National Poetry Month Spotlight: Katharine Rauk

……..from Pablo Neruda’s The Book of Questions
How many hours in a peach
that swallows light
like a woman with her secret
windows, each pain a glass
which opens onto orchards
sown with how many
bites of time?
How many minutes in the room
where rain is born
with her sudden bouquet of hands
which flattens furrows
hewn in foreheads
and presses how many
thumbprints in the grass?
How many seconds in a question
seeded in the dirt
as when the peach’s ribbed pit asks
shall I come?
and its tender flesh asks
shall I go?

Q: Do you remember where you were and what you were doing on the day you wrote the above poem?

A: Pablo Neruda’s The Book of Questions is a book literally full of questions—“If all rivers are sweet / where does the sea get its salt?” or “And what did the rubies say / standing before the juice of pomegranates?”—and I often like to interrogate Neruda’s original inquiries. As you might imagine, I usually don’t end up with satisfying answers but instead with a collection of even more questions. This particular poem is woven from my responses to Neruda’s question over the course of a few weeks, so I can’t say that it was written on one specific day.

Q: What is the last book you’ve read that made you want to grab a pen and write?

A: I have just been reading (once again) Galway Kinnell’s The Book of Nightmares and reveling in his knobby language. He uses words you must forcibly chew, like “fenks,” “goaf,” gurry” and “smarled,” as well as kennings like “throat knuckles” and “mouth-glue.” Maybe because it’s spring in Minnesota and I’ve been mucking around in the backyard or because I’m about to give birth to a baby daughter in a few weeks, but it seems especially fitting to be reading a book so grounded in the bodily world. Kinnell uses words that are not stereotypically “poetic”; instead, they are corporeal and often steeped in decay. Yet Kinnell’s keen awareness of mortality is tempered by witnessing the arrival of his newborn children on earth.

Q: What is the most sublime meal you’ve ever eaten?

A: My husband and I taught at a university in northeastern China for one year, and during our winter vacation we took the train 57 hours south to the city of Kunming. A friend directed us to an Italian restaurant run by an actual Neapolitan who had taken up permanent residence in China, where we gorged on pizza and pastiera. As the details of the actual meal are quite hazy, it’s unclear whether Rocco is actually the master chef I remember or if I was just ecstatic to eat cheese after six months.

Katharine Rauk was a Fall 2008 finalist for the Black River Chapbook Competition with her manuscript Basil, forthcoming from Black Lawrence Press.