctica with students for the Water Works series presented by Weber State University. The poetry reading took place on Thursday, Oct. 4.

“She’s here tonight as part of Weber State’s yearlong program dedicated to the study of water called Water Works,” said Jan Hamer, professor of English and head of Metaphor at WSU, in her introduction of Coles. “It’s our most important natural resource, and we’re exploring it in as many forms and from as many angles as we can, so that’s part of the reason why she’s here.”

Coles ended her five-year term as poet laureate last year. She is currently a professor of English at the University of Utah and also an established poet, novelist and editor. She has published four collections of poetry and two novels. Many of her pieces are central around the importance of science and the natural world.

“I immediately thought, when the water thing was suggested to me, that Antarctica is full of water; it’s water and ice essentially, which is also water,” Coles said. “I thought it would be easy to find enough poems for a reading, all of which have water in them, and it turns out that it was hard to narrow it down, because pretty much every poem in this collection has water in it in some way.”

Around 50 students, faculty and community members attended the event. Coles began her poetry reading with “Why Dogs Stopped Flying” by a preceding poet laureate, Kenneth W. Brewer.

“One of the traditions that has been established in the nation is that, sometime around the last week of September or first week of October, the poets laureate, if they give readings, are asked to read a poem by a poet who is no longer with us,” Coles said.

While Coles has an extensive collection of poetry she’s written, she only read poems central around the topics of water and ice as a way to address the Water Works series. All of the poems she read were from Cold Heart, a collection inspired by a trip she took to Antarctica.

In 2010, Coles traveled to Palmer Station in Antarctica solely to write poetry. The trip was funded primarily by a fellowship granted by the National Science Foundation’s Antarctic Artists and Writers Program.

Along with the Water Works series that began at WSU last month, the poetry reading was also to bring attention to the Stewart Library’s Carl E. Andra Memorial Collection. The collection was started in 1977 and completed in 2011 by Jean Andra Miller for her late husband, Carl E. Andra. It features Andra’s favorite works of contemporary literature of the 20th Century and is now home to around 1,500 volumes.

“There are over 1,000 volumes of poetry, essays and other things collected here in Special Collections, and one of the charges of that collection is to provide the community with poetry readings from time to time,” Hamer said. “That’s part of the reason we’re lucky enough to have Katharine Coles with us.”

Coles ended the reading by letting audience members ask questions. One member asked Coles, “Why does poetry matter?”

“My defense of poetry isn’t that it’s going to reach a mass audience,” Coles said. “I think we can all agree that there’s a lot of really lousy stuff out there that’s essentially indefensible that reaches mass audiences. However, all of us need beauty in our lives, and (for) those of us who find it in poetry, that’s worthwhile.”

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