Wednesday, June 12, 2019

#112 Backstory of the Poem "Relics" by Kate Peper

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***This is #112 in the never-ending series called BACKSTORY OF THE POEM where the Chris Rice Cooper Blog (CRC) focuses on one specific poem and how the poet wrote that specific poem.  All BACKSTORY OF THE POEM links are at the end of this piece. 

****All images are granted copyright permission by Kate Peper for this CRC Blog Post only unless otherwise noted. 

#112 Backstory of the Poem
by Kate Peper
Can you go through the step-by-step process of writing this poem from the moment the idea was first conceived in your brain until final form? I tend to project a lot of emotion onto inanimate things, particularly things that “look” discarded, alone and unloved such as abandoned homes, amusement parks, shoes, toys, toothpicks. I can’t help but ponder their origins or the fact that this object was new and loved at one point. 

     The visual image of a used toothpick on a cocktail napkin popped into my head one evening and I thought, "Where did this toothpick come from? What kind of tree is it from? Who chopped down the tree that eventually became thousands of toothpicks?" This tiny piece of wood was from a tree that is gone and the toothpicks it was fashioned into are also gone. I wrote in my notebook all the feelings I felt for my imaginary soon-to-be-discarded toothpick and the birch tree from which it came. I tried getting as far out there with my free-associations before I stopped and looked at what I wrote. It was clear I saw the birch trees as beautiful, spiritual and something that could easily be destroyed. The toothpick was a symbol— small, tangible and easily disposed— of our natural world.
     I remember getting an image of people in white standing in a row and thought that was kind of funny. Then the idea that these people of the birch-less future would be the stand-ins for the extinct trees, and how sad but funny that image was.
          I typed it up without line breaks as I wasn't sure what form the poem would take. I took it to two of my critique groups, plus one editor, and with their feedback I pulled out all the flabby language and set it in couplets.

Where were you when you started to actually write the poem?  And please describe the place in great detail. I remember it was evening when my husband was gone and our dog sleeping, so I had a bubble of quiet in which to write. I sat in my favorite corner of the couch and started free-writing the first draft.

What month and year did you start writing this poem?
Late November, 2015

How many drafts of this poem did you write before going to the final? (And can you share a photograph of your rough drafts with pen markings on it?) 6 drafts.

Were there any lines in any of your rough drafts of this poem that were not in the final version?  And can you share them with us?  We will not be allowed to gain or lose weight/ as the coverall must last a lifetime.”

What do you want readers of this poem to take from this poem? I believe God runs through us and this world He created. If we deny our innate spirituality and turn to, say, a more technological or virtual world, we will lose our link to God. That sounds so pompous, but I can’t help see everything in the universe is united in Spirit. If our stewardship of this planet we've been tasked with truly fails, a toothpick could become our only relic to not just this fragile but beautiful planet, but God. There will be ritual, perhaps, but it will be devoid of spirituality.

Which part of the poem was the most emotional of you to write and why? Believe it or not, the first couplet. The image of a toothpick used once and left on a napkin seemed to hold so much sadness. I can imagine someone saying, There are so many toothpicks Kate, what’s the big deal? I’m sure that’s what many folks thought about the Passenger pigeon, a species so numerous they blackened skies when in flight and broke branches when their hordes alighted in trees, until there was only Martha left (the last Passenger pigeon) (Above Left). And when she died, that species was extinct.

Has this poem been published before?  And if so where?
The poem was published in Tar River Review in 2017


I never feel so alone as when I see
            a used toothpick left on a damp napkin.

Think of the birches God made, their bright paper unraveling
            —a grove of bandages with shivering leaves.

Trees rattled to the ground with a chop,
            stripped and crafted into picks for teeth.

In the future, we will be issued white coveralls
            and one toothpick from the government.

A splinter from the last birch forest,
            the toothpick will be micro-chipped for ID

To Be Kept On Your Person At All Times.
             We’ll be all business, no time for cocktails.

When the president walks in, every official will stand
            and touch their breast pocket with the toothpick,

the one thing they know connects us with holiness.

Anything you would like to add? This poem was very important to me because I think I was able to convey my spiritual beliefs, this unique, fragile and beautiful world of which we are in danger of destroying and a touch of the absurd. Poets I'm reading right now are Connie Wanek (, Gerald Stern  

(, Ocean Vuong (, Philip Larkin ( a host of others. There's plenty of surrealism, humor, wisdom and great beauty in all these poets' work.

     Kate Peper grew up amidst a large and lively family in an old hunting lodge in Edina, Minnesota, surrounded by five acres of woods that provided her hours of exploration and solitude. All this figured prominently in Kate’s early artwork, beginning with drawing and watercolor and later inspiring her poetry. After college, she found work as an animator and moved to California in 1994 to work in the then-thriving educational games industry. In the mid-2000s, she designed high-end carpets in San Francisco. All along, poetry and watercolor were her constant preoccupations and have been her main focus for the past 10 years. She has taught creative writing as part of California Poets in the Schools as well as to older adults in retirement communities. She lives just north of San Francisco with her husband Bruce and their dog Hannah.


001  December 29, 2017
Margo Berdeshevksy’s “12-24”

002  January 08, 2018
Alexis Rhone Fancher’s “82 Miles From the Beach, We Order The Lobster At Clear Lake Café”

003 January 12, 2018
Barbara Crooker’s “Orange”

004 January 22, 2018
Sonia Saikaley’s “Modern Matsushima”

005 January 29, 2018
Ellen Foos’s “Side Yard”

006 February 03, 2018
Susan Sundwall’s “The Ringmaster”

007 February 09, 2018
Leslea Newman’s “That Night”

008 February 17, 2018
Alexis Rhone Fancher “June Fairchild Isn’t Dead”

009 February 24, 2018
Charles Clifford Brooks III “The Gift of the Year With Granny”

010 March 03, 2018
Scott Thomas Outlar’s “The Natural Reflection of Your Palms”

011 March 10, 2018
Anya Francesca Jenkins’s “After Diane Beatty’s Photograph “History Abandoned”

012  March 17, 2018
Angela Narciso Torres’s “What I Learned This Week”

013 March 24, 2018
Jan Steckel’s “Holiday On ICE”

014 March 31, 2018
Ibrahim Honjo’s “Colors”

015 April 14, 2018
Marilyn Kallett’s “Ode to Disappointment”

016  April 27, 2018
Beth Copeland’s “Reliquary”

017  May 12, 2018
Marlon L Fick’s “The Swallows of Barcelona”

018  May 25, 2018

019  June 09, 2018
Alexis Rhone Fancher’s “Stiletto Killer. . . A Surmise”

020 June 16, 2018
Charles Rammelkamp’s “At Last I Can Start Suffering”

021  July 05, 2018
Marla Shaw O’Neill’s “Wind Chimes”

022 July 13, 2018
Julia Gordon-Bramer’s “Studying Ariel”

023 July 20, 2018
Bill Yarrow’s “Jesus Zombie”

024  July 27, 2018
Telaina Eriksen’s “Brag 2016”

025  August 01, 2018
Seth Berg’s “It is only Yourself that Bends – so Wake up!”

026  August 07, 2018
David Herrle’s “Devil In the Details”

027  August 13, 2018
Gloria Mindock’s “Carmen Polo, Lady Necklaces, 2017”

028  August 21, 2018
Connie Post’s “Two Deaths”

029  August 30, 2018
Mary Harwell Sayler’s “Faces in a Crowd”

030 September 16, 2018
Larry Jaffe’s “The Risking Point”

031  September 24, 2018
Mark Lee Webb’s “After We Drove”

032  October 04, 2018
Melissa Studdard’s “Astral”

033 October 13, 2018
Robert Craven’s “I Have A Bass Guitar Called Vanessa”

034  October 17, 2018
David Sullivan’s “Paper Mache Peaches of Heaven”

035 October 23, 2018
Timothy Gager’s “Sobriety”

036  October 30, 2018
Gary Glauber’s “The Second Breakfast”

037  November 04, 2018
Heather Forbes-McKeon’s “Melania’s Deaf Tone Jacket”

038 November 11, 2018
Andrena Zawinski’s “Women of the Fields”

039  November 00, 2018
Gordon Hilger’s “Poe”

040 November 16, 2018
Rita Quillen’s “My Children Question Me About Poetry” and “Deathbed Dreams”

041 November 20, 2018
Jonathan Kevin Rice’s “Dog Sitting”

042 November 22, 2018
Haroldo Barbosa Filho’s “Mountain”

043  November 27, 2018
Megan Merchant’s “Grief Flowers”

044 November 30, 2018
Jonathan P Taylor’s “This poem is too neat”

045  December 03, 2018
Ian Haight’s “Sungmyo for our Dead Father-in-Law”

046 December 06, 2018
Nancy Dafoe’s “Poem in the Throat”

047 December 11, 2018
Jeffrey Pearson’s “Memorial Day”

048  December 14, 2018
Frank Paino’s “Laika”

049  December 15, 2018
Jennifer Martelli’s “Anniversary”

O50  December 19, 2018
Joseph Ross’s For Gilberto Ramos, 15, Who Died in the Texas Desert, June 2014”

051 December 23, 2018
“The Persistence of Music”
by Anatoly Molotkov

052  December 27, 2018
“Under Surveillance”
by Michael Farry

053  December 28, 2018
“Grand Finale”
by Renuka Raghavan

054  December 29, 2018
by Gene Barry

055 January 2, 2019
by Larissa Shmailo

056  January 7, 2019
“The Seamstress:
by Len Kuntz

057  January 10, 2019
"Natural History"
by Camille T Dungy

058  January 11, 2019
by Brian Burmeister

059  January 12, 2019
by Clint Margrave

060 January 14, 2019
by Pat Durmon

061 January 19, 2019
“Neptune’s Choir”
by Linda Imbler

062  January 22, 2019
“Views From the Driveway”
by Amy Barone

063  January 25, 2019
“The heron leaves her haunts in the marsh”
by Gail Wronsky

064  January 30, 2019
by Terry Lucas

065 February 02, 2019
“Summer 1970, The University of Virginia Opens to Women in the Fall”
by Alarie Tennille

066 February 05, 2019
“At School They Learn Nouns”
by Patrick Bizzaro

067  February 06, 2019
“I Must Not Breathe”
by Angela Jackson-Brown

068 February 11, 2019
“Lunch on City Island, Early June”
by Christine Potter

069 February 12, 2019
by Andrew McFadyen-Ketchum

070 February 14, 2019
“Daily Commute”
by Christopher P. Locke

071 February 18, 2019
“How Silent The Trees”
by Wyn Cooper

072 February 20, 2019
“A New Psalm of Montreal”
by Sheenagh Pugh

073 February 23, 2019
“Make Me A Butterfly”
by Amy Barbera

074 February 26, 2019
by Sandy Coomer

075 March 4, 2019
“Shape of a Violin”
by Kelly Powell

076 March 5, 2019
“Inward Oracle”
by J.P. Dancing Bear

077 March 7, 2019
“I Broke My Bust Of Jesus”
by Susan Sundwall

078 March 9, 2019
“My Mother at 19”
by John Guzlowski

079 March 10, 2019
by Chera Hammons Miller

080 March 12, 2019
“Of Water and Echo”
by Gillian Cummings

081   082   083    March 14, 2019
“Little Political Sense”   “Crossing Kansas with Jim
Morrison”  “The Land of Sky and Blue Waters”
by Dr. Lindsey Martin-Bowen

084 March 15, 2019
“A Tune To Remember”
by Anna Evans

085 March 19, 2019
“At the End of Time (Wish You Were Here)
by Jeannine Hall Gailey

086 March 20, 2019
“Garden of Gethsemane”
by Marletta Hemphill

087 March 21, 2019
“Letters From a War”
by Chelsea Dingman

088 March 26, 2019
by Bob Heman

089 March 27, 2019
“Clay for the Potter”
by Belinda Bourgeois

#090 March 30, 2019
“The Pose”
by John Hicks

#091 April 2, 2019
“Last Night at the Wursthaus”
by Doug Holder

#092 April 4, 2019
“Original Sin”
by Diane Lockward

#093 April 5, 2019
“A Father Calls to his child on liveleak”
by Stephen Byrne

#094 April 8, 2019
by Marc Zegans

#095 April 12, 2019
“Landscape and Still Life”
by Marjorie Maddox

#096 April 16, 2019
“Strawberries Have Been Growing Here for Hundreds of
by Mary Ellen Lough

#097 April 17, 2019
“The New Science of Slippery Surfaces”
by Donna Spruijt-Metz

#098 April 19, 2019
“Tennessee Epithalamium”
by Alyse Knorr

#099 April 20, 2019
“Mermaid, 1969”
by Tameca L. Coleman

#100 April 21, 2019
“How Do You Know?”
by Stephanie

#101 April 23, 2019
“Rare Book and Reader”
by Ned Balbo

#102 April 26, 2019
by Jefferson Carter

#103 May 01, 2019
“The sight of a million angels”
by Jenneth Graser

#104 May 09, 2019
“How to tell my dog I’m dying”
by Richard Fox

#105 May 17, 2019
“Promises Had Been Made”
by Sarah Sarai

#106 June 01, 2019
“i sold your car today”
by Pamela Twining

#107 June 02, 2019
“Abandoned Stable”
by Nancy Susanna Breen

#108 June 05, 2019
by Julene Tripp Weaver

#109 June 6, 2019
“Bobby’s Story”
by Jimmy Pappas

#110 June 10, 2019
“When You Ask Me to Tell You About My Father”
by Pauletta Hansel

#111 Backstory of the Poem’s
“Cemetery Mailbox”
by Jennifer Horne

#112 Backstory of the Poem’s
by Kate Peper

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