Self-Portrait with Cephalopod
A Washington State Book Award finalist
Environmental collapse. The betrayals and alliances of the animal world. A father who works in a timber mill. The celebrities in our feeds, the stories we tell ourselves. Loss, never-ending loss.
Self-Portrait with Cephalopod—selected by francine j. harris as winner of the Jake Adam York Prize—is an account of being a girl, and then a woman, in the world; of being a living creature on a doomed planet; of being someone who aspires to do better but is torn between attention and distraction.
Here, Kathryn Smith offers observations and anxieties, prophecies and prayers, darkness and light—but never false hope. Instead, she incises our vanities and our hypocrisies, “the bloody hand holding back / the skin,” revealing “the world’s inner workings, / rubbery and caught between the teeth.” These are the poems of someone who feels her and our failings in the viscera, in the bones, and who bears witness to that pain on the page.
Self-Portrait with Cephalopod is an urgent and necessary collection about living in this precarious moment, meditative and resolutely unsentimental.
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Praise and Prizes
“Smith’s craft subverts expectations, asking readers to perceive from new angles . . . There is much to celebrate in this complex, apocalyptic, wonderful book. Among unanswerable questions are moments of pure lyricism . . . The poems here, their language, stick like spiked seed pods.”
“Self-Portrait With Cephalopod ruminates on the contradictions of existing in a deteriorating world: making sense of the minutiae and drama of our daily lives while forever aware of the underlying existential anxiety that can't be fully ignored. It's about nature and loss, passion and hypocrisy, and the balance of pragmatism and faith.”
“Brimming with both anxiety and hope, Kathryn Smith’s Jake Adam York Prize–winning poetry collection, Self-Portrait with Cephalopod, captures what it’s like to live during a time of accelerated climate change . . . Smith’s vivid and deeply moving poetry raises questions about how to live ethically and with optimism in the face of so much loss.”
“Smith deftly balances despair with optimism, while tracking the larger changes of the planet and the smaller changes within ourselves.”
“The poems here don’t shy away from a sense of doom, but neither do they succumb to it; they cling to a love that propels us forward, no matter how imperfectly. They are observational and emotional at once, and a welcome addition to the ever-growing canon of art that processes climate change grief.”
“Playful and smart: Smith shows those traits can synthesize into memorable poems.”
“In the midst of deaths both large and small, human and invertebrate, Self-Portrait with Cephalopod seeks connection between all parts of the natural world, no matter how fragile.”
“The works in [Self-Portrait with Cephalopod] veer from intense and disturbing to laugh-out-loud hilarious, as Smith addresses everything from environmental disasters and the natural world to personal loss and celebrity culture as reflected by the media . . . That makes Cephalopod all the more noteworthy, as its works remain engaging beginning to end, through all that ‘gross stuff’ and sunshine, fear and hope, captured in its pages.”
“Self-Portrait with Cephalopod is lush and obsessed and frantic and deathy. At times, there is a pre-apocalyptic reverence and reflection in this collection that feels almost monastic. Beautiful and timely work.”