NEA Literature Fellowships

Kathleen Flenniken

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(2005 - Poetry)


Tonight blame Kiri Te Kanawa
infusing the kitchen with her aria,
blame the mixed bouquet of basil

and flayed tomatoes and onions
and one expansive high note blooming
like a rose in fast-frame.

Here in the audience,
even in middle age, a little voice sings
from the back of the auditorium

of my throat. Aren’t all of us
waiting to be discovered?
Men and women enter the grand halls

of regional sales meetings
pressing nametags to dresses and ties.
I have been one of those

entering hopefully, conducting
delicate exchanges in hotel rooms.
I have called those pale disclosures

my life. Blame the cheap seats
we bought in the balcony.
We barely hear the little cogs

in our own hearts. Mozart, they say,
heard entire operas in a moment--
second violins, a glaze of harp,

heroic voices in the chorus all
clamoring to be realized
at once. My genius may be small,

but sometimes truth rolls right at me
like a hard head of cabbage
and I see myself that suddenly,

draining the pasta.

Kathleen Flenniken lives in Seattle with her husband and three children. She holds BS and MS degrees in Civil Engineering. Her first collection, Famous, won the 2005 Prairie Schooner Book Prize in Poetry and is forthcoming from University of Nebraska Press in Fall 2006. Her poems have appeared in Poetry, The Southern Review, Poetry Daily, and The Iowa Review. She teaches poetry in local schools and is an editor with Floating Bridge Press, a non-profit all-volunteer press dedicated to publishing Washington State poets.

Photo by Steve Flenniken 

Author's Statement

Maybe the best thing about that call was the resulting burst of confidence. Two weeks after learning I had won an NEA fellowship, about one week after I started to believe it, I tore apart my languishing manuscript of poems and reconceived it, renamed it, and reordered it. A few months later it found its home.

I started writing poetry in my thirties. I learned what I learned over pots of spaghetti, a child or two tugging on my pant leg, and in my precious night class that saved my sanity, provided me a new artistic outlet, a new group of friends, and a reading list an arm long. It’s a joyful way to enter poetry, but not so good for feeling legitimate. And legitimacy is what any writer craves - to be taken seriously. I am honored and humbled whenever I think of being selected by this panel.

More fruits of this recognition: I have begun a sequence of poems about growing up beside and working inside the Hanford Nuclear Reservation, something I’ve never before had the nerve to try. In practical terms, I’ve taken a year off from teaching, and we’ve made a few changes around here –I’m getting my own room to write.