Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Stars That Guide Us: Kate Barnes, 1932-2013

By Christina Freitas

Everyone leaves traces of themselves, ideas and actions, impressions carved into the ever-expanding portrait that we call life. Across histories and continents, there have always been those whose stamp reflects upon those words that they bestow upon the world, cornerstones of a life spent connecting humanity, a population more alike than it may recognize in our troubled times. If anyone has accomplished this monumental task, the late Kate Barnes is one such individual, whose poetic lines strike straight to the core of all that makes us human, fears, dreams, and all.

Born in 1932, Kate Barnes, daughter of Henry Beston and Elizabeth Coatsworth, was perhaps destined to become a writer, with both parents practicing the art themselves. Her poetry had already begun appearing in literary magazines in her early twenties, sparking what would become a life of treasured literary works.

Where The Deer Were
She was named Maine’s first poet laureate in the 1980s and, over her long career, could claim four published poetry collections for her own – Talking in Your Sleep (1985) and Crossing the Field (1992), published by Blackberry Books, as well as two titles published by Godine, Where the Deer Were (1994) and Kneeling Orion (2004). Barnes passed away earlier this month and with her, an irreplaceable artistic force has been lost. Yet her words live on and with them, an echo of herself.

Kneeling Orion
Just perusing her most recent poetry collection, Kneeling Orion, I am both struck and humbled by the effortless grace with which she connects phrases and creates simple images, embracing nature and twining its beauty together with the daily routines, and struggles, of herself, her family, and ultimately all of mankind. Her pen serves as the vessel, the tool, through which we can dip our toe into her world and find ourselves immersed, awed, and hopelessly, though never needlessly, in love.

Every image, no matter how simple, appears as the prettiest wildflower on the page, from the broad mountains to the simple picture of a dog greeting its master, or a child playing in the kitchen. In each poem we encounter love, family, the simultaneous fear and awe of time. They are happening to others, mothers and fathers and daughters, and yet they are our fears, our hopes, and our dreams exposed on the page all the same.

As poet and master of the page, Barnes weaves together threads of our own collective consciousness, to remind us that we are, and always will be, creatures linked not only to one another, but also to nature, the spirit that provides for us all. It is her command of the seemingly simplistic, her ability to expand this idea into a universal truth, a common human bond through compassion, or fear, or loss, which is a gift often unique to poets, and certainly unique to Barnes herself.

Like those individuals scripted into her literary creations, Barnes is forever present in her works, a gentle guide and a kindred spirit. Though her imaginative, intelligent spark will be missed, her life and work remains as much a blessing as ever before, an eternal reminder of the power of words, and art, to unite the human experience. And we thank her for the literary gifts she has graced us with.

You can purchase both of Kate Barnes’ collections with Godine, Where the Deer Were and Kneeling Orion, on our website. To learn more about Barnes or to hear audio excerpts from readings and interviews, you can visit her page on the Poetry in Maine website.

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