Katharine Coles: Looking South 

Thursday Feb. 24 @ University of Utah, Marriott Library

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Returning to Utah from Antarctica, the state’s poet laureate, Katharine Coles, described the landscape there as “other-worldly.” “You can’t even trust what you’re seeing. That quality is just sublime,” says the University of Utah professor and novelist. Explorer Ernest Shackleton (1874-1922) likened the sun’s reflection and refraction off ice and water as creating mirages—perfect poetry fodder.

Coles’ jaunt to the southernmost continent for three weeks in December 2010 came after being selected for the NSF Antarctic Artists and Writers Program. She prepared by reading exploration novels and literature about the area’s flora and fauna, but she says, “I worried about how I was going to write 40 to 50 poems about penguins and icebergs.”

However, she found a wellspring of inspiration in the quirky scientific community at Palmer Station—from each person’s several nicknames to the clever one-upmanship in the boats named for a day. She was at “home.” Surrounded by a culture that prioritized playfulness with language, her output was bolstered. “It was the most productive period [writing poems] that I’ve ever had,” Coles says.

Inspired by the “mirages,” this excerpt from “Passages” captures the scene: “Behind us all is light/ And ice, refraction and reflection melting/ Stone into vapor into air./ We see the sun/ But where is it? Ahead, water/ Leaps to meet the sky, and you might wonder/ Which hard grey would draw us/ Farther into the cold.”

Join the author for a reading of more poems from her trip at the Marriott Library, with Q&A to follow.

Katharine Coles: Looking South @ University of Utah, Marriott Library, Gould Auditorium, 295 S. 1500 East, 801-581-8558, Feb. 24, noon, free.

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