KNB : Katherine Nelson-Born

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Katherine Nelson-Born grew up in New Orleans and currently lives and writes in Pensacola, Florida. Her poems have appeared in numerous journals, including Alyss, Birmingham Poetry Review, Emerald Coast Review, Excelsior ReView, GSU Review, Longleaf Pine, Maple Leaf Rag and Penumbra.  Her poetry earned “Honorable Mention” at the 2015 Alabama Writers Conclave.  Her poetry also previously won the University of New Orleans/ Tennessee Williams Ellipsis award for poetry and placed twice among finalists in the Agnes Scott College Writer’s Festival.

Katherine’s premiere poetry chapbook, When Mockingbirds Sing, was published in 2016 by Finishing Line Press, https://finishinglinepress.com/.  Currently she is working on a novel and consulting for K & K Manuscript Editing.


Who is your favorite female identifying written character and why?

I have not one but two favorite female characters, both historically real figures recreated in numerous ways throughout the centuries, but always undeniably strong women, Cleopatra and Queen Elizabeth I.  Both women not only persevered in male-dominated worlds, but also kept their heads (for the most part) and climbed to the top despite lives fraught with very real murderous relatives, lovers, spies, and whole hosts of enemies out to bring them down.  Their lives still intrigue and inspire, whether through song, poetry or drama, and I like that.

What literary work by a female identifying writer had the most effect on you as a writer and/or person?

When I first discovered Anne Sexton’s Complete Poems 30 years ago, her frank treatment of women’s bodies and mother issues in her poetry inspired me as a fledgling poet, and later I wrote my dissertation on her work.  I must say, however, that Sharon Olds’ Satan Says (1980), with its sexual candor and evocative imagery of the female body in particular had quite an effect on me, and I remain a staunch fan of Olds although I also love the poetry of Jane Hirschfield.  Since I also am fascinated with the nature and depiction of good vs. evil, angels, demons, and apocalyptic or dystopian visions, Hirshfield’s Of Gravity & Angels (1988) and Carolyn Forche’s The Angel of History (1994) remain my favorite oldies but goodies.

How did your work/works in Alyss come about?

Finding the Way Back” was inspired in part by reading Robert Edsel’s Monuments Men (2009), in part by worrying about the world my daughter will inherit (which is all too scary between the 2016 US presidential elections and climate change), and in part from a poetry workshop with Carolyn Forche.  Working with Forche and the wonderful women poets who were in the December 2014 24PearlStreet online workshop gave me the confidence to polish the poem and pull together my chapbook being published this year by Finishing Line Press.

What has been your greatest writing life moment so far?

Well, the day ranks pretty high when I learned about winning the 2013 NCTE raffle to attend an online workshop with poet Carolyn Forche at 24PearlStreet http://web.fawc.org/24-pearl-street. Learning my premiere chapbook, When Mockingbirds Sing, was accepted by Finishing Line Press for 2016 publication would be the MOST exciting thus far, which you can purchase at https://finishinglinepress.com/.

What is your favorite piece by another writer from a previous issue and why?

America as a Room” by Cassandra de Alba in Alyss Issue Deux is a favorite for me because she deftly captures the paradox of the US in poetic lines of “exquisite workmanship.”

What are you currently working on?

Awaiting arrival of my poetry chapbook, When Mockingbirds Sing, from Finishing Line Press, https://finishinglinepress.com/, I currently have submitted to several publishers my first full-length poetry book, Bone Geometry, for publication consideration, so wish me luck!  With a little more luck and a lot of fortitude, I shall complete this year as well my first novel tentatively titled Burning Down the House: Battle Royal in the Big Easy, so this year has had a lot of “firsts” for me, including my first publication in Alyss.

Who/what is your favorite Alice/Alyss?

Well, I suppose it would be pretty self-serving to say Alyss Issue Tre, in which my own poem appears, is my favorite, but there, I’ve said it.  If there is an Alice character I prefer, it would be the Alice-in-Wonderland turned Joan of Arc in the 2010 fantasy film.

Finding the Way Back

(Inspired by Robert M. Edsel’s The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves, and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History)

Mona Lisa smiles down the barrel of a German Luger.
The question: Is art worth a life?
Five thousand bells bear silent witness
stacked head high in a salt mine
next to barrels of gold fillings
extracted from humans alive or dead.
Auschwitz. Buchenwald. Ashes in the wind
covered the head of my grandfather.
Unlike Mona Lisa’s smile surviving the war,
there is no photograph, no painting to which to point,
to show you, Daughter. Here is your heritage:
A number, faded ink, A15429,
your great-grandfather’s father, reduced to
a black armband, a yellow star.
A tattered remnant entangled among 10 feet of
Torahs piled high, sacred scrolls askew
is the life I hand you.

Blood of my blood, your blond tresses
may have saved you from the gas
I would have breathed last.
My words, my gift, surely my undoing,
all I have to offer you, to guide you
through the coming dark. Always a shadow
accompanies the sun. Bone
of my bone, sharpen your teeth, file down
bone to spear, prepare for battle.

A brown leather-bound album is still
worshipped by those who feed on hate
like pomegranate seeds, spitting out
words like poison darts that
turn skin fair and dark alike to ash.

From the ash heaps you must rise,
mark your forehead in my memory and take
your place among the sisterhood reaching back
to Nefertiti, to Eve, to the Great Mother
who has no name. Like Michelangelo’s Bruges Madonna,
The Ghent Altarpiece, Girl with a Pearl Earring, she is still
worshipped among ancient stones
once used to weigh down girls in the water
among chants of witch. Rise, Daughter, open your eyes
in the sunlight turning falling ash orange.

Is art worth a life?
Wear my words like a necklace, a talisman,
a prayer bead you brush with your lips.
Breathe in deep and blow my words out
across the blue universe. Let them fall
like dogwood petals flowering the ashen earth.
Let your lips speak my answer.
Let your daughter sing our song.
Unsilence the bells.
Unscroll the Torahs.
In the beginning was the word.
Find your way back.
Reclaim our garden.

Katherine Nelson-Born