Poet Courtney Huse Wika

Poet Courtney Huse Wika
Artist Profile

How did your writing journey begin?

I was late to write, but I was inspired by great writers at a very early age not only through literature (I was a voracious reader) but also through Prairie Winds, the literary journal for young South Dakota poets and writers and teachers of writing. My mother was the founder of the journal and its annual writers conference, so I grew up surrounded by some of our best professional writers and writing teachers, and with an understanding of the personal and communal importance of storytelling.

What drew you to your style of writing, poetry?

T.S. Eliot said, “Genuine poetry can communicate before it is understood.” A poem is an author’s attempt to make sense of her world, and a good poem is rich in imagery and voice to create a genuine connection between the speaker and the reader. I am drawn to this concentrated nature of poetry: it is the distillation of meaning. It communicates a singular experience in the most precise and concise way possible, where every mark on the page has significance.

What are your favorite subjects to write about?

It is hard not to be inspired by the sacredness of the land and animals in the Black Hills. My poems tend to explore the ways in which we negotiate (or fail to negotiate) the boundaries between ourselves and the natural world, and the way that place and space contribute to our understanding of ourselves and the world. I draw, too, from my own experiences as a South Dakotan, an identity that is deeply rooted in the land and family stories.

How did you hone your poetry skills?

I have been lucky to have great teachers in my life—including our phenomenal South Dakota Poet Laureate Lee Ann Roripaugh—and from them I’ve learned that a writer has to allow herself to write badly in order to write well, that writing is always a (sometimes euphoric, sometimes torturous) process, and that the truest writing comes when a poet writes for herself.

Can you share your favorite piece and why it is your favorite?

The night after returning from my grandfather’s funeral in Pierre, SD, I was struggling to articulate my profound sense of loss and finality. My grandmother and grandfather were now both gone and the memories I had were all I would ever have from that day forward. This poem (next page) is a reminder for me of how vital writing can be not only for our spirits but also for recording and commemorating our most important stories.

The Art of Disappearing

My grandmother taught me the rules of sadness:
of stone hearts and game shows
of the necessity of grease burns for the pleasure of fried chicken
of whole galaxies in the orbit of cigarette smoke
of empty beds and unfinished books
and of unquestioning love.

And my grandfather wrote the addendum of forgetting:
the revisionist history
of hailed out wheat and hot beef sandwiches
of coffee cups dredged for time
of arcades and the comfort of lime sherbet
of the prosperity of diesel engines and fresh-cut grass
and of the weariness of worn out bodies.

From both I learned
we are infinite until we aren’t,
and that it’s true it begins the way you think it will end—
in silence and with a trick of the light:

a single shoulder blade slips translucent
a wrist twists pellucid in the sunlight
gossamered fingers slip through solid objects
until you are but a comet
trailing dust and ice, disappeared to the world.

What tips or advice do you have for other aspiring poets?

The classic advice is still the best: read as much as you can and write as much as you can.

But also: stay away from the delete button and keep everything. One of my favorite writing exercises is to randomly pull out old drafts, cut them into lines, and challenge myself to create poetry from the scraps. It is a great exercise if you’re blocked or need inspiration, and it can produce some beautiful and surprising pieces.

What poets/writers have inspired you?

Writers with strong connections to South Dakota inspire me: Linda Hasselstrom, Lee Ann Roripaugh, Kent Meyers, and Kathleen Norris, as well as the lyrical writing of Li-Young Lee and Sandra Cisneros, and the confessional poets Anne Sexton and Sylvia Plath.

Where can we view your work?

Please visit my website, courtneyhusewika.com, or join me and fellow writers in one of my creative writing classes at Black Hills State University.

You can purchase Perch, my recently released chapbook of poetry, at Mitzi’s Books and Perfect Hanging Gallery in Rapid City, SD, or at Anchor and Plume Press (anchorandplumepress.com).

My work has also appeared or is forthcoming in South Dakota Magazine, Kindred, Midwestern Gothic, Scissors and Spackle, Backwards City Review, Paddlefish, 605 Magazine, Life on the Farm and Ranch: A South Dakota Anthology, and The MacGuffin. Recently my poetry has also been featured in collaborative work with artist Becky Grismer (Becky Grismer Art) in numerous juried shows and galleries in the United States.

Rapid City OBGYN

South Dakota Pork Producers

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