In addition to novels, I write short stories, essays, and poetry. Here are links to some of the interviews collected in A God in the House, in their original versions, and links to poems and essays.
Interview with poet Jane Hirshfield, published in AGNI Online:
Interview with Franz Wright, published in Image and featured on Poetry Daily:
Interview with poet Li-Young Lee, published in the August 2005 issue of The Sun:
The following poem of mine is included in the anthology The Other Side of Sorrow (Poetry Society of NH, March 2006).
In Years to Come
In this time of days given too quickly
to the dark, snow hides what we believe
to be true. From the house to the car,
from the shed to the wood pile, we carve
a labyrinth where footsteps find prayer —
the frozen track we walk each morning in our refusal
to imagine the inevitable, in our numb hope
that one bomb might be stayed, one child
snatched from ruin. In years to come, will we say
this is where I stood when the war started —
at the end of the driveway, shovel in hand,
looking for another people,
looking to another land.
Katherine Towler, February 2003
Poetry published in In Posse Review:
Essays published in Accent Magazine, a regional home and garden magazine in New Hampshire (now New Hampshire Home).
My Life as a Gardener
Fourteen years ago, my cousin introduced me to the man who rented the upstairs apartment in her house. She had been telling me for months that I had to meet this guy because we were perfect for each other. I was dubious, but agreed, telling myself there was no harm in meeting a person — right? I won't say it was love at first sight, but before long, I suspected that Jim and I might be headed for marriage. I did not suspect that I was about to gain a new identity as a gardener.
I began my life as a gardener when Jim invited me to his cabin in Vermont for Memorial Day weekend. This holiday had long been a favorite in my family. We welcomed summer by spending the weekend at the beach and grilling burgers in the back yard. A surrender to utter indolence was our shared aim. This was not, I quickly discovered, what Jim had in mind. He was thinking more along the lines of marathon days spent kneeling in the dirt.
We packed the car, not with inner tubes and beach chairs, but with flats of seedlings that had been nurtured under grow lights and a cold frame since February, and made the drive north. As luck would have it, the weather was perfect — 80 degrees and clear. This meant that we spent the long weekend in the blazing sun dressed in pants, hooded sweatshirts, gloves, and thick socks, our faces swaddled in bug nets, in an attempt to protect ourselves from the ferocious onslaught of black flies. Sweat running down our backs like rain, we turned the earth and planted rows of peppers and carrots and tomatoes and cabbage and tomatilloes and onions (okay, you get the idea). I have since learned to pray for overcast skies and a high of 60 for Memorial Day.
I did indeed marry Jim, though that first time helping him plant the garden, I thought he was mad. Could anything offer enough compensation for this back breaking work? Would the harvest at the end of the summer — if we succeeded in holding our own against the voles and potato bugs — make it all somehow seem worth it? This is the time-tested question for the gardener in northern New England, where frost can fall any month of the year. But like anything that cleanses the mind and soul, gardening, I discovered, is its own reward.
This understanding was brought home to me at the end of my first summer as a gardener, when we were pulling in the harvest on Labor Day. I was bent over the pepper plants when a loud buzzing sounded nearby. I raised my head to find three hummingbirds hovering so close it seemed I could reach out and cup them in my hands. They dove for the flowers on the scarlet runner beans, drank, darted away, then dove again. I knew these were not "our" hummingbirds, as we call the acrobats who come to the feeder we put out all summer. These hummingbirds were passing through in a hurry, on their way south, at the start of their astonishing migration to Central America. They hung in the air, the iridescent green of their bodies glistening in the sun, the sudden red of their throats showing, and then they took off, leaving a profound silence behind.
There is nothing that can compare with sugar snap peas off the vine and your own Yukon Gold potatoes brought up from the cellar in January. Yet it is for this silence — the silence of the garden — that I have come to value gardening most. In the quiet of the garden, I return to myself and become a part of the landscape, like the hummingbirds passing through. This is reason enough, if one is needed.
I never thought I would live in New Hampshire. Vermont maybe, but not New Hampshire, that crusty old place that has rightfully earned the nickname the Granite State. I was a city girl, first of all, from the city of cities — New York — and a Democrat, neither of which made me suited to the most conservative of the northern New England states. I was also a nomad. From the age of 21 to the age of 35, I moved almost every year, able to fit most of what I owned into a Nissan hatchback. As a writer, I felt it was important to travel light and travel often. If I stayed too long in one place, I would get stale. The best way to gather material for my writing was to keep moving, observing people and places with the eye of the newcomer and the outsider. Think of Ernest Hemingway or James Joyce or Gertrude Stein. Wasn't their genius linked to their being exiles and wanderers, people whose homes, if they had them, were temporary or adopted? They were not weighed down by living in small towns and having neighbors and serving on committees.
Fifteen years ago, my romantic dream of living like Hemingway and Joyce (not in Paris, admittedly, but in garret apartments from Baltimore to Boston) came to an end when I got married and moved to Portsmouth. I quickly discovered what it meant to stay in one place. Before long, I could not walk through Market Square without stopping to talk with someone I knew. I admit that at first I found this unnerving. Everyone knew everyone in this town. Gone were my city days of walking crowded streets and being anonymous, even invisible, one of the unknown millions. I was asked to serve on committees and reluctantly agreed. I had neighbors who checked on my cat and watered my plants when I went away. One of my neighbors even arrived at the door one day with something called a "friendship cake."
On a recent spring night, as my husband and I walked into town, I thought of my initial qualms about moving to New Hampshire. The surface of South Mill Pond shone in the moonlight, and the warm smell of mud and new grass filled the air. In the square, the café tables were full, and the teenagers were playing hackey sack in front of the North Church. I was struck, as I am whenever I walk the narrow streets of Portsmouth, by my good fortune. I live here, I find myself saying with a certain wonder, awed anew by the beauty of this town, and its energy, and the friendliness and goodwill of its people.
Contrary to what I had expected, settling down did not zap me of all creative juices. In fact, it did just the opposite. Now that I sit at the same familiar desk each morning, looking out at the same familiar view, I find it easier to write. With the security and stability of staying put came an understanding that should have been obvious but eluded me for too long. The practice of any vocation is enriched by its being one piece of a full life, a life made of connections to people and place.
My husband and I walked past Prescott Park on that spring night, stopping to watch the drawbridge rise as a tanker nosed its way up the river. I said a silent thank you to the lights reflected in the dark surface of the water, pointing the way home.