Knox graduate selected to "Best New Poets of 2008"

Mary Kiolbasa also awarded Jacob K. Javits Fellowship

October 13, 2008

Recent Knox College graduate Mary Kiolbasa has been selected one of the "Best New Poets of 2008." A 2006 Knox graduate, Kiolbasa is currently in her second year in the Master of Fine Arts in Writing program at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

The selection was based on one of Kiolbasa's poems, "Hildegard of Bingen," which will be included in an anthology of award winners to be released in November.

Kiolbasa's work is a four-page prose poem "loosely based on the text of 'Book of Divine Works,' by Hildegard of Bingen, a 12th-century German abbess, author and composer whose writings I read for a course during my first semester of graduate school," Kiolbasa says.

Kiolbasa's poem is one of just 50 chosen from 1,300 entries by noted poet Mark Strand for the anthology, "Best New Poets of 2008," published by the University of Virginia Press.

Kiolbasa, who came to Knox from Antioch, Illinois, majored in creative writing and classics, and graduated with College Honors in creative writing. Her honors project, "Gallows Makers: Mythic Revisionism and the Marginalized Woman," was a study of "The Heroides" by the ancient Roman poet Ovid, which Kiolbasa describes as "a series of letters written in the voices of marginalized women of antiquity."

Kiolbasa says that the Knox faculty who co-chaired her honors committee, assistant professor of English Gina Franco and professor of classics Brenda Fineberg, helped focus her work, even as she expanded her interests during the course of the project. "I did a lot of research beyond the topic, and it constantly informs the way that I think about language."

Javits Fellowship Winner
Kiolbasa also was recently awarded a prestigious Jacob K. Javits Fellowship, which will support her graduate studies. Javits Fellowships are awarded by the United States Department of Education to outstanding graduate students in the arts, humanities, and social sciences.

Kiolbasa explains that her current work "pushes the boundaries of language enough to make it count for something. So much of our lives are based in simple communication, and I often wonder what happens in the break-down of that. I play with the tension between literal language and intentional fragmentation."

"Knox laid the groundwork for the material I'm now exploring in graduate school," Kiolbasa says. "While my work is in the area of experimental language play, it all comes out of the Latin translations, translation theory, revisionist theory, and relativist linguistics that were part of my honors."

Campus Experiences
While a Knox student, Kiolbasa worked for the Knox College Archives, where Carley Robison, the archivist, "never let us throw anything away," Kiolbasa says. "Even now, I try not to throw away any of the material I've collected. Every piece of text has the potential to be meaningful. It's all about how that information is organized."

Following graduation, Kiolbasa was awarded a year-long post-baccalaureate fellowship that included working for the Knox English Department in event management, as well as additional writing study with assistant professors of English Nick Regiacorte and Monica Berlin.

"Mary believes that poetry can and should be appreciated by people who are not poets, who are not academics," said Berlin. "Whether her poetry carries a lesson, such as myth or history, or whether it's about a particular detail, such as a study of ice, the audience always plays into her poems."

In addition to supporting her graduate study, the Javits fellowship allows Kiolbasa to work in unpaid positions, and she is currently an intern at Sara Ranchouse Publishing, an independent publishing company in Chicago. She and a fellow graduate student at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago recently inaugurated their own small publishing operation, Icebox Press.

Founded in 1837, Knox is a national liberal arts college in Galesburg, Illinois, with students from 48 states and 42 nations. Knox's "Old Main" is a National Historic Landmark and the only building remaining from the 1858 Lincoln-Douglas debates.