From the North Dakota State University Press | Winter Read Recommendation: "Prairie Madness" | By Dr. Suzzanne Kelley, NDSU Press Publisher and Assistant Professor of Practice
From the North Dakota State University Press | Winter Read Recommendation: "Prairie Madness" | By Dr. Suzzanne Kelley, NDSU Press Publisher and Assistant Professor of Practice

Illustrations by Leah Ecklund | January 24, 2022

Katherine Hoerth wrote "Prairie Madness" in 2020 amidst the COVID-19 pandemic in response to quarantining and social distancing. She had just moved to Nebraska from Texas with her husband, and she found herself far from family, friends, and familiar spaces.

North Dakota State University Press is proud to share its most recent Poetry of the Plains & Prairies (POPP) Award winner, “Prairie Madness,” by Katherine Hoerth. Katherine’s collection was competitively selected from local, regional, and national poets for publication as a limited-edition chapbook.

In “Prairie Madness,” Katherine reflects on how her experience, and the experiences of those during pandemic isolation (mainly, all of us!), were perhaps like what pioneer women went through on the plains, suffering from infamous “prairie madness” — a phrase used to describe the mental health conditions associated with westward expansion as settlers to the Great Plains faced unprecedented forms of isolation.

Katherine wanted to give voice to the pandemic experience. In the pages of “Prairie Madness,” she leaves readers with a curious thought: so much changes, and yet so much about the human condition remains the same.

The book carries an ecofeminist thread as it explores the lives of women through history and mythologies, challenging patriarchal norms about our collective representation of women and the feminine. It is very much steeped in place and explores the destruction of nature and the implications that follow.

Each copy of “Prairie Madness” is hand-numbered and printed on turn-of-the-century letterpress equipment located in West Fargo, North Dakota, and Braddock, North Dakota. “Prairie Madness” is uniquely ornamented with pressed flowers, complementing the letterpressed interiors, with covers and interiors divided by a slate blue vellum tissue.

Students enrolled in NDSU’s Certificate in Publishing print “Prairie Madness” on letterpress equipment and adorn each cover with pressed flowers.

Students enrolled in the Certificate in Publishing — a unique program that combines experiential learning with our decades-old university press — take part in acquisitions, copyediting, marketing and publicity plans, and national distribution of all NDSU Press books, including each POPP Award chapbook. Simultaneously, the students learn the history, business, and practice of small press publishing.

Katherine Hoerth, author of “Prairie Madness,” currently lives in Omaha, Nebraska.

Meet the Poet
Katherine Hoerth is the author of five poetry collections, including the forthcoming “Flare Stacks in Full Bloom” (Texas Review Press, 2021). In 2015, she won the Helen C. Smith Award for the best book of poetry. She is an assistant professor of English at Lamar University and editor of Lamar University Literary Press. Her work has been published in journals such as “The Georgia Review,” “Pleiades,” and “Valparaiso Review.” Katherine received a developmental leave award and is working on a book about the frontier, feminism, and eco-poetics in Omaha, Nebraska.

Excerpts From “Prairie Madness”

Prairie Madness
            West Omaha, 2020

The scent of weeping pine trees fills the air.
Instead of crow caws, drill songs ride the wind.
An avenue named Rosewood copperheads
through a neighborhood, suburbia.

The houses grow like stalks in a row, each one
planted carefully, a verdant promise
of tomorrow, reaching toward the blue
Nebraska sky, the openness of it.

How full of gold it feels today: the morning
sunshine bathing all the roofs in butter,
the gold of rings on every finger here,
the history of grain and humble farmers

with their forlorn wives out on the plains,
the harvest and the emptiness that follows.
I’m standing in the middle of it all
staring out my window at the neighbor

jogging past, her hair like mine, the hue
of cornsilk, wheat, a field of grain, our bodies—
all of us in rows of loneliness
driven to madness by the prairie wind.

Daughter of Brush Country

Teach her tongue how to roll the names of flowers
tickling her toes, the lantana, nightshade,
primrose. Crown her ebony curls with willow.
Teach her the word for

beauty. Show her summers were meant for sipping
raspas in the shade of mesquites, sun a
mango color turning chamoy by evening.
Teach her the word for

joy. Then let her listen to chachalaca
songs at dusk, the chants of cicadas, chanclas
rapping on caliche, the mix of lenguas.
Teach her the word for

harmony. Now make her see her reflection
in the mirror, see her own birthplace, gaze at
this flat vale, viridian river, Eden.
Teach her the word for

home.

Summers of Lightning Bugs

Once, I loved you like a firefly—
remember how they used to make the fields

effulgent like the midnight sky once was?
When this was open fields and the heart

grew wild like the prairie? Do you remember
how each year those lightning bugs returned?

Like spring, the cricket’s song, and wild pigeons.
How their lightshow made of everything

that moves our bodies lit this backyard up?
And one by one, some darkness snuffed the fire—

little mistakes like leaving porch lights on,
the city’s growing glow, the giant flares,

those blazing elephants we can’t ignore
in the onyx skies that are our lives.

Now, it’s night again. It’s summer, too.
Now I’m sipping bourbon on the porch

gazing into fields of emptiness,
wondering what mountains I must move

to make those lightning bugs return to us.

NDSU Press Request for Proposals

NDSU Press is looking for the author of our next chapbook publication. Manuscripts of thirty to thirty-five pages in length may be submitted to our online portal at https://ndsupress.submittable.com/submit Jan. 17 through March 17, 2022. The winning author will receive our standard publishing contract and national distribution. We do not charge any submission or reading fees.

Previous winners of the POPP Award:

  • 2021 Prairie Madness, by Katherine Hoerth (Nebraska)
  • 2020 A Muddy Kind of Love, by Carolyn A. Dahl (Texas)
  • 2019 Harvest Widows, by Nick Bertelson (Iowa)
  • 2018 Destiny Manifested, by Bonnie Larson Staiger (North Dakota)
  • 2017 Thunderbird, by Denise K. Lajimodiere (North Dakota) sold out
  • 2016 Land of Sunlit Ice, by Larry Woiwode (North Dakota) sold out

About NDSU Press

North Dakota State University Press (NDSU Press) exists to stimulate and coordinate interdisciplinary regional scholarship. These regions include the Red River Valley, the state of North Dakota, the plains of North America (comprising both the Great Plains of the United States and the prairies of Canada), and comparable regions of other continents. We publish peer-reviewed regional scholarship shaped by national and international events and comparative studies.

All NDSU Press books can be found at our online store and distributed through Ingram, Baker & Taylor, Amazon, and your favorite independent bookstore.

You can support the work of the NDSU Press by making a gift to its general fund.