Sandra Fees on Kate Partridge’s Thine

THINE by Kate Partridge

Tupelo Press, 2023

In her first full-length collection, THINE, Kate Partridge takes us on a compelling quest to the frontier, the frontier of the self and the ecological future. We accompany her willingly, eagerly, as companions and witnesses, as she explores the desert landscape of the West through autobiography, literature, and art. Our encounters with these places feel fresh, intimate, and immediate. The poems themselves journey across the page, evoking the terrain of the ridges, canyons, foothills, lakes, and mountains they depict.

Partridge is also the author of three chapbooks, including Ends of the Earth, published by the University of Alaska Press in 2017. Notably, in Ends of the Earth, she also investigates the frontier, but there she explores the frontier of love and elegy through the Alaskan landscape.

In THINE, Partridge manages to confront ecological catastrophe while predicting that something else is also beginning. These lyric eco-poems are multi-layered with mystery, meaning, and intelligence. Gorgeous imagery and simple, yet exquisite, language draw us in and call us forward.

A journey changes us, and so it should be no surprise that THINE begins with a poem of transformation. In “Ode on Inheritance,” the speaker is caught in a storm that leads her to an epiphany, albeit an apocalyptic one:

                                                Would you believe me if I said, as I
                                                       watched pellets
                                         of hail melting in-
                          to my shirt, that it changed me? And when, just past the ridge,

               saw the burn crouching through the valley, when I saw the bore marks
                                                       driving into
                                           the ridges, that was when
                              I felt the pockmarked future.

The future Partridge feels is pockmarked by rain, hail, and fire. This is a future shaped by climate disasters, both natural and human-made. In “Theory of Audacity,” it is the threat of fire that looms. The poem issues a dire warning and reminder: 

               On the highway due east, the tumbleweed lopes.
               There is no future here. I’ve told you this before.

Despite the warning, Partridge assures us there are glimmers of hope. The recurring image of a baby in the collections presents the clearest example. In “Vanitas,” a domestic scene of a baby’s birthday celebration unfolds. Here, we learn that “all is not lost”:

                               In the house,
                      someone sings to the baby,
               “Sweet Caroline,” at the table
                      where on her birthday,
                                     the yellow Formica spread
               with a dinosaur cloth, we
                             followed in numbers the new
               life. See, ourselves, all is not
                              lost. All is quiet. 

Similarly, motherhood represents hope and a new beginning. In “Whole Life,” the speaker has spent a day looking at an installation of photos of migrant mothers. She concludes that “Mothering is the opposite of desert.” The desert, whether tumbleweed, rock, or sand, is a harsh reality.

Throughout the book, we confront harsh realities, including knowing we will die. What should our response be? What will we miss? What is left for us to do? “Poem Without Weight” reflects on the weightiness of these questions. Partridge wonders:

                      What am I supposed
                      to want? To live alight
               until falling straight
                       from the sky? 

We, too, wonder what to want: a baby, a lifelong companion, creativity, a new vision for the planet, meaningful work? This poem comes near the end of the collection. In fact, it is the second to the last piece. It seems an appropriate place to ask whether what we do will be enough. Have we done what we can? Or, in Partridge’s words, are we supposed to want:

               The workbench where I can lay
                           my tools
                           out, having built
               what I can.

In search of answers, many of Partridge’s poems pay homage to writers and artists. The six poems, “[Willa to Edith],” are based on the only remaining letter from Willa Cather to her lifelong partner and literary executor Edith Lewis. Cather, like Partridge, devoted her literary career to writing about the frontier experience. There is also a correlation between Cather’s romantic and literary relationship with Lewis and Partridge’s own romantic and literary relationship. 

The collection resonates with other influences. Two poems respond to Agnes Martin’s abstract paintings. Martin, like Cather (and we might conclude Partridge, as well), was a pioneer, in her case in the artistic community. Notably, Martin too had romantic relationships with women, another frontier Martin, like Cather, was crossing. 

Other poems draw from C.D. Wright, Jorie Graham, Marianne Moore, Walter De Maria, biblical narratives, and many others. They provide points of connection and departure from which Partridge examines herself and the world around her. These influences serve as catalysts for the poet’s own unique perspective and distinctive voice.

Throughout THINE, we hear that distinctive voice. We get the sense that Kate Partridge is speaking directly, tenderly, to each of us. In “Invitation to an Evening,” she addresses the poem to “Dear ones.” She encourages us to look and notice: 

               Dear ones, if at any time
                           you have need of a beginning, look
               toward that early summer evening 
                           on the hillslopes. 

THINE is an invitation to come along on the journey:

               come and see, some time, what is
                           beginning here. How we
               are opening a little spark of time
                           and how it can be spent. 

Sandra Fees is a poet and author. Her poems have been published in The Comstock Review, Moon City Review, The Shore, Nimrod, and Crab Creek Review, among others. Author of two chapbooks, The Temporary Vase of Hands and Moving, Being Moved, she lives in southeastern Pennsylvania and is a past poet laureate of Berks County.