Washington State Magazine

Winter 2007

Winter 2007

In This Issue...


Time will tell :: Climate change is nothing new to our planet. But this time it's different. The carbon dioxide we are putting into the air through industry, vehicle emissions, and deforestation is changing the way our soil works. That in turn affects plant, animal, and eventually human life. Through their research Washington State University scientists are challenging the conventional view that more plants and forests will solve our CO2 problems. By Cherie Winner

Into the woods :: Unseen worlds live behind the bark and beneath the trees in Pacific Northwest forests. Scientists Jack Rogers and Lori Carris have made careers out of discovering these worlds and studying them. We go into the woods with them to glimpse the secret lives of fungi and their roles in nature. By Hannelore Sudermann { WEB EXCLUSIVEGallery: The Collectors - A photographic sampling of some of the more prominent local fungi collectors and their contributions. }

Secrets & spies :: The Office of Strategic Services, our country's first centralized intelligence agency, was formed during the Second World War to train men and women in the arts of sabotage and espionage and then to send them around the world to protect our nation's interests. Among the many Washington State College students and alumni who served in that conflict, five friends and classmates trained together in the OSS, then went to North Africa, Italy, England, and China to help win the war. By Hannelore Sudermann


{ WEB EXCLUSIVEGallery: Field Camp Plus 50 - A nostalgic look at the archaeological dig by Richard Daugherty and his students on the Snake River in 1957—and the group's reunion on the same site 50 years later. }

{ WEB EXCLUSIVEVideo: Meet the scientist - In a series of four brief videos, WSU microbiologist Cynthia Haseltine talks about her research on DNA repair and the causes of cancer. }


:: IN SEASON: Pears

{ WEB EXCLUSIVEVideo: Apple Cup revisited - Photos, film, and colorful programs for this historic contest. }

Tracking the Cougars

Cover illustration: Photoillustration by David Scharf and John Paxson, based on Scharf's photomicrograph, Pollen Mix.

Kathleen Flenniken '83

Kathleen Flenniken '83. Matt Hagen

Kathleen Flenniken - You have to say what's true

by | © Washington State University

Kathleen Flenniken (née Dillon) '83 writes about her children and vacuuming, about sex and death, about fame and Edna St. Vincent Millay's husband ("Oh the beauty of his wretchedness."). Her poems are tight and clear and smart and often very funny. While she was at Washington State University, she studied civil engineering.

A career in engineering that evolved toward poetry may not be typical, but it's a fine match, says Flenniken. In engineering, "you can't hide behind your language. You have to say what's true, and if it's not true, that's a problem that needs to be fixed." And with that, you are ready to read Flenniken's poems:

In "A Middle Child Is Born," the speaker contemplates "this tiny red soul" in her arms and weeps, "for the ruined life of her radiant firstborn."

"The day was long," she continues. "like any spent lolling in pajamas/ with a new companion short on talk/ and a little standoffish."

"A Middle Child Is Born" took her nine years to write, Flenniken tells me, as the middle child plays in the next room with a friend. "I had a vision of what that day was like," she says. "But it was polluted with all this extraneous stuff." Finally she forgot enough, and she could write about it.

While she was writing the poems that would become Famous, published last fall by the University of Nebraska Press, both her parents died, within three months of each other, and one of her best friends committed suicide.

After her parents died, Flenniken felt a strong need to start over, and she and her family moved to the house they live in now, north of the University of Washington and just west of Lake Washington. As she got used to the new neighborhood and its new sounds, she sometimes would hear a train whistle, which was odd. There were no train tracks in the neighborhood. But it sounded so near.

Although she finally realized the train was across Lake Washington, its wail echoing against the hills above her house, it became a ghost train, carrying her mother and father through the living world. If she could find the tracks, she writes, she could wait for them at the boarding gate, as she did when she was a girl "hungry for stories/ of their holidays away."

Flenniken loved writing even in college. But her father had always been so proud of how well she did in math. Wanting to honor him, she went into engineering. Also, she says, growing up in the Tri-Cities, there were scientists all around her. It was a very comfortable world.

After she graduated, Flenniken worked at Hanford for three years as a hydrogeologist and environmental engineer. Then she moved to Seattle, married, worked toward a master's in engineering at the UW, then worked again as a civil engineer. But after her second child was born, she quit.

With two little boys and no job, her brain needed a little stimulation. She tried night classes and started reading poetry. Then she took a poetry class, and she fell in love. Famous, the result, won the Prairie Schooner Book Prize in Poetry.

Still, the transition is a little difficult, she says. "When do you start calling yourself a poet?"

Richland Dock, 1956

Someone launched a boat into the current,

caught and delivered fish to the lab

and someone tested for beta and P-32.

Someone with flasks and test tubes tested

and re-tested to double check the rising values.

And someone drove to the public dock

with a clipboard and tallied species and weight.

Chatting with his neighbors, Which fish

are you keeping? How many do you eat?

And someone with a slide rule in a pool of light

figured and refigured the radionuclide

dose. Too high. Experimented frying up

hot whitefish. No. No. Then someone decided

all the numbers were wrong. Someone

from our town. Is that why we

were never told? While someone fishing—

that little boy; the teacher on Cedar Street—

caught his limit and never knew.

Well, I'd call her a poet. A refreshing one. The few poets I read anymore are generally at least a century old. Aside from exceptions such as Dana Gioia and Billy Collins, I find much of contemporary poetry insular, academic, and dull, kind of an inside joke. I have become one of those literary troglodytes who "just don't get it," confused as to what, for example, the language poets have against offering an insight, invoking a luscious metaphor, or telling a good story.

Maybe there isn't any "it" to get, says Flenniken, who, much to my pleasure, tells a good story and contradicts my disillusion.

"One advantage of coming into poetry old," she says, "I was set in my ways. I could say, I like that, I don't like that, and not figure something was wrong with me because I don't get it."

But now she's on to something new, combining her engineering training with the language of poetry, which actually has been her aim since the beginning, and has finished a manuscript about Hanford.

To read more of Kathleen Flenniken's poetry, click here. For a review of Famous, click here.

Categories: Poetry, Alumni | Tags: Ecology

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