“I had come to this fellowship feeling wrung out by my father’s death among all the other endings I was facing. But the renewal experience allowed me to grieve and find peace in the aftermath.”
During Karen Kovacik’s renewal, she attended a residency at the Mary Anderson Center in southern Indiana where she stayed as the sole resident of the Loftus House. She says, “On entering the house, I was struck by the painted motto: ‘Be still and know.’ Seeing those words was a comfort.” The books she brought with her, specifically Ross Gay’s Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude, became the touchstone of her residency and her renewal process. Kovacik explains, “One motif of that book involves Gay mourning his own father. I read it numerous times during my residency, and it helped open me to a number of the poems I wrote during the renewal period.” The peace of the Loftus house helped Kovacik to process the endings all around her: her father’s death, the end of a project editing an anthology, and the sale of her beloved apartment in downtown Indianapolis.
Kovacik’s plans changed a bit when the 2016 election cycle inspired a trip to Boston. Kovacik explains her desire to put herself in touch with the origins of the Republic. She says, “I went to the Boston Common, the Old South Church, the Granary Burial Ground, and to Plymouth and Amherst. Here, too, I was in the presence of poets and of ways of making poetry that responded to both layers of history and the current moment. I finally got to see the Civil War monument on the Boston Common, which Robert Lowell wrote about in his poem For the Union Dead.” She also visited Emily Dickinson’s house, a pilgrimage she’d longed to make for years.
The renewal experience had larger implications for Kovacik, however. It restored her personal and professional confidence. After struggling the five years prior with the thought that perhaps the work on her anthology of Polish women poets might amount to naught, the renewal gave her the time she needed to center herself, and carried Kovacik through appearances she made promoting the anthology in New York, Chicago, Indianapolis, and Madison, as well as Warsaw and Krakow, Poland. For Kovacik, the most lasting effects of the Creative Renewal Arts Fellowship were internal—a measure of centeredness and calm and the ability to write poems—despite the turbulence in the culture at this moment.