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Administrative Assistant is Poet at Heart

By Jody Record, Campus Journal Editor
November 18, 2009

Katie Umans has gotten something many people will ever only wish for: the chance to buy time. Really. Buy it right up.

The author of “The Flock Book,” a yet-to-be published book of poems, will be able to do that with the $5,000 award that comes with being named an Individual Artist Fellow by the New Hampshire State Council on the Arts. An administrative assistant with the UNH Foundation, Umans also teaches online writing classes through the Johns Hopkins University’s Center for Talented Youth. And that’s were buying time comes in.

“This gives me the chance to take a semester off from teaching and get back to my own writing,” Umans says. “You get busy with work; life. It’s easy for time to drift away. Winning this has really pushed me back toward my writing.”

The New Hampshire State Council on the Arts awards six artist fellowships a year. A reception for the 2010 recipients was held Nov.13 in Concord. In addition to Umans, this year’s fellows include a novelist, a composer, a pianist, a multidisciplinary artist and a sculptor/video artist.

Fellowships are given in recognition of artistic excellence and professional commitment. They don’t have to be used for a particular project; in the past they have helped a recipient to upgrade a studio, take unpaid leave or purchase computers or other equipment—anything that will help advance their work.

Umans has a Master in Fine Arts in creative writing from the University of Michigan and Bachelor of Arts in English from Connecticut College. She describes herself as “very much an imagistic writer.”

“Only recently have I begun to recognize themes,” she says. Yet not all of the people who have inspired Umans’ work have been poets. She cites the novelists William Faulkner and Vladimir Nabokov. “Faulkner is a huge influence, as is Nabokov–their sense of invention, their playfulness and rigor with language,” Umans says.

In a statement to the New Hampshire State Council on the Arts about “The Flock Book,” she says, “A flock book is actually a pretty unsophisticated thing – a record of births, deaths, breeds, pedigrees, parentages, and transfers that helps farmers keep track of their sheep or cattle. This kind of crude record is exactly the opposite of poetry, and yet also manages to represent exactly the currents that seem to run through the poems – all the anxiety of grouping and sheltering oneself, of being (or not being) in the registry, acts of straying or wishing to stray from the flock, of existing in proximity to others, of being absorbed into the comfort and protection of the flock only as a trade for living under the weight of threats – of slaughter, or conformity, of impurity, of weakness, or rejection.”

During the year, fellows are expected to make a presentation to the community. It can be a reading or an open studio day or a stage production. Umans has yet to decide what she will do. Perhaps a collaboration with another artist; maybe a reading that involves other artwork. For now, she is content to have more time to write. In the meantime, her job at the Foundation sustains her, and often times, gives her the chance to utilize her other writing skills.

To work a ‘day’ job is expected, she adds, saying, “Most poets are poets and something else. There’s a lot of supplementing in the arts.”

To read one of Umans’ poems visit http://www.nh.gov/nharts/artsandartists/poetshowcase2/poetlaureate17.html.

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