Poet Kerri Webster grew up in Idaho, steeped in the beauty of the rolling grass and sagebrush terrain of the Boise Foothills and the Greenbelt paths along the Boise River.
Though she traveled for her education and career — to Bloomington, Ind., for her master’s and St. Louis to teach — she returned to her native landscape, where her past stamping grounds continue to captivate her.
“I came back six years ago with the hope of staying forever. It just feels like home,” Webster says, as she walks down the trails off 8th Street.
Webster, 45, is soft spoken and thoughtful. She writes poetry more days than not, teaches as an adjunct at her alma mater Boise State University and is a Writer in the Schools through The Cabin. And she spends as much time in nature as she can because it’s a deep well of inspiration for her work, she says.
“I’m very influenced by where I live, and this natural environment has seeped into the poems, which I didn’t expect to happen,” she says.
Webster recently became one of seven writers to receive an Idaho Commission on the Arts Fellowship in Literature, her second such honor. She also is the recipient of the Iowa Prize and Whiting Foundation Fellowship for “Grand & Arsenal,” (University of Iowa Press, 2012) written about another type of landscape — the manicured parks and streets of St. Louis, where she taught at Washington University. .
Her latest work, “Trailhead,” explores her connection to the untamed landscape of her youth — the trails around Hulls Gulch, the deserts of Idaho, the Boise River banks and other landmarks in her life.
“I don’t write straightforward narrative poems,” she says. “It’s not that I’m telling a story about place, but there are images and ideas that pop up that are related to place.”
Most people approach nature one of two ways, she says, either as man against nature; or, the pastoral bucolic ideal, where there’s a balance between humans and nature.
“What interests me as a woman writing about wilderness is that in my world wilderness is dominant,” she says. “The rugged individualist paradigm is based on conquest and dominance. This sort of feminist, wilderness-ecopoetics is that nature is more powerful than we are. I don’t want to conquer it, I just feel lucky to live in proximity to this beauty.
“Wilderness has an aspect of holiness to me. It’s like church. I hike in the Foothills when I get stressed, or I drive out to Swan Falls, or walk on the Greenbelt. Wilderness offers the potential to experience something larger than ourselves, which for me is the function of art as well. It can remind us of our smallness in the grand theme of things.”
More ICA fellows
An Idaho Commission on the Arts Fellowship is a reward for talent, creativity and perseverance, and comes with a no-strings-attached cash award for artists to use to sustain and develop their careers.
The fellowships are chosen by out-of-state panelists and cycle through the performing, literary and visual arts every three years.
This round of Fellowships in Literary Arts:
▪ Screenwriter, nonfiction writer and poet J. Reuben Appelman’s continuing project is his investigation into a 35-year-old murder cold case in his hometown of Detroit. Originally titled, “Murder City Shakedown,” it has evolved into “37 Winters.”
▪ This is short-story writer and screenwriter Alan Heathcock’s second ICA fellowship. He is currently adapting his story “The Staying Freight” into a feature-length screenplay for Sycamore Pictures. He also is nearing completion of his novel “40,” about a civil war that breaks out in America
▪ Poet, librarian and University of Idaho associate professor Devin Becker, of Moscow, is currently working to establish the Center for Digital Inquiry and Learning, a digital humanities collaboration between the College of Letters, Arts, and Social Sciences and the University of Idaho Library.
▪ Poet and assistant professor of creative writing at Idaho State University Bethany Schultz Hurst, of Pocatello, is the author of “Miss Lost Nation” and the winner of the Anhinga Robert Dana Prize for Poetry.
Honorable mentions went to fiction writer Christopher Linforth, of Boise, and Kevin Gooden, of Moscow.
Each fellow received $5,000; each honorable mention received $1,000.
‘This is Manifest’
What I needed to survive was, currents
moving over my body.
Saw a light through the trees:
Baby, I said to the man kneeling
between my legs, there are kit foxes out there
and they hum when they learn a new thing
like ledges or stream-fording.
For years my soul was little more than an embassy.
I was lush, and then lush, and then more lush.
In all of my opening, who had I actually saved?
I was no one’s Bodhisattva. And so
I removed my body from the systems.
Walked the hills by night.
My blisters filled with sticky fluid.
A swan made a freakishness of its neck.
I was a woman of such secret knowledge
as you may think mad.
I don’t know why, when we die,
all our skulls aren’t jeweled.
Sometimes I was so enamored of sky
I felt my milk might come in.