Within minutes of meeting Katie Kinkel ’13, it is likely you will be involved in a conversation of complex, wide-ranging ideas, in which she demonstrates unusual thoughtfulness and a strong commitment to her art.
This summer, Kinkel is wrapping up a yearlong independent study in poetry with her advisor Anthony Walton, a writer-in-residence at Bowdoin. For the past year, Kinkel has been reading and writing reflectively on many poets, as well as writing her own poetry. Additionally, this summer, Kinkel has received a Bowdoin fellowship from the Surdna Foundation Undergraduate Research Fellowship Program to research one of her favorite contemporary poets, Frank Bidart.
After Walton introduced her to the work of Bidart last year, Kinkel said she wanted more time to critically engage with Bidart’s poems. Her eight weeks of research, under the guidance of Professor of English Peter Coviello, will culminate in a thesis paper.
Kinkel said she has been investigating Bidart’s long dramatic monologues, which are narrated by different characters, including both fictional and historical ones. “Bidart is interested in people who have desires and compulsions that create disorder within themselves,” she said. “Therefore, Bidart’s characters often experience trauma or impose it on others in ways that reflect or reproduce their internal senses of disorder.”
Trauma is a recurring theme in Bidart’s monologues. “There are intense moments of trauma, delivered with such accuracy. … Words are shouting at you,” Kinkel described.
In this tumult, Kinkel says she wanted to “crack open the difficulties of using trauma and voice in these narratives.” She’s asking questions such as, “How does one effectively represent violence and trauma in poetry? How is the experience of trauma enriched by this sparse and commanding contemporary tone? How does Bidart apply personal traumas to larger ‘global traumas’?”
Kinkel’s summertime research will help prepare her for her honors project next year, when she plans to write a series of long dramatic monologues. “I am fascinated by the poet’s capacity to combine poetic language with unusual voices, and in the importance of offering multiple disparate perspectives in opinions in poetry,” she wrote in her fellowship application. She has already written from the perspectives of a motley group, including William Faulkner, an empress dowager of China at the end of the Qing Dynasty, Persephone and Demeter of Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Michel Foucault, her grandparents, and a social worker, to name a few.
“Dramatic monologues are personal and intimate in ways that differ importantly from poems written in the first person,” she said. “It’s difficult to write poems with that kind of intensity without allowing them to become boring or self-obsessive. Dramatic monologue can be a way of working with that difficulty.”
Prof. Walton says Kinkel is one of the two or three most gifted young poets he’s ever worked with or been aware of. “Her work has a rare and compelling combination of lyric tenderness and intellectual intensity that in her best poems can create astonishing emotional power and poetic effect,” he said.
This is the second fellowship for Kinkel. Last year, she received an Ellen M. and Herbert M. Patterson Research Fellowship to write a 50-page analysis on William Faulkner. In addition, she competed in the Glascock Competition at Mount Holyoke College, finishing second as a junior. “That has been a preeminent predictor of future success, won by James Merrill, Sylvia Plath, Gjertrud Schnackenberg, and others, as undergraduates over the years,” Walton said.
After graduating from Bowdoin, Kinkel says she would like to earn a doctorate in American literature and an MFA in creative writing, and teach at a college or university. She also aspires to publish her poetry.
The Surdna program supports students’ research projects under the direction of a faculty/staff member who is independently interested in the area under study. The competitive fellowship is just one among many that Bowdoin College offers to qualified students to support summertime research, projects or internships.