UMass alumna Karen Skolfield, a lecturer in the College of Engineering Junior Writing Program and a writer-in-residence in the college’s Career Development and Experiential Learning Center, was recently interviewed in the weekly “Ten Questions” column of the distinguished magazine Poets & Writers. Her second poetry collection, Battle Dress, was published in August by W.W. Norton, and she is also the author of a previous poetry collection, Frost in the Low Areas.
This year Skolfield was named Northampton’s ninth Poet Laureate for the 2019–2021 term. In addition to being a longtime staff member in the College of Engineering, Skolfield earned her Master of Fine Arts degree from UMass Amherst.
As the Poets & Writers piece explained, “In Battle Dress, Skolfield, a U.S. Army veteran, offers a fierce yet intimate glimpse of a soldier’s training, mental conditioning, and combat preparation as well as a searing examination of the long-term repercussions of war and how they become embedded in our language and psyche.”
The “Ten Questions” segment quoted Rosanna Warren, who chose Battle Dress as winner of the 2018 Barnard Women Poets Prize. Warren called the book “a terrific and sometimes terrifying collection—morally complex, rhythmic, tough-minded, and original.”
Among many other responses in the Q&A section, Skolfield said that “I get a ton of writing done at residencies. Battle Dress—plus many other non-military poems I snuck in—would not exist without my residencies at Ucross, Hedgebrook, Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, and Vermont Studio Center. But I can’t go away all the time, so I do at least one “30 poems in 30 days” per year with friends, plus I write on an irregular basis the rest of the year.
Later Skolfield was asked by Poets & Writers, “If you could go back in time and talk to the earlier you, before you started Battle Dress, what would you say?”
“I’d go back a ways and ask the seventeen-year-old, newly enlisted me to take notes, please, lots of them,” she replied. “I’d ask kindly, because I know what’s coming and she’s just so young. Battle Dress is invented, but it relies heavily on my seven years in the Army, and I’d love a better account of my enlistment than the pitch and yaw of memory, the few letters I managed to save.”
Skolfield is also the winner of the 2014 PEN New England Award for Literary Excellence for Frost in the Low Areas. In addition, she was selected for the 2016 Jeffrey E. Smith Editors’ Prize in poetry from the Missouri Review. (September 2019)