Contributor Spotlight: Katharyn Howd Machan

Two of Katharyn Howd Machan’s poems, “A Seated Figure” and “Soldiers in the Fog,” are featured in Issue 71 of the Bellingham Review, out now.
What would you like to share with our readers about the work you contributed to the Bellingham Review?

Both poems are part of my full-length-in-progress, Fox. In January of 2011, my husband Eric shared with me an article he’d found about a hunter in Belarus who injured a fox and approached it with the butt end of the rifle to finish it off; the fox resisted, somehow got its paw on the trigger, and shot the hunter (not fatally, of course, which is why we know the story) before running off. It somehow got me writing poems about Fox, a shape-shifter who can be fully human or fully animal or a mix, always her choice. I’ve written hundreds of Fox poems now, and published about 70 of them in magazines and a chapbook from Finishing Line Press (Wild Grapes: Poems of Fox). There’s a subset of them I call “Brush Strokes,” with italicized titles that are also the titles of imagined paintings Fox will begin to create when she turns 70. A bit obsessed? Probably. It was the same with raccoons half my life ago.

Tell us about your writing life.

Poetry became my core in 1967; it’s like breathing to me. I follow many directions for subjects: nature, family, love, 19th-century history (as in my full-length, Redwing: Voices from 1888), feminism, belly dancing, fantasy and science fiction—fairy tales especially. Another current full-length-in-progress is Dark Matters, with sections titled, “Blood,” “Branches,” and “Beasts.” I enjoy publishing and have done so steadily since 1975. Giving readings is very important to me, too; my doctoral dissertation for Northwestern University’s Department of Interpretation (now called Performance Studies) was “The Writer as Performer,” an ethnographic study of why and how poets and fiction writers give readings and why people come to hear them. Teaching college students since the age of 22 has forced me to be very disciplined about “stolen moments” to compose poems; I’m good with focus and concentration.

Which non-writing aspect(s) of your life most influences your writing?

feminism, belly dancing, a good marriage, other people’s lives

What writing advice has stayed with you?

Do not let other people shut you up. And vividly I remember Adrienne Rich (in whose memory I edited an anthology for Split Oak Press in 2012) telling an audience in 1981, “Women, stop writing only short poems!”

What is your favorite book (or essay, poem, short story)? Favorite writer(s)?

Anne Sexton’s Transformations always come to mind as an answer to this question. Neil Gaiman has been influencing me recently; often it is fiction more than poetry that inspires me to compose new poems.

What are you reading right now?

I just finished a 1918 collection called Spanish Fairy Tales, and I am gradually reading the anthology Shadow Show, a tribute to Ray Bradbury. More fiction by Margaret Atwood is high on the pile near my bed.

What project(s) are you working on now, or next?

Besides the poetry collections I already mentioned, I just wrote two fairy tales while literally living in the Old Forge Library (in a room with a bed and a stove!) in the Adirondacks, stories I began orally a quarter of a century ago for my daughter CoraRose and then my son Benjamin. And I dug into revising my novel for young adults, Jimmo, begun in the early 1990s. At this point in my life I have written more than 8,100 poems, so I always have connected collections in the works.

Anything else our readers might want to know about you?

I began belly dancing in 1979 and continue to perform and teach it. Most recently I danced with a California band called Pangia (wonderful music available on several CDs!), flashing about the stage in turquoise and orange, finger cymbals moving, at the big annual east-coast Middle Eastern dance festival, Rakkasah. I’m enjoying my Cronedom!

Where can our readers connect with you online?

The only web page on which I appear is that of the Department of Writing at Ithaca College. My email is

KATHARYN HOWD MACHAN, Professor of Writing at Ithaca College, holds degrees from the College of Saint Rose, the University of Iowa, and Northwestern University. Her poems have appeared in numerous magazines; in anthologies and textbooks such as The Bedford Introduction to Literature,The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2013, Poetry: An Introduction, Early Ripening: American Women’s Poetry Now, Sound and Sense, Writing Poems, Literature: Reading and Writing the Human Experience; and in 32 collections, most recently Wild Grapes: Poems of Fox (Finishing Line Press, 2014), H (Gribble Press, 2014—national winner) and When She’s Asked to Think of Colors (Palettes & Quills Press, 2009—national winner). Former director of the national Feminist Women’s Writing Workshops, Inc., in 2012 she edited Adrienne Rich: A Tribute Anthology (Split Oak Press).