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Current Featured Poet: Kathe Palka

Kathe Palka has a brand new book out, so this seemed like a great time to profile her and find out how in the world a banker became a poet! A master of "place" poems and an avid practitioner of haiku and tanka, Kathe lives in New Jersey.

Why poetry?

When I was a child, my parents had a couple of poetry anthologies in their collection of books — also a book of Robert Frost's work. I was an insatiable reader as a child and read through these over and over, enjoying the sound of the language, even though I couldn't yet understand the layered meanings. I think these early exposures first drew me into poetry. I've always loved the concision and density of the language.

How did you come to be a poet?

Very slowly, over a lot of years! I wrote simple rhyming poems as a girl and a lot of bad adolescent angst poetry in high school. In college I was too busy to write anything that didn't have something to do with a class. I majored in Economics and American Civilization, not English. Then, in my thirties, I found a copy of a literary journal published by a local writers group, the Higginsville Reader, at a local library and I discovered poetry again in a whole new way. I began learning about small presses and reading little literary journals — the places where contemporary poetry really lives. I started writing again seriously and joined that writers group. I found the Higginsville Reader around 1992. By 1996, I was beginning to publish my own poems and work on the editorial side of things as well. In the beginning, I went to writers' critique meetings almost weekly. That's how I really learned the craft of poetry— through a number of critique groups I've participated in and by closely reading lots of poetry written by many different poets. It took a long while before I actually began to think of myself as a poet.

Do you have favorite poets or poems?

Too many to mention them all! I love Frost and also Whitman (my favorite poem by Whitman is "I Saw in Louisiana a Live Oak Growing"), Billy Collins, Mark Doty, Jane Kenyon (I love her "Let Evening Come" ) . . . "The Voice You Hear When You Read Silently," by Thomas Lux, is a favorite poem of mine for many reasons—one of which is that I tutored adult literacy for a number of years, helping students to find that inner voice which Lux describes so beautifully in that work. I write in free verse, but also in Japanese forms and am a great admirer of the old masters, as well as many poets currently writing haiku and other related forms in English — Stanford Forester, Marilyn Hazelton, Kala Ramesh, Michael McClintock. My list is very long.

What's the most interesting "poetry pilgrimage" you've ever made?

Attending the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation Poetry Festival here in my home state of New Jersey. It's fabulous and inspiring. Check it out

In the great scheme of things, where does poetry fit in?

Poetry requires one to look closely at the details in life, in the world around us, bringing things into focus and it lets us see them in a new light or from a different angle. Reading the poetry of others opens up the world a little. It expands human experience.

Describe your writing routine or process.

I usually take a few notes on an idea and mull it over a while before sitting down to write. I revise over and over. Some poems take months or even years to feel finished. I try to do something writing-related every day, even if it is just editing something or answering correspondence.

What's the most absurd thing you've ever written a poem about?

I think it would have to be "Turkey Love," the title and subject of a poem that has appeared here on YDP. This magnificent wild tom bird wandered into my yard one spring day with two somewhat interested hens and my husband and I got to watch their interaction from our kitchen window. I sat down to write the poem as soon as they left the yard.

Which classic poet would you most like to meet, and why?

I'd have to pick Walt Whitman. I'd love to hear him talk about his life and poetry.

When/where are you most inspired?

My inspiration comes mostly from the course of ordinary days and experiences and from places I've visited. I'm often inspired by the natural world.

Is there some consistent trademark or characteristic that you've discovered in your poetry?

I recently realized I do write a lot of poems of place. I try to see the everyday from a new angle. Much of my work reflects my spiritual side.

Anything else you'd like to share--advice, anecdotes, forthcoming adventure, etc? 

For those who think they don't care for poetry — please, read a few more poems, a few more poets, and I believe you will to find the poetic voices that speak to you. There is so much wonderful variety in what has been written and is being written I'm certain there are poets out there whose work will touch you. YDP is a great place to start.

I'd like to mention that I have a new book out from Grayson Books, Miracle of the Wine: New and Selected Poems available at My free tanka eChapbook, As the Years Pass, can be found online at Also, Peter Newton and I have just recently become the lead editors for the daily online haiku and micropoetry journal The latest issue, 12.1, begins 10/1/12.

Many thanks to Kathe for sharing how she came to poetry and for great suggestions on where those new to poetry might go exploring. You'll find lots of wonderful poems by Kathe in the YDP archives, and you can learn more about her at

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