The Story of My Book: Corrie Williamson

Published periodically, “The Story of My Book” posts bring our collections to life through a series of five questions we ask all of our poets that highlight what makes every book unique and why Perugia is the right home for each of them (and may be for you and your book too).

Corrie Williamson on Sweet Husk (Perugia, 2014)

1. What was the genesis of your Perugia book?

I tend to think that a poet’s first book takes the poet’s life up until that point to write; mine certainly did. It is a collection written over a certain period, largely the four years I spent completing my MFA at the University of Arkansas, but also the process of working out the questions and obsessions of my life to that point. Poetry has always been my best method for thinking, and the book is rife with query about what we keep, leave behind, what lingers or disappears. It stems at least in part from my undergraduate work in archaeology, including spending a summer on an archaeological survey in New Mexico’s Chaco Canyon.   

2. How did you find out about Perugia Press?

I don’t quite recall the moment I discovered Perugia. I had begun the process of submitting the book and was hunting contests and publishers that appealed to me. Of course I loved Perugia’s emphasis on women writers, and found the books and sample poems I investigated beautiful. I will tell you something that I do remember, though: when I submitted the collection, I distinctly recall thinking, This is the one, this will be my press. Wherever that premonition came from, it was both right and enormously lucky.

3. Can you describe an experience that confirmed Perugia Press was a good fit for you?

I’m constantly reminded how glad I am to be a Perugia poet, in solidarity with the press’s dazzling catalog of writers. But I’ll never forget how Susan Kan, editor when Sweet Husk came out, worked with me on the book’s design. There’s a tiny image on the section dividers, a silhouette of a frog, that carried a lot of symbolic weight for me. I had originally hoped perhaps to have a photo of a carved jet frog, an artifact from Chaco Canyon, on the book’s cover. We considered it, and while in the end it wasn’t right, Susan worked with the designer to craft this little shadow image, which always seems to me a small symbol both for the book and for the care and individual attention Perugia gives to its poets and their work.

4. How have you changed as a poet, writer, or creative person since your book came out?

I still write to think, though my thinking of course has evolved and explored other territories and issues. My second book, The River Where You Forgot My Name, came out in 2019 and was indeed a much more focused project. Certain themes have shifted into the foreground as I get older and know the world in different ways, and as I have lived in different landscapes, but I still carry around many of the quests and questions from Sweet Husk

5. Other than poetry, what moves and motivates you? 

I have made it essential to my life to live near and spend time in wild places, and this informs my creative energies and my writing. I had the great gift of spending seven and a half months in 2020 as the fellow at the PEN Northwest/Boyden Wilderness Writing Residency, living off-grid in a remote cabin far from cell service or internet access along Oregon’s Rogue River. When I left that residency in November of 2020, I returned to Montana, a place that helps center me in my love and concern for the natural world, which is, really, the only world, from which my work springs.  

Corrie Williamson during her time in Chaco Canyon.
The cabin at the Boyden Residency.