From bees to poetry


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For writer Karen Leona Anderson, poetry and science go hand-in-hand.

She wrote her dissertation at Cornell University on the two subjects and researched bees for her latest collection of poems, titled Punish Honey. The author will read from the book at 7 p.m. today at Prairie Light Books, 15 S. Dubuque St. Admission is free.

As the daughter of a linguist and biologist, Anderson’s love of poetry began at a young age. She said she really developed her writing during her time in the Iowa Writers’ Workshop.

“For me, it was a really wonderful experience,” she said. “The Workshop is amazing.”

All the resources — ranging from teachers, visiting writers, and fellow students — helped her to grow, the poet said.

Punish Honey, whose title, she said, she borrowed from an Emily Dickinson poem, was published last year. The work is an observation of the natural world and human ways of interacting, she said.

The middle section of the book focuses on Anderson’s scientific knowledge of bees, which she used to convey relationships in the natural world. She conducted research on bees during her time at Cornell, which houses a large beekeeping library. She read 19th century beekeeping texts along with more contemporary works to learn all that she could.

Her husband, fellow Workshop graduate Jerry Gabriel, will also read tonight from his collection of short stories. Gabriel said he enjoyed traveling with his wife and listening to her read from her work.

“It’s really fun,” he said. “I love Karen’s poetry. It’s such a different thing … Her language is so precise and elegant and funny. She is such a pro as a reader.”

Anderson said she is looking forward to visiting Iowa City because she really loved living here. She will meet with former friends and teachers as well as see what has changed since her time as a student.

“There are quite a few people who have either come back to Iowa or who were faculty when we were here whom we’ll visit,” she said. “We’ll visit the places we used to go, too.”

Among them, she said, are the Hamburg Inn and the Pedestrian Mall.

She gains inspiration from reading other works, she said, and she is reading cook books and finding recipes as well as researching economics. She is then combining food and economics to write poems about the unusual pair.

Researching topics is an important part of her writing process, she said.

“The reading is really, really important to me as a writer,” Anderson said. “That’s a place where I pull a lot of inspiration. In terms of process, the more I can write, the better I do. So I try to do it as much as possible.”

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