Longtime poet and professor Kathy Mangan is celebrating the release of “Taproot,” a full-length poetry collection in which human experiences are anchored and entangled in the natural world.
For 42 years, she has taught at McDaniel College where she is a professor of English and holds the Joan Develin Coley Chair in Creative Expression & the Arts. In May, she will step down from teaching.
She’ll debut the work to her local community at a reading on Monday, April 29 at 7 p.m. in the McDaniel Lounge on the college campus.
Poet Elizabeth Spires praised “Taproot”: “Kathy Mangan masterfully writes about the ‘big’ and the ‘small’ moments that constitute a life with grace, force, courage, and humor. Whether she is writing about a child’s bad dream or a mother’s death, an old love or an enduring marriage, Mangan acknowledges both the darkness and light, the joy and the sorrow inherent in human experience.”
Mangan is the author of “Above the Tree Line” and the chapbook “Ragged Alphabet.” She’s seen her work published in journals and anthologies including “The Southern Review,” “Ploughshares” and “The Pushcart Prize.”
Q; How long ago did you write the first poem that is included in "Taproot?"
A: I believe the poem "An Arithmetic" was written 20 years ago. (I know — that sounds like a long time!) It was published in the Winter 1999-2000 issue of “Ploughshares.” "An Arithmetic" was later included in two major college anthology texts, both published by Bedford/St. Martin's.
Q: Could you talk a little bit about how this group of poems started? Did you know that it was going to be a big project from the start, or did these poems seem like individuals that developed into something bigger?
A: The poems in “Taproot” began simply as individual, new poems. I always knew that I was working on a manuscript that would, I hoped, evolve into my second full-length collection, but I never had an overarching “plan” for the book. I built the collection, poem by poem.
Once I had the book-length manuscript, I began to look for little “arcs” in the poems — poems about nature, about marital love, about travel.
The only poem that I knew I wanted for certain to compose for the manuscript was one that was titled “Jane's Bad Dream.” Jane is the middle of our three grandchildren, and I already had poems written about our elder granddaughter, Kate, and our grandson, William. I wanted a poem for Jane to go into the book, and I'd long had an idea for a poem about a “bad dream” Jane experienced when she was very young. (She's now 19. My poems percolate for a long time!)
Q: The collection has been described as one that honors “the anchoring and nurturing elements in a life.” This seems to me like a concept for a book that couldn't be written by a beginning poet. Does this book feel tied to a certain amount of life/writing experience for you?
A: Yes, “Taproot” is undoubtedly tied to the “long view” of life. Almost a quarter of the poems deal in some way with notions of encroaching mortality: illness, an awareness that life is finite, and death. The title poem of the book is an elegy, dedicated to a younger friend of ours who passed away last summer.
A: My advice to younger writers who want to write poetry is: READ POETRY. All true writers are avid readers. You have to know the genres, the traditions, the literary experiments in order to finally develop your own style. Writers at age 18-20 haven't yet evolved a personal style or voice; they should be trying everything!
Q: Is being a professor part of your identity as a poet, too? Does that come into the poems in “Taproot?”
A: Being an English professor is definitely part of my identity as a poet. I've taught creative writing at McDaniel College for 42 years (and I'll be stepping down from teaching in May). I have a poem in “Taproot” about a former student, an amusing poem about teaching first-year composition, and a poem called "Literary Criticism," about attempting to discuss a novel with our grandson, a high school sophomore.
Q: Besides the reading Monday, where can readers find a copy of your book?
A: “Taproot” will be available in the McDaniel College bookstore. It can also be ordered online through the publisher, Passager Books; Passager is a marvelous press in Baltimore that focuses on showcasing writing by authors over 50. Their website is www.passagerbooks.com. In June “Taproot” will become available on Amazon as well.