This Wednesday evening, Milkweed Editions will celebrate the publication of its inaugural collection from the Lindquist & Vennum Prize for Poetry, a competitive annual award of $10,000 and a book contract, open to writers currently living in Iowa, Wisconsin, Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota. The first of the Lindquist & Vennum Prize-winners is St. Paul-based poet Patricia Kirkpatrick, so recognized for her new collection of poems, “Odessa.”
The verses in “Odessa” examine with unflinching, plainspoken lyricism those moments when one’s life trajectory is abruptly derailed and its course irrevocably altered: the discovery of life-threatening illness, dissolution of one’s marriage or long-vested career path, abuse or betrayal by a loved one, the death of a parent. The sensibility in these poems is dreamlike but deeply Midwestern, emotionally candid but never maudlin. A sense of place, both the chill and fertile sweep of Minnesota’s prairie landscape, saturates the whole of the collection. Kirkpatrick writes, “Walking at the Mississippi, / I was a woman, a ruin / the wind had been through.”
The speaker in these poems (like the poet) grapples with the revelation of a brain tumor and subsequent craniotomy surgery, with all the attendant and frightening implications for memory and identity such a grave diagnosis entails. With verses rich in allusions to Greek myth and bookish metaphors, Kirkpatrick’s speaker reflects on other, less dramatic, but equally tectonic changes as well: the loss of her mate and her mother, and her 20-year position as a college instructor; a diminishing role in the lives of her ever-more-independent, nearly-grown children.
Kirkpatrick approaches these transformational moments with a gimlet eye, with a fullness of understanding that “beauty and suffering / keep making the world.” She mines her personal experiences, fraught as they are with fear and sadness and unrequited longing, to get at the most universal of questions: Who am I? Where does my “self” reside? Where do I fit? Who will love me? What is my place and purpose, my role, and how do I keep track of it when the sands of my life keep shifting around me?
A publication celebration for Patricia Kirkpatrick’s new collection of poems, “Odessa,” the inaugural Lindquist & Vennum Prize for Poetry-winner, will take place Wednesday, November 28 at Open Book, 1011 Washington Avenue South, Minneapolis. Refreshments and a give-a-book/take-a-book Poetry Swap will be available at 6 p.m.; Patricia Kirkpatrick will read from “Odessa” at 7 p.m. Find event details on Facebook, and more information about the book on Milkweed’s website.