Reading Simples by KateLynn Hibbard
I’ve just finished reading Simples by KateLynn Hibbard, one of five finalist books for Lyricality’s “Read Poetry Central Minnesota 2020” program. Wow. History and finely crafted poems! Two of my favorite things.
Writing for Twin Cities Pioneer Press, Mary Ann Grossmann quotes KateLynn’s aim for this, her third published volume of poetry: “I want people who think they don’t like poetry to read this book and maybe change their minds.”
People who think they don’t like poetry might be surprised to discover that poetry is a category as large as nonfiction. No poetry appeals to everyone, but there’s probably some poetry you would like. If you enjoy reading history with a women’s studies point of view, if you like imaginative fact-based stories with a core of emotional truth, I predict you’ll find something to love in this book melding history with poetry.
The setting is the Great Plains, latter 19th through early 20th centuries. The people we encounter are of the prairie–women and children, immigrants and Native Americans. In “Lace,” an Episcopal missionary with complicated motives teaches lacemaking to Anishinaabe (Chippewa) women, as KateLynn explains in the book’s notes, “to contribute to their ‘moral uplift’ …to give them a source of income…and aid in their assimilation to white ways.” After other remedies and the prayers of the priest have failed to relieve a child’s stomach ache, a German-from-Russia traditional healer is brought in to help, in “Braucher.” An Omaha tribal elder, Elsie Gilpin Morris, remarks on her experience at the Genoa U.S. Indian School in Nebraska, in “Indian Boarding School Memories.” This is a book rich with insights into the varied lives of prairie women.
But who am I to suggest you read this book? To quote Emily Dickinson, I’m nobody. Maybe that Simples won the 2018 Howling Bird Press Poetry Prize over 100 other applicants will add credibility to my humble opinion. But maybe you don’t care about poetry prizes. Some people think poetry awards are weirdly specialized and too subjectively given.
So, to help you make up your own mind about whether this fine book is one you want to spend time with, I give you–
7 writers with their reasons to read Katelynn Hibbard’s Simples.
1–Brian Turner, author of Here, Bullet
Brian Turner, author of Here, Bullet writes, Simples is “a book that transports us back in time to search out the remedies and inner strength necessary to survive a hardscrabble life on the frontier plains…a sweeping portrait of a time and a region.”
2–Hilda Raz, author of All Odd and Splendid
Hilda Raz, author of All Odd and Splendid writes, “KateLynn Hibbard tells us that at the frontier, women were workers and visionaries, makers, namers, travelers; they embodied knowledge, experienced lust, gave birth…Most women buried their children, their fiends, their sisters; they suffered, and, sometimes, they thrived. I loved Hibbard’s unflinching book!”
3–Heid E. Erdrich, author of Curator of Ephemera at the New Museum for Archaic Media
Heid E. Erdrich, author of Curator of Ephemera at the New Museum for Archaic Media writes, “These women code their communications to liberate one another from despair, abuse, unwanted pregnancy, and the heartbreak of lovelessness or longing for love that cannot be. This is not the pioneer woman claiming the prairie, but the prairie claiming the women it teaches to survive.”
4–T.R. Hummer, author of After the Afterlife
T.R. Hummer, author of After the Afterlife writes that Simples is, “Part Willa Cather, part Laura Ingalls Wilder, part Edgar Lee Masters, part Amy Clampitt . . . Comprehensive in perspective, masterful in method…”
5–Mary Ann Grossman, writer at Twin Cities Pioneer Press
Mary Ann Grossman, writer at Twin Cities Pioneer Press writes, This “prize-winning poetry collection ‘Simples’ mines women’s pasts on the Plains,” and explains that “Hibbard’s wide-ranging research took her from the Minnesota Historical Society library to a seminar on Plains Indians in Nebraska.”
6–Connor Poff, Poet and MFA Candidate
Connor Poff, in her review for The Corresponder writes, “Simples is a tale about perseverance and the end of perseverance, and it gives volume to the experiences of women and natives who built the West while their histories were silenced.”
7–Susan Rich author of Cloud Pharmacy
Susan Rich, author of Cloud Pharmacy reviewed Simples on her blog, The Alchemist’s Kitchen, writing, “This is a book you do not want to miss. Hibbard time travels through the Great Plains employing a variety of personas: healer, teacher, locust swarm and Jewish bride-to-be…a haunting collection of historical poetry inspired by women’s experiences living on the Great Plains frontier. …Simples opens up and complicates the lives of these women with new narratives focused on the female body and delivered in voices that are strong, varied, and nuanced.” (The review is a lovely piece of short writing. Treat yourself and open this link.)
To Order Simples by KateLynn Hibbard…
Simples by KateLynn Hibbard is published by The Howling Bird Press. The editorial team is led by Jim Cihlar, who, KateLynn acknowledges, “is a poet’s dream editor and a paragon of patience, precision, and good humor.”
Gabe Benson deserves an award for designing a cover evoking ephemeral prairie beauty, as well as, remarkably, the herbaceous-twine-floral-musty fragrance of prairie-history. Wow!
About KateLynn Hibbard
Visit Kate Lynn Hibbard’s website, where her bio reads: “KateLynn Hibbard’s first book of poems, Sleeping Upside Down (Silverfish Press 2006), won the Gerald Cable Book Award. Her second collection, Sweet Weight, was released by Tiger Bark Press in 2012. She is editor of When We Become Weavers: Queer Female Poets on the Midwest Experience (Squares & Rebels Press, 2012). Other honors include the Aestrea Foundation’s Lesbian Writing Finalist Award, a McKnight Artist Fellowship in Poetry, two Minnesota State Arts Board Initiative Grants, a Jerome Foundation Travel Grant, and residencies at Hedgebrook and the Cornucopia Arts Council. A long-time singer with One Voice, Minnesota’s LGBTQA mixed chorus, and a professor of writing and women’s history at Minneapolis Community and Technical College, she lives with many pets and her spouse Jan in Saint Paul.”
This activity is made possible by the voters of Minnesota through a grant from the Central MN Arts Board, thanks to a legislative appropriation from the arts and cultural heritage fund.