Sundown Poetry with Katherine Williams

Stephanie Hunt

Last night’s Sundown Poetry series featured Katherine Williams, reading to a packed Dock Street courtyard. There’s no place more magical than that courtyard—framed in terra cotta roof tiles and old brick, a fountain singing in the background—and no better way to cap off a long work day than to sit quietly under the spell of evocative verse.


I’ve long been a fan of Williams' work, both her own poems and the particular power with which she reads others’ work. She makes words three-dimensional, and then some. Maybe that’s because she’s such a multi-faceted, multi-talented person. Poet Barbara Hagerty captured Katherine’s particular gifts beautifully in her introduction last night: 


“Katherine not only has a bicameral mind, she has an omnivorous mind. Both left brain and right brain are fully engaged. By day, she is unusual among poets because she works as a scientist. She ran the Transgenics Laboratory at UCLA in Los Angeles, where she lived before moving back to Charleston about nine years ago. In Charleston, she worked as a marine biologist with undersea corals, which are endangered, and now she works at the Medical University, doing heart research—how appropriate is that, for a poet to work on the human heart?


"Katherine Williams is a visual artist. She sews. She’s a gardener and grows Olympic crops of basil and carrots. She has a jungle around her house on James Island, and a mystical bush full of cobalt blue bottles near her front door. She is an editor, currently editing an anthology of poetry entitled Off Base, by military brats, of which she was one. She is webmaster and website designer of the Poetry Society of South Carolina. She is a grant writer and a poetry activist. And so much more.


"But tonight it is her poetry that brings us together. Language, married to imagination. Inventiveness and attentiveness to experience, detail, and craft. Among her publications are three chapbooks, entitled Lapsed Existentialist, Shadowplay, and the most recent, Cranioglyph—selected by the well-known poet and former University of SC Stepping Stones poetry series editor, Kawme Dawes, who says about Katherine:


'An urbane, intelligent voice engages the difficulty of trying to make sense of her life,[...] without pretension or sentimentality, but instead with a distinct belief in the power of poetry to delight and challenge, to startle and unsettle, even as it comforts.

At the end of the day, we are struck by the brilliant little epiphanies that emerge in poem after poem. We are moved by Williams' deceptively casual intelligence, raw honesty and elegant use of language.'"


"Lydia Pinkham Baby" by Katherine Williams

Baby in Every Bottle, I declare,
(even if your husband does
keep to his own room.) 
Even with the complications and all,
that boy of mine was worth it,
even after he started going bad.
All my efforts to hold him
back in his baby sweetness
seemed to be working
until he sprouted scales
and went under the house to live.
The way his father would sit
in his rocker reading his Tables
of Physical Constants, hours on end,
didn’t affect the boy so much after that.
I didn’t bother myself overly about it
until the boy started eating flies.
Imagine, my good cooking and Wedgwood
china left on the stoop for bait!
That’s when I took up gardening in earnest.
The years passed uneventfully
and now I have two grandbabies
living under my house.
It’s nice when they don’t move away
like other people’s children.