// freakout // breakdown // crisis // schism // possession // crackup // deadlock // exigency //
The feminists lied, she tells me. They said we could do everything / we wanted.
from "That Worn Joke (It Cuts and Bleeds)"
The Familiar Interactive
HOLD ME TIGHT
ABOUT THIS BOOK
Title: The Familiar
Author: Sarah Kain Gutowski
Publisher: TRP: The University Press of SHSU (Texas Review Press)
Publication date: January 15, 2024
Launch date: February 2, 2024
Dimensions: 5.5 x 8.5
Page count: 106
ISBN, softcover: 978-1-68003-328-1
ISBN, ebook: 978-1-68003-329-8
Genre, related subjects: Poetry,
Mid-Life, Women’s Lives,
Feminism, Existentialism, Fabulism, Absurdism, Fatalism
"The feminists lied, she tells me. They said we could do everything / we wanted. Anything, I correct her."
A book-length narrative in poems, The Familiar explores female mid-life existential crisis through two characters: the Ordinary Self and the Extraordinary Self.
A true homebody, satisfied with routine and the comforts of domesticity, the Ordinary Self wakes one day to find that while she's been sleeping — for months? for years? — the Extraordinary Self has wreaked havoc in a blind, desperate attempt to accomplish something — anything — truly great. As the Ordinary Self works to reestablish harmony and order within the household, the Extraordinary Self must come to terms with her failure to meet both the ambitions of her youth and the standards that society has set for her as a mother, as a colleague, and as a spouse.
Fabulist and absurdist, The Familiar features a mix of high and low language, philosophy, and pop culture while exploring the effects of second and third-wave feminism. It's a book for anyone who's vacillated between dreams, desires, and ambition on the one hand, and on the other a deeply ingrained need for stability and calm. It's a book for anyone who may be approaching or going through mid-life and thinking, "Oh no. What have I done?"
AND I DO NOT FORGIVE YOU
Gutowski’s poems are breathtakingly smart — controlled, precise and exquisite as diamonds — and yet they vibrate dangerously from within, as if anticipating, as she writes in one poem, “so much broken glass.”
HOLD ME TIGHT
LIAR and YOURS, CREATURE
How well I know these forms of self-splitting, of self-reproach, of taking an endless self-inventory that only ever leads to recrimination and concern. I always think that I’m the only one who plays both parts in my head as I wonder why I’m not better, smarter, kinder, humbler, more generous—or simply put—why it feels like I’m never enough. I know I’m not the only one who will be grateful for Sarah Kain Gutowski’s The Familiar. I know I’m not the only one who will feel less alone after reading these poems. I wish I could learn the lessons of wholeness this collection points the way towards, though I know I won’t. But then again, I just might.
Sarah Kain Gutowski’s richly-detailed The Familiar is divided into selves: the ordinary and extraordinary. With ruthless scrutiny, Gutowski makes the reader aware of the enormous, invisible labor of women and its attendant exhaustion. The ordinary self holds the world together and the extraordinary self contains desire and ambition — desires that are almost impossible in the world of familial responsibility. Yet, in the end, the distinction between ordinary and extraordinary is not so clear. Gutowski leads the reader to an unexpected liberation that made me laugh out loud, a rare pleasure in poetry. The Familiar is brilliant, witty, and unafraid to relentlessly question the sacred territory of family responsibility.
CYNTHIA MARIE HOFFMAN,
In The Familiar, Sarah Kain Gutowski takes the fragmentation of self to a whole new level. This fabulist poetic narrative of midlife crisis pits the Ordinary Self against the Extraordinary Self—one attuned to the daily mundanities of housekeeping and motherhood, the other hysterical with ambition and adventure—as warring factions of identity. “We all house within our skin and brains,” Gutowski writes, “another self or two, whole persons devoted to one aspect/ of twenty-first century life.” And it’s not too long before “shit hits the fan.” It’s all here: domestic life, travel, sex, even attempted murder. Both deeply analytical and a wild ride, both elevated in lyric language and peppered with lowbrow quips, The Familiar resists parable and acknowledges the inevitably multifaceted nature of selfhood, what is expected of women, and what women expect of themselves. Fierce. Vulnerable. Entertaining.
Managing Editor of
PHANTOM DRIFT: A JOURNAL OF NEW FABULISM
Sarah Gutowski’s The Familiar exists as part haunting, part conjuration, and part poetic experiment in which the intricacies and intimacies of a poet’s interwined selves are revealed in triplicate. Thank heavens, given such a daunting task, that the poet’s “inevitable self” possesses an existential wit and fortitude; these stanzas exude the grit of a “Sartrean grandmother,” who supplants ego, and shadows this intriguing conceit, where extra and ordinary alternately lift off and land—at home in New York, inconspicuous in London, or even spontaneously in Italy. More than navigating shades of chaos and order, The Familiar is that rare collection that meta-captures the trajectories and disparate psyches necessary to the poetic mind. And these poems ordinarily feature extraordinary endings! Readers, you may just glimpse your selves’ frugal, unreasonable, and even indomitable sheen in these dexterous tercets, where we’re lucky enough to be surprised by ourselves, by the audacity of azaleas, by blandness (which is truly camoflauge!), and by the wonders of the ordinary and everyday that keep us alive.
Q & A
The Familiar is about mid-life crisis, and specifically female mid-life crisis. What prompted you to write about this topic?
About four or five years ago, just after turning 40, my life began to feel like it was coming apart at the seams. I began to see how my ambition had worn all the other parts thin. Our house—which we’d been living in for over a decade—showed signs of wear and neglect: cluttered rooms, major appliances failing or in disrepair, paint on the walls chipped or faded or marked. My children were more independent than ever but also relied and depended upon me in new, complex ways (mostly emotional—teens are so much more work than toddlers). Even my relationship with my husband, which has always felt like my easiest relationship and also my most nurturing, became more difficult to navigate.
I think the most startling part was that for all of my ambition, for all of those attempts to *be* something or *do* something in my career, how little I had to show for it – apart from a lot of chaos and damage. It was frightening to realize, but it also made me angry. And for the most part, angry at myself. I needed a way to process that anger, so I began to write. And as I wrote, the anger melted away and I began to have fun – poking fun at myself, at the myths I grew believing, at the systems and institutions I worked inside (and that subtly and not-so-subtly worked against me).
Your poems investigate disillusionment and a lost sense of self, and yet they embrace humor, too, and often at the expense of the speaker. Can you talk about your decision to use self-deprecating humor, as well as pop culture references and informal language like slang, in poetry?
If mid-life does anything, it humbles you and makes you take yourself less seriously. To some extent, that spilled over into the work. I stopped being as precious about my word choice—not less finicky (I could still agonize for days over the “right” word in a line), but less concerned with whether or not it felt smart enough, unique enough, poetic enough. I wrote from a language of my body—which was (and still is) betraying me—and from a language of my psyche, which is a weird amalgamation of academic jargon, my adopted vernacular from Long Island, my deep and abiding love of profanity, and my sense of the ridiculous (or perhaps, just my genuine ridiculousness). The Familiar is a work of fiction, written with poetry, but I wanted that fiction and poetry to reflect my experience genuinely, which means it had to sound, for better or for worse, like me. Like all parts of me.
How is this book different from your first collection of poems, Fabulous Beast?
Much of Fabulous Beast was written post-partum, and those poems focus on an experience of motherhood, leaving girlhood, and becoming a partner in a shared life. It was written at a different point, a different decade, in my life—and it shows. The voices of that book are very different than the voices in this new one.
Fabulous Beast feels, to me, like water rising behind a dam. Something lurks there, threatens to spill over, but never quite does. Possibly because I was also exploring the forms of fable, fairy tale and myth with that book, and so my experience with motherhood and love and life were being expressed far more obliquely.
The tone of The Familiar is far less veiled or difficult to pin down. I think it’s irreverent, brash, full of rage, full of sorrow, and far more direct—and also far more appreciative of the comedy/tragedy binary that so often happens in life. Even though I believe its philosophical bent is a little more grim than Fabulous Beast, it’s far more likely to make you laugh.
Where did you come up with the idea for your characters, the Extraordinary Self and the Ordinary Self?
I’ve often felt like I’ve had two careers, that of writing teacher and that of writer (which honestly don’t often go together as well as one would hope), but as I entered mid-life I felt like I also had two selves—one that was setting metaphorical fires and another that was putting them out. I saw that career-focused part of me as the part that wanted to be extraordinary, to do something exceptional, something outside of routine and the everyday; but I also felt acutely the part of me that was satisfied with being present with my loved ones, with the calm and measured happiness of routine, who values the sanity of the ordinary.
I felt such a push and pull between these sides of myself. I wondered who would win in a winner-takes-all battle—like in the movie Highlander, but with an unfortunate lack of Queen’s soundtrack, and an even more unfortunate glut of bad hair. Extraordinary Self vs. Ordinary Self: There could only be one. But even I didn’t know: who would win in that battle? I had to write the story to find out.
Female Mid-Life (GenX & Elder Millennial)
21st Century Female Existential Crisis
Burnout (as a Woman) in Academia
The Well-Meaning but Grave Missteps
of Second- & Third-Wave Feminism
Three-Headed Monster: Mother, Teacher, Writer
Contemporary Fabulist & Speculative Poetry
AUTHOR TALK, READING, & WORKSHOP OFFERINGS
Programming is offered by a writer and professor of English with two decades of lecture and teaching experience. All programs can be custom-tailored for audiences ranging from high school and college classrooms to libraries, bookstores, and literary communities and organizations.
Talk: Decide to Be an Artist: Creativity is a Process and a Practice
Author Sarah Kain Gutowski discusses creativity as a deliberate problem-solving act, disputing myths surrounding inspiration and writer’s block, and outlining a series of practical steps toward establishing one’s unique and consistent creative practice. The talk can be followed by a multi-genre writing activity, and ends with an informal question and answer session.
Author Reading: featuring Sarah Kain Gutowski, author of The Familiar and Fabulous Beast
Poet Sarah Kain Gutowski reads from her latest book, The Familiar, a darkly funny narrative-in-poems about female mid-life existential crisis, as well as Fabulous Beast: Poems, which was a runner up for the 2018 X.J. Kennedy Prize, a finalist for the 2019 Foreword INDIES Prize, and winner of the 14th annual National Indies Excellence Award for Poetry. The reading can be preceded by a multi-genre writing activity, and/or followed by an informal question and answer session.
Workshop: Make It Weird: Our Ordinary Experiences Made Fantastic and Meaningful Through Metaphor and Imagery
Sometimes engaging with the strange, unusual, and unexpected can result in poignant, invaluable insight about our everyday lives. In this writing workshop, Teaching Artist Sarah Kain Gutowski leads participants of varying levels of experience through a series of examples and exercises designed to encourage associative thinking through metaphor and image-building.
Ostensibly these are three different segments and may be combined and/or ordered differently than above. (i.e. The artist talk can be followed by a reading or the writing workshop can be followed by the author reading or craft talk.) Additionally, this can be constructed as a two-day program, with an artist talk and/or workshop on day one and the reading on day two. I am happy to accommodate the particular audiences of the venue according to your need and interest.
The Familiar Book Tour 2024
Book Launch (TBD)
AWP Offsite Reading: Featuring Jessica Cuello, Sarah Kain Gutowski, Cynthia Marie Hoffman, Hyejung Kook, and Marcus Myers
6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. CT
Thursday, February 8
Bliss Books & Wine
3502 Gillham Rd, Kansas City, MO 64111
Women of New Fabulism and Speculative Literature: A Reading: A Reading: featuring Nic Anstett, Sarah Kain Gutowski, Carolyn Oliver, Aimee Parkison, and Chloe Chun Seim
Association of Writers and Writing Programs Conference and Bookfair
10:35 a.m. to 11:50 a.m. CT
Friday, February 9
Room 3501AB, Level 3
Kansas City Convention Center
(More than) Crisis and Loss: Writing Female Mid-life: A Poetry Reading: featuring Julie Brooks Barbour, Mary Biddinger, Sarah Kain Gutowski, Cynthia Marie Hoffman, and Michelle Whittaker
Association of Writers and Writing Programs Conference and Bookfair
12:10 - 1:25 p.m. CT
Friday, February 9
Bookfair Stage, F189
Exhibit Halls D & E, Level 3
Kansas City Convention Center
AWP Offsite Reading: Featuring Sarah Kain Gutowski, Donal Levering, Al Ortolani, Joshua Robbins, and Patrick Stockwell
Saturday, February 10
The Writer's Place
31 W 31st St, Kansas City, MO 64108
Long (273 words)
Sarah Kain Gutowski (she/her) is the author of The Familiar (forthcoming 2024) and Fabulous Beast: Poems, which was a runner-up for the 2018 X.J. Kennedy Prize, a 2019 Foreword INDIES Finalist, and winner of the 14th annual National Indies Excellence Award for Poetry. With interdisciplinary artist Meredith Starr, she is co-creator of Every Second Feels Like Theft, a conversation in cyanotypes and poems, and It's All Too Much, a limited edition audio project.
Her poetry has appeared in various print and online journals, including The Threepenny Review, So To Speak: A Feminist Journal of Language and Art, Painted Bride Quarterly, The Gettysburg Review, Verse Daily, and The Southern Review. Her criticism has been published by Colorado Review, Calyx: A Journal of Art and Literature by Women, and the New York Journal of Books.
She holds an MFA in poetry from New York University and a BA in English and Mass Communications from James Madison University. Post-graduate school, she has attended the Bread Loaf Writers Conference in Sicily, Western Michigan University’s Prague Summer Program, and the Southampton Writers Conference Script Development Lab. She holds an MFA in poetry from New York University and a BA in English and Mass Communications from James Madison University. In 2022, she was awarded an artist's residency at Stiwdio Maelor in Corris, Wales.
She's taught poetry and mixed genre writing workshops at New York University and for Stony Brook University's MFA in Creative Writing and Literature Program. She is a full-time, tenured Professor of English at Suffolk County Community College.
A full-time, tenured Professor of English at Suffolk County Community College, Gutowski is a member of the National Book Critics Circle, the Association of Writers and Writing Programs, the Academy of American Poets, the Popular Culture Association, and Pen Parentis.
She lives on the south shore of Long Island with her husband and their circus of children and dogs.
Short (100 words)
Sarah Kain Gutowski is the author of two books, The Familiar (forthcoming) and Fabulous Beast: Poems, winner of the 14th annual National Indies Excellence Award for Poetry. With interdisciplinary artist Meredith Starr, she is co-creator of Every Second Feels Like Theft, a conversation in cyanotypes and poetry, and It's All Too Much, a limited edition audio project. Her poems have appeared in The Gettysburg Review, The Threepenny Review, Painted Bride Quarterly, and The Southern Review, and her criticism has been published by Colorado Review, Calyx: A Journal of Art and Literature by Women, and the New York Journal of Books.
Brief (50 words)
Sarah Kain Gutowski is the author of two books of poetry, The Familiar (forthcoming) and Fabulous Beast: Poems. With interdisciplinary artist Meredith Starr, she is co-creator of Every Second Feels Like Theft, a conversation in cyanotypes and poems, and It's All Too Much, a limited edition podcast and art project.
MARKETING & PUBLICITY:
Email Katy Pultz, pultzmarcom [at] gmail.com, for:
- Print, Radio, & Podcast Interviews
- Speaking and Reading Engagements
- Guest Teaching and Workshop Facilitation