Now playing on Otherppla conversation with Kathleen Rooney. Her new novel, Cher Ami and Major Whittlesey, is available from Penguin Books.



This is Kathleen’s second time on the program. She first appeared in Episode 274 on May 4, 2014.

She is a founding editor of Rose Metal Press, a nonprofit publisher of literary work in hybrid genres, as well as a founding member of Poems While You Wait, a team of poets and their typewriters who compose commissioned poetry on demand. She teaches in the English Department at DePaul University, and her most recent books include the national best-seller, Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk  (St. Martin’s Press 2017 / Picador 2018) and The Listening Room: A Novel of Georgette and Loulou Magritte (Spork Press, 2018).

A winner of the Ruth Lilly Fellowship from Poetry magazine, she is the author of nine books of poetry, fiction, and nonfiction, including the novel O, Democracy! (Fifth Star Press, 2014); the novel in poems Robinson Alone (Gold Wake Press, 2012), based on the life and work of Weldon Kees; the essay collection For You, For You I Am Trilling These Songs (Counterpoint, 2010); and the art modeling memoir Live Nude Girl: My Life as an Object (University of Arkansas Press, 2009). Her first book is Reading with Oprah: The Book Club That Changed America (University of Arkansas Press, 2005), and her first poetry collection, Oneiromance (an epithalamion) won the 2007 Gatewood Prize from the feminist publisher Switchback Books.

With Elisa Gabbert, she is the co-author of the poetry collection That Tiny Insane Voluptuousness (Otoliths, 2008) and the chapbook The Kind of Beauty That Has Nowhere to Go (Hyacinth Girl Press, 2013). And with fellow DePaul professor Eric Plattner, she is the co-editor of Rene Magritte: Selected Writings (University of Minnesota Press, 2016).

Her reviews and criticism have appeared in The New York Times Magazine, The Poetry Foundation website, The New York Times Book Review, BITCHAllureThe Chicago Review of Books, The Chicago TribuneThe Paris Review, The Los Angeles Review of Books, The Nation and elsewhere.

She lives in Chicago with her spouse, the writer Martin Seay.

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What’s with the mustache?

Robinson Alone is a book of poems, but it is also a novel in which I derive a character from the life of the mid-century poet and mysterious disappearee Weldon Kees (1914-1955?), as well as from his alter ego Robinson. Although Kees’ Robinson poems are not persona poems, nor, for the most part, are mine—the poems speak about Robinson and not for Robinson—the experience of writing them has still been one of imagining myself into somebody else’s body and mindset. Plus, I have always been intrinsically fascinated with mustaches and Kees had a stylish one.


She used to walk through the house, skirt rustling
like rain. How was he to know she’d end up drunk—

face puffed like a corpse in a lake? That they’d grow
as capable of savagery as they used to be of grace?

Long before the strain of life on the coasts, they
roasted each other after work at night, getting tight

together on gin & 7 Up. When it got too late
for her to read, or him to type, they’d fall asleep,

For You, For You I Am Trilling These Songs

Kathleen Rooney is a poet and writer, whose most recent work of non-fiction is a collection of essays entitled For You, For You I Am Trilling These Songs, in which short stretches of her experiences as a teacher, Senate Aide, sister, cousin, daughter, and wife are used to analyze identity, relationships, responsibility, idealism and its’ inevitable companion, disappointment.

has nothing to do with Dante. You say
it with an accent: you say it Be-at-trice.

A dirt road lined with leafless trees.
Smokestacks. Some background.

A slight white kid in white kid shoes
& a dress with ruffles & three pearl

buttons. Structures skidded against
the flat flat plains, all rising vertical

sightlines man-grown or man-made.
The corn bursting. The First Presbyterian

Church. The Institution for Feeble-
Minded Youth. The football games

& the Buffalo Bill Street Parade
& Robinson acting in elementary

school plays: Sir Lancelot once,
& Pinocchio, obviously. A little man.

Robinson reading on the family porch.
Torchsongs wafting from the nighttime

radio—AM broadcasts lofting
like ghosts from real cities. This

& his mother’s artful research—her side
is descended from the Plantagenets,

maybe signed the Magna Carta—&
his suffragette Aunt Clara giving him

a French dictionary for high school
graduation chart it out for Robinson:

most of the world is not in Nebraska.
Robinson lacks patience for too much

prelude, rude though it is to be so
fidgety, ungrateful. This hateful small.

This hateful empty. Civic & dutiful.
Not not beautiful. These moldered.

These elderly. Soon-to-be outgrown.
He simply must. Or bust. A loner

ill-suited to being alone. In a double-
breasted suit. En route to elsewhere.