Illinois College - Home Logo
Open Menu

News

Poet processes worry through words

4.13.2020

“I can’t say enough that poetry saves me, all the time, every day; poetry helps me make sense of myself and the world, whether I’m writing original work or reading my favorite poets."

Poet processes worry through words, by Angela Bauer, Journal-Courier

It’s hard to know exactly how to proceed with promoting a book of poetry amid a global pandemic.

What it came down to for Kara Dorris, an Illinois College visiting assistant professor of English, was her own tendency to turn to the poetry of others for comfort.

“I can’t say enough that poetry saves me, all the time, every day; poetry helps me make sense of myself and the world, whether I’m writing original work or reading my favorite poets,” Dorris said, noting that one of her favorite things about Twitter right now are the videos of poets reading poetry.

With that in mind, she ventured out — from an appropriate virtual distance — to let people know her latest full-length book of poetry, “When the Body is a Guardrail,” is available for pre-sale ahead of a July release.

“I want to say yes, of course my poems will offer inspiration and comfort, especially in this time of social distancing, but the most I can say is, I truly hope so — I genuinely hope my poems offer solace and a sense of connection, especially in these lonely and fearful times.”

Of course, the time it takes to turn a written work into a published one means none of the poems in “Guardrail” is specifically about this odd moment in history, but the book’s theme — worry, and how one manages it — may be perfectly suited to it.

“The older I get, the more I worry,” Dorris said. “I worry my family could get in a car accident when driving for a visit or simply heading home after work. I worry about injury … that I will break an ankle walking across a parking lot. I worry as a woman I won’t be taken seriously. I worry that no one will read my poetry. I worry that my loved ones will be hurt by my poetry. I worry, worry, worry.

“Most of us are guilty of these kinds of worries. But this worry, and the fear it stems from, is limiting and can be debilitating. When we let this worry define us, we walk through life braced and ready for impact, the worst-case scenario — much like guardrails — closed off to empathy and love — for others and ourselves. When we treat the body as a guardrail, we let this fear obscure the wonder and surprise that is all around.”

There are similarities between “Guardrail” and Dorris’ first full-length poetry book, “Have Ruin, Will Travel.”

“In some ways, both books deal with the same subject matter: family, home, distance — spatially and emotionally,” she said. “Both books are full of questioning and reflection. Who are we? Who are we to claim ownership? What are our responsibilities to others — and to ourselves? Both claim kinship with Texas, with middle-of-nowhere small towns.”

There also are differences.

“To me, they feel very different,” Dorris said. “My first book … was my Ph.D. dissertation manuscript, which means it went through many different drafts and readers. Although I am extremely happy with the final product, all the decisions I made regarding the book were not entirely my own. (“Guardrail”) didn’t go through the same process, so it feels more intimate and personal — like I can’t blame any poetic choices on anyone but myself. Therefore, my second book feels freer, looser, somehow.”

While it’s hard to quantify success of a poetry book — poets rarely publish assuming they’ll attain J.K. Rowling or Stephen King levels of copies sold — Dorris is pleased with the response to her first book.

“… My friends and colleagues seem to have enjoyed reading it — no one in my family got mad or was offended,” she said. “At readings, the poetry community has been incredibly supportive and engaging — especially at the Jacksonville Poetry Forum’s open-mic poetry night. A few great reviews have been written. All in all, my poems are out in the world, which is both awe-inspiring and humbling at the same time — and I hope I never lose the gratitude and honor I feel knowing my book is in the hands of others.”

As she waits for a new set of her poems to make it into the world, Dorris works to find a balance between the worry of the coronavirus pandemic and trying to find positives in the situation.

“I think a lot of us live in near-constant states of stress, depression and isolation,” she said. “The difference now is that we’ve been given permission to talk about it. Normally, we think we must put on brave faces or put our best foot forward — and many other equally annoying cliche phrases that promote false flawlessness over real imperfection — but, truthfully, everyone struggles every day and no one is perfect.

“As a poet, as a teacher, as a woman — and all the other roles we must play — I’ve tried to face and accept the inevitably of failure, internally and externally, as a way to manage the anxiety I face every day — Will anyone like my poetry or even read it, will I inspire my students to learn and help them become better writers, will I be a good dog-parent and partner, a strong daughter, a supportive sister, etc.?

“Today, even though we are physically isolated, we can express these concerns through social media and not feel judged, but instead feel a sense of community with other worriers and imperfect human beings. It’s funny, most of us know no one is perfect, and oftentimes we are willing to forgive the imperfections of others, but showing ourselves the same compassion is not that easy. I think poetry allows us to find this sense of community and to wrestle with these same ideas all the time.”

She’s grateful she’s able to work from home, she said, but Dorris misses her routine and the ability that leaving her house affords her to “accidentally run into situations that show me new ways to look at the world, then try to explore those new connections through poetry.”

She sees connections between how she reacts to poetry and how she’s reacting to the pandemic.

”I think the coronavirus pandemic keeps us more aware every day — we can’t simply escape, get lost in routines,” she said. “In that way, it reminds me of poetry; unlike prose, a novel, where you can forget yourself in someone else’s story, when reading poetry you are always hyper-aware of your hands and the words on the page, you are constantly making and creating comparisons to your own experiences trying to parse out meaning. But this hyper-awareness can also include anxiety.

“For me, (now is) a time to read poetry, a time to try to make sense of a new world and my place in it, but I am struggling to write new poetry almost like I’m in stasis, like the world is stuck in waiting mode.”

“When the Body is a Guardrail,” a 78-page book of poetry by Kara Dorris, is available for pre-sale at finishinglinepress.com (search for “Kara Dorris”) or by mailing a check for $22.98 to Finishing Line Press, P.O. Box 1626, Georgetown, KY 40324.

About Illinois College

Founded in 1829, Illinois College is a residential liberal arts college fostering academic excellence rooted in opportunities for experiential learning while preparing students for lifelong success. The college is located in Jacksonville, Illinois. With an enrollment of more than 1,000 students, the college offers over 50 undergraduate programs. In 1932 the society of Phi Beta Kappa established a chapter at Illinois College, and it remains one of only 11 in the state.

Illinois College is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association.

Visit www.ic.edu or call 217.245.3467 for more information.

Media Contact Information
Office of Marketing and Communication
Amy Jones
Assistant Director of Marketing and Communication
217.836.8850