Leatha Kendrick “the huge unknown of everything…”

Leatha Kendrick is the author of five poetry collections, most recently And Luckier, from Accents Publishing. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Exit 7, Tar River Poetry, Appalachian Heritage, New Madrid Review, the Southern Poetry Review, the James Dickey Review, Still: An Online Journal, the Baltimore Review, The Southern Women’s Review, and in anthologies including The Southern Poetry Anthology, Volume 3—Contemporary Appalachia and What Comes Down to Us – Twenty-Five Contemporary Kentucky Poets. She lives and writes in Lexington, Kentucky.

Leatha is our judge for the Joanna Catherine Scott Award for poems in a traditional form.

Here are her views on how 2020 has impacted the role of the poet:

As the pandemic spread across the world this year, poetry became one of the ways humans made it through the uncertain days. People went looking for the poems that had helped them through dark times in the past and shared poetry to comfort themselves and cheer each other up. Poets and those who maybe had never written a poem before were moved to a new intensity of attention. As 2020 unfolded we sat by our windows and went for walks, and the world leapt up on us like a big dog, nearly knocking us down. And we wrote what we saw and heard and felt. And on those nights when we couldn’t sleep, when the huge unknown of everything pressed in at the windows, we got up and wrote some more, saying this is how it feels now, and maybe this, as well.

The events of 2020 have not changed so much as affirmed “the role of the poet in society,” which is to pay attention to the world as it is and to shape poems from it. In a year filled with extraordinary and historic moments, poems have voiced our wonder – our outrage – our despair – our grief – our gratitude – our ordinary encounter with being alive in a particular body, culture, history, family, place, at this instant in time.

Poetry is uniquely suited to convey the immediacy of sensory experience and give a shape to the fullness of lived moments, with all the paradoxes and contradictions they contain. The shaping function of poetry creates Frost’s “momentary stay against confusion” for both poet and reader. Whether we are a writer or a reader poems both stir us up and settle us down. It’s why we turn to reading and to writing them again and again.

This poem, written in late 2018, was published by Rattle and turned out to be the opening poem in her latest book, And Luckier, published in April, 2020:


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