Poet gives reading to UCM students, faculty

Written by Muleskinner Staff

By MARIAH BOHANON
(WARRENSBURG, Mo., digitalBURG) – It’s been a big year for Katy Didden.
Within the span of several months, Didden – a postdoctoral fellow at St. Louis University – won not only the Lena Miles Wever Todd Prize from UCM’s own Pleaides Press, but was also chosen as one of four winners out of a pool of 1,100 applicants for Princeton University’s Hodder Fellowship.
The Lena Miles Wever Todd Prize was awarded to Didden for the manuscript of her first book, a collection of poetry titled “Glacier’s Wake.” The book will be released by Pleaides Press in April.
Didden gave a reading of “Glacier’s Wake” at UCM on March 13 as part of the Pleaides Visiting Writer Series. A large gathering of students and teachers showed up at the UCM Gallery of Art and Design to hear her read.
“I love giving readings, but this is the first time to do so with an actual book, which is so exciting,” Didden said.
The reading took place just days after it was announced that Didden won the Hodder Fellowship. The fellowship is awarded to artists who demonstrate “much more than ordinary intellectual and literary gifts,” according to Princeton University’s website. The fellowship allows recipients one full academic year to pursue independent projects in their craft.
“It’s kind of the perfect time for me, and this book really helped with that,” Didden said. “Getting the award with Pleaides showed that I had some national recognition.
“I have five different writing projects I’m working on right now, and I wanted to be able to give each of them good time and attention, so I’m just over the moon about it. I’m so excited to have this opportunity.”
Didden teaches creative writing and literature at SLU and composition for MICA, a service-learning program oriented around social justice. She has also taught courses in film and Shakespeare. Though she is excited that the fellowship will enable her to focus on writing for an entire year, she plans to return to teaching in the future.
“I see teaching as my career, and I’d definitely like to return to that,” Didden said.
Aside from being a published poet and professor, Didden’s resume also includes four years with the volunteer program L’Arche, which serves people with developmental disabilities. She has traveled to Seattle, Chicago, Washington, D.C., and Paris to work in L’Arche communities.
Didden’s extensive travels, including Argentina, Greece and multiple places across the U.S., factor into many of the poems in “Glacier’s Wake.”
“I’m using this common idea that when you go to some place unfamiliar, everything is strange and it lets you see things differently,” Didden said. “There’s several poems here with France, even though I lived there so briefly, but I was speaking a different language there. When you do that it’s like you’re a little kid again, you’re trying to learn everything by seeing, not by language. So that was really the dominant strategy in this book – traveling, encountering different things.”
Didden said her fascination with places that she has yet to visit, especially Iceland, also informs her poetry.
“I’m interested in how we create the idea of a place, when we haven’t been there yet, what we draw in to articulate that place in our imagination,” she said. “All of the Iceland poems are about that, and the newest book will be exploring that a lot.”
She is planning her next book as a short series of poems written from the perspective of lava. Many of the poems in “Glacier’s Wake” focus on geology, and several are written from the persona of inanimate objects, including a sycamore tree and a glacier.
Didden explains that the inspiration for such poems derives from her experiences in geology courses as an undergraduate.
“The professors would use a lot of metaphors to explain the earth’s processes,” Didden said. “And it was right when I was taking poetry workshop, so I think the two kind of fused in my imagination.”
The themes of location and geology in her poems strive for a counterbalance between the perspective of sustainability and the perspective of reality, she explains.
“I’m playing with this double-sided impulse,” Didden said. “On one side it’s this impulse to leave things pristine, to leave things well on their own. But then on this other side there’s this curiosity to go and see, and in the last poem in the book, it’s like we want to eat or to consume nature, or the glacier.”
Although Didden has traveled extensively, she said she spent a third of her life in Missouri, earning her undergraduate degree at Washington University and her doctoral degree at the University of Missouri. She also served as poetry editor of The Missouri Review for two years. Working as an editor helped to expose her to the wide variety of poetry that is out there, Didden said.
When asked for advice for student writers and aspiring poets, Didden urged students to take advantage of the sense of community that is possible through poetry.
“I think for me one of the greatest parts of poetry is the connections that it makes,” she said.
“Also read like crazy,” Didden added. “Read things that really confuse the heck out of you, and read the things you love, and then reread those things you love, and read odd things and read different genres. I guess that’s what we do, but the more I write the more I understand how much reading is a part of writing. It’s always there, even when the writing seems daunting, the reading is always open to you.”