Kathryn Cowles— from Notes on the Imminent Art Show

Process Note

I think in different ways when I use different media. A lot of the time, I write poems that look the way one usually expects poems to look. When I go to collage, it’s often because I’m wrestling with something I can’t get my words to say on their own, and my wrestling needs a different tool. The act of flipping through vintage texts looking for the pieces of a collage can be itself a kind of thinking for me, or can cut an opening through which my thinking can surface and spread. Often I stumble into the thinking in the process of visual improvisation, of putting together picture pieces on a blank page. I collage and think and stop to write, I flip through pages, I cut and collage and think and write, almost in conversation with myself, and simultaneously with some larger cultural force.

Collaging with the advertisements in vintage women’s magazines in particular, as I do in each of the pieces in this group, can be for me a way of wrestling with and resisting gendered messages that are still very much alive, that are often damaging, but that are sometimes more complicated than they initially seem—full of tendrils and logical conclusions and parallels and exceptions—and so are hard to talk about. Collage is for me, then, an open-sided way of talking and thinking and writing about the tendrilled complexities of big cultural concepts like gender.


Kathryn Cowles’s second book of poems is Maps and Transcripts of the Ordinary World (Milkweed Editions). Her first book, Eleanor, Eleanor, not your real name (Bear Star Press), won the Dorothy Brunsman Poetry Prize. Her poems and multi-media pieces have appeared in such places as Best American Experimental Writing, Boston Review, Colorado Review, Diagram,Georgia Review, Gulf Coast, Gettysburg Review, New American Writing, Verse, and the Academy of American Poets Poem-a-day. Poems from her most recent project won the Poetry Society of America’s Alice Fay di Castagnola Award for a manuscript in progress. She earned her doctorate from the University of Utah and is an associate professor of English at Hobart and William Smith Colleges. She co-edits the Beyond Category section of Seneca Review. See more at kathryncowles.com.