Name: Katie Thompson
Hometown: Montgomery, Alabama
Current City: Birmingham, Alabama
Occupation: Art Director by day, Visual Artist by night
What does poetry mean to you?
Poetry is difficult. It's difficult to write, it's difficult to read. Difficult to talk about. I believe poetry reflects our own inability to be absolute in the communication of our thoughts. We've created this incredibly difficult thing that holds as much meaning in between the words as it holds within the words themselves. Poetry is as indescribable as the human condition.
Favorite poem/favorite poet, & why?
I'll share what has interested me lately: The People, Yes by Carl Sandburg. He wrote it in 1936 in America—so at the height of the Great Depression. I've been fascinated with this era of American history because I think it mirrors some of the anxiety that is currently buzzing here. The whole (book length) poem dives into the existential questions that all human societies tend to cycle through. I'll note that it's largely more optimistic than I am, especially when he approaches any notion of American exceptionalism. It's an interesting exercise to think what this poem would look like, if it could even exist, if Sandburg was writing in 2017 when optimism in America is not as easy to come by.
Here's an excerpt:
The people yes
The people will live on.
The learning and blundering people will live on.
They will be tricked and sold and again sold
And go back to the nourishing earth for rootholds,
The people so peculiar in renewal and comeback,
You can't laugh off their capacity to take it.
The mammoth rests between his cyclonic dramas.
The people so often sleepy, weary, enigmatic,
is a vast huddle with many units saying:
"I earn my living.
I make enough to get by
and it takes all my time.
If I had more time
I could do more for myself
and maybe for others.
I could read and study
and talk things over
and find out about things.
It takes time.
I wish I had the time."
The people is a tragic and comic two-face: hero and hoodlum:
phantom and gorilla twisting to moan with a gargoyle mouth:
"They buy me and sell me...it's a game...sometime I'll
Once having marched
Over the margins of animal necessity,
Over the grim line of sheer subsistence
Then man came
To the deeper rituals of his bones,
To the lights lighter than any bones,
To the time for thinking things over,
To the dance, the song, the story,
Or the hours given over to dreaming,
Once having so marched.
Between the finite limitations of the five senses
and the endless yearnings of man for the beyond
the people hold to the humdrum bidding of work and food
while reaching out when it comes their way
for lights beyond the prison of the five senses,
for keepsakes lasting beyond any hunger or death.
This reaching is alive.
The panderers and liars have violated and smutted it.
Yet this reaching is alive yet
for lights and keepsakes.
The people know the salt of the sea
and the strength of the winds
lashing the corners of the earth.
The people take the earth
as a tomb of rest and a cradle of hope.
Who else speaks for the Family of Man?
They are in tune and step
with constellations of universal law.
The people is a polychrome,
a spectrum and a prism
held in a moving monolith,
a console organ of changing themes,
a clavilux of color poems
wherein the sea offers fog
and the fog moves off in rain
and the labrador sunset shortens
to a nocturne of clear stars
serene over the shot spray
of northern lights.
The steel mill sky is alive.
The fire breaks white and zigzag
shot on a gun-metal gloaming.
Man is a long time coming.
Man will yet win.
Brother may yet line up with brother:
This old anvil laughs at many broken hammers.
There are men who can't be bought.
The fireborn are at home in fire.
The stars make no noise,
You can't hinder the wind from blowing.
Time is a great teacher.
Who can live without hope?
In the darkness with a great bundle of grief
the people march.
In the night, and overhead a shovel of stars for keeps, the people
"Where to? what next?"
Katie Thompson is a designer and artist living in Birmingham, AL. Currently, she serves as Artistic Director at Studio By The Tracks, a non-profit organization that provides art guidance and materials to emotionally conflicted children and adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder or other mental illnesses.