The Hills Around Are Dust and Light
by Karen Gookin
These poems sketch a portrait of the author’s growing-up years in Montana surrounded by her wheat-farming father, a busy at-home mother, two older siblings, and a lonely grandmother. Moments of strife and stress return, but here you will also find joy and a great deal of love and gratitude for each other, for hard work, for the mystery of faith, for the land, and for what the land has endured. Her poems become the embodiment of memories—from eating brown sugar sandwiches, to skipping rocks on a Glacier Park lake, to wandering through dreams and the afterlife—as they offer family stories, tragedies, speculation, and attempts to understand it all.
Early Praise for The Hills Around Are Dust and Light:
Like the speaker in “Dreaming the Houses,” the poems in Karen Gookin’s resonant debut collection walk the length of memory, not only revisiting but re-entering experience. In so doing, they defy time even as they forge a delicate truce with it, braiding memory, dream, and vision to render moments large and small that span five generations. The dust and light of the collection’s title filter through as loss and grace in these poems; the skipped stones of sixty years ago fly out again from the hand of the brother long gone, leaving their ripples. There is no dogma here, rather a steady gaze on mystery, a soul alert to it, and poems that come to us as gifts and guides.
—Catherine Abbey Hodges, author of In a Rind of Light
The poems in The Hills Around Are Dust and Light move by a quiet resolve to walk the length of memory, filtering the dust from the light. Karen Gookin’s voice is as reliable as your favorite shoes. The poems take deft twists and turns, not only to discover the miracles in a life so ordinary, but to comprehend the dust and those paths trouble takes. There are also poems of delight and satisfaction, all in a voice that is clear, precise, deeply felt, spiritual—an antidote to the confusions of our time.
—Joseph Powell, author of The Slow Subtraction ALS
Karen Gookin’s opening poem, “Etched,” invites the reader in with her theme of memory, which dazzles and takes us through the book on dark open wings. She crafts her lyrical poems with a tender nostalgia, some as sweet as the “Brown Sugar Sandwiches” of her childhood, while skillfully avoiding sentimentality. Images of houses lived in long ago, of treasured family members, of lunch dates, of secrets shared and kept close rustle as softly and poignantly as the Montana wheat fields with which she grew up. Gookin evinces a deep reverence for nature, for life and death, in poems like “What’s Left of Feathers.” As she shines a light on the dust of her memories, her words shimmer and take us with her, gladly.
—Susan Blair, author of What Remains of a Life
and editor of The Shrub-Steppe Poetry Journal
About the Author:
Karen Gookin grew up in the wheat farming country of North Central Montana. Daughter of a schoolteacher and a wheat farmer, and youngest of three children, she followed her siblings to the University of Montana, where she studied with Richard Hugo, Madeline DeFrees, and Jim Crumley. After graduation Karen taught high school English, then wrote for two newspapers. Later she and her husband Larry, whom she’d met in band at UM, moved to Oregon, then Washington, where they raised their daughters Jen and Amy. Karen received her MA in English and taught at Central Washington University for 30 years—20 of them playing flute and piccolo in the semi-professional Yakima Symphony Orchestra. Several of her poems have appeared in regional publications and online journals. Awards include the 2022 Tom Pier Prize for five themed poems in the Yakima Coffeehouse Poets chapbook. Always Montanans, Karen and Larry return to hike, camp, and stargaze in Glacier National Park every summer. She and her sister still farm their father’s land.