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In Memoriam

The Kenyon Review is pleased to present In Memoriam, a space for remembering notable contributors to the pages of KR. We regret the loss of their voices from the world of arts and letters.

In Memoriam: Karenne Wood

By Janet McAdams

Photo of Karenne Wood

When Karenne Wood’s manuscript for her second poetry collection—published in 2016 by Arizona as Weaving the Boundary and reviewed in these pages by Lynn Domina—was a finalist for our Kenyon Review/Earthworks prize, one of the readers for the competition singled out for praise the collection’s handful of long poems. I asked Karenne to submit those poems to the magazine, and from them, we selected “The Naming” for publication. It is a remarkable poem, from its trenchant opening image—“the furred darkness / of an ancient one’s breath”—to the concluding section’s potent catalogue. An extended meditation on colonialism and resistance, the poem is epic in scope, multi-tribal in its approach yet rooted deeply in the author’s identity as a member of the Monacan Indian Nation.

In this, it is reflective of Karenne’s extraordinary lifework. After receiving her MFA in creative writing from George Mason, she earned a PhD in anthropology from the University of Virginia. She served as the repatriation coordinator for the Association on American Indian Affairs, working tirelessly for the return of sacred objects to indigenous nations. She chaired the Virginia Council on Indians and was the first head of Indian Programs for Virginia Humanities. Along the way, she produced poetry notable for its visionary, its ambition, its lyric power.

In their notes to the manuscript of “Weaving the Boundary,” the reader who praised the collection’s long poems also raised a question about the manuscript, wondering if the author understood “the heavy lifting” her poems were already doing. I’ve thought of that question often since Karenne walked on last month. The communities healed by the return of their sacred objects. The uptick in awareness among Virginians about Indigenous people. The space cleared for stories that, like the names in her poem, can finally be reclaimed and spoken. All that heavy lifting. All of it.


Read Karenne Wood’s “The Naming,” first published in the Spring 2015 issue of Kenyon Review Online.