The Utilitarian Poet

Alumni5 MIN READ

Katie Fuller assumed she would study law after graduating from Colby, but becoming a writer and educator made more sense

Katie Fuller ’06 is a published poet with a rising national profile.
By Chris QuirkPhotography by Gregory A. Rec
January 31, 2024

Katie Fuller ’06 was always an avid writer. And while her enthusiasm for writing continued through college, coming from Dixfield, a small town on the Androscoggin River in Maine, she held fast to a certain pragmatism: “I did not think of myself as a creative writer,” she recalled.

Fuller’s Maine roots go back generations. Her working-class parents were high school sweethearts who married young. Early on, her father worked as an apprentice plumber and then in forestry, and both her mother and father worked for the Maine Department of Transportation.  “If you were a kid from where I was from and you liked writing, fine, but there had to be utility to it. My parents are such hard workers, and I was always thinking about what I was going to do with my degree.”

After earning her B.A. in history at Colby, law school loomed as a possibility, so Fuller worked as a paralegal for two years to test the waters. But she did not enjoy the work, so she downshifted to the life of a beatnik on midcoast Maine, working as a landscaper and taking odd jobs while hanging out with creative types off-hours. “The midcoast is chock full of artists,” she said. “They’re hard to avoid in that area.”

One day in Camden, Fuller nabbed a poetry anthology from a free pile outside a bookstore. It included “For Love” by Robert Creeley, a poem to his wife published in 1962. “I think we’re raised with the idea or stigma of poetry being really overwrought descriptions of things that you’re not going to understand, but this was very plain-spoken,” Fuller recalled. “It was just a beautiful poem of affection, with these crazy line breaks. I loved it and remember thinking, this can be in an anthology?”

She began to write poetry.

Fuller wrote on her own for two years before enrolling in the master’s program in English literature at the University of Maine. She then attended the M.F.A. program in writing at Boise State University. In addition to composing poetry, Fuller is currently an assistant professor of English at Mount Wachusett Community College in Gardner, Mass. As a first-generation college graduate, Fuller appreciates the opportunity to teach at a community college, particularly as it affords her the chance to work with students from similar backgrounds as hers. “A lot of students who are first generation feel a little suspicious about college and that whole world, so it ended up being an amazing fit.”

In 2022, Fuller won the Anhinga Press Poetry Annual Prize for her manuscript Careful. The prize includes a cash award, and Anhinga Press also published the manuscript. Careful is Fuller’s first book of poetry. She previously wrote two chapbooks, and her poetry has also been published in Maine and Down East magazines, among other publications.

A farrago of voices

In Careful, Fuller assembles a farrago of voices that includes snippets of old television shows, interior monologue, personal history, documentary fragments, and bits of pop culture into an extended conversation. The result is a thought-provoking mix that mirrors the fractured nature and anxiety of contemporary life.

Katie Fuller ’06, a first-generation student at Colby and now an assistant professor of English at Mount Wachusett Community College, appreciates the opportunity to teach at a community college as it affords her the chance to work with students from similar backgrounds as hers.

Erika Meitner, poet, professor of English, and director of the M.F.A. program in creative writing at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, judged the Anhinga Press competition. “What stayed with me about Careful was both the form and the content. The subject material was compelling—about television, survival, and violence—and much of the book had to do with the tensions of danger and safety, and what it means to move through the world in a female body,” Meitner said. “Ultimately, Careful was a manuscript that made me think deeply about the impact the media we consume has on us—and how we make sense of our lives in relation to the things we watch.”

Fuller uses repeating themes and short passages assembled into longer poems that sound against each other throughout the book. “As a manuscript, Careful was very coherent and carefully constructed,” said Meitner. “The prose poems in it were braided together tightly, with thematic echoes that carried through the entire book.” 

One characteristic section, in “Personal History I,” starts as a simple statement of fact, and then careens between the mundane and the portentous in its portrayal of small-town life.

hometown: Dixfield, Maine    Population: 2000

every house outfitted with a scanner alerting neighbors to dispatches, car accidents, and

the slack movements of the fire, police, and ambulance departments

strangely entertaining

on heavy rotation you will find Full House, The Cosby Show, Punky Brewster, and World Wrestling Federation programming…

(don’t ever let go of my hand when we shop, Katie)

John Felstiner, who translated and wrote a biography of the poet Paul Celan, once said that readers of Celan have to be able to handle a lot of ambiguity. Maybe that’s a basic quality of poetry, and one of its unique powers—the ability to hold in suspension things that may at first look contradictory or unrelated, so as to fully capture something that can’t be said directly without simplifying it. If so, Fuller’s volume, searching, probing, and balancing disparate equities, brings into focus a picture not before seen.