Kathleen Flenniken’s first book of poetry, “Famous,” was published this month by the University of Nebraska Press.
Flenniken is a current student in PLU’s Rainer Writing Workshop, the master of fine arts in creative writing program. “Famous” won the Prairie Schooner Prize in Poetry in 2005. The honor includes publication of the manuscript submitted to the competition and a cash prize. When she learned she had won, she said she was both excited and humbled.
“It’s hard for first time poets to get published, unless it’s through these competitions,” she said. “So few people buy poetry.”
Her poetry collection largely focuses on a woman’s domestic life and how she finds meaning and significance, Flenniken said. Much of her writing was inspired by the time she has spent as a housewife raising her children, she explained.
Flenniken became a poet through what she calls the “the back door.” After working for eight years as an engineer and hydrologist – she holds a master’s degree in civil engineering – Flenniken quit work to stay home with her first two children, taking a poetry class in the evening. The class connected her to society and kept her mind sharp, she explained.
“It just felt like this thing I needed to do,” she said. “It gave me a purpose…some kind of intellectual stimulation.”
Flenniken was part of the pilot class of the Rainer Writing Workshop, and she plans to graduate next summer. Though she lacks the formal training of many of her contemporaries, she said the program has given her an excuse to do the reading she’s always wanted to do.
“I have to do if for school now,” Flenniken said. “It’s been great.”
In addition to the required reading, Flenniken chose to enter the program because of the chance to work with master poets. The MFA curriculum includes mentorships with nationally known writers and editors.
For the past two years, Flenniken was paired with Albert Goldbarth, the author of creative essays, a novel and more than 20 collections of poetry. Goldbarth worked with Flenniken through the mail, reading and critiquing her work.
“To know that he is concentrating on my work makes me a better writer,” Flenniken said. “This is probably the smartest reader you’re going to have. You want to be prepared for it, so you present your best work.”
This year marks Flenniken’s last in the program, and she will be writing her thesis this year. She will be working with Sharon Bryan, who has published three collections of poetry, on a creative thesis that will concentrate on poems and possibly some non-fiction about her life, she said.
Additionally, Flenniken is required to complete a critical paper to graduate from the MFA program. Currently, she is planning to read letters written by poets, which she will then compare to the poet’s published work.
“Big thick books of (published) letters that cover their whole lives are a wonderful window into the person behind the poem,” she said.
Flenniken grew up in Richland, Wash., and moved to Seattle in 1986. As an engineer, she worked for at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation for three years. Flenniken and her husband have three children.
Her poems have appeared in numerous publications, including The Iowa Review, The Southern Review and Poetry Daily. She is the recipient of a 2005 Literary Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts and a 2003 Literary Fellowship from Artist Trust. Flenniken has also received grants from Artist Trust and Seattle Office of Arts and Culture.
Flenniken is a co-editor and president of Floating Bridge Press, an all-volunteer non-profit press dedicated to publishing poets from Washington state. She has taught poetry in local schools through the Washington State Arts Commission, Writers in the Schools and Powerful Partners, and she has led poetry workshops for students.
Her book, “Famous,” costs $17.95. It is available at PLU’s bookstore, various bookstores in the area and through the University of Nebraska Press at http://unp.unl.edu/.
To learn more about Flenniken, visit www.kathleenflenniken.com.