Local writer draws on past for poems

"Kate Simpson couldn't control the fact she towered over her classmates - girls and boys alike - in grade school and junior high. Genetics determined her height and big bone structure.But she could decide what - and how much - she ate. At her lowest point of her battle with anorexia, in high school, she consumed just 200 calories a day. She'd sip a diet Coke and slowly and ritualistically spoon up a fruit-topped yogurt.Her 125 pounds barely encased her 6-foot frame. Her bones jutted out so much that it hurt to sit and shower. Whenever she looked into a mirror, Simpson recognized she was skeletal. But the disorder overruled reason. When you're a little kid and a boy says, 'I've never seen anyone that tall before,' it's difficult to take, she said.For several years, starting when she was a junior in high school and through college, Simpson ignored her body's cries for food in hopes of gaining control over her life. Ironically, she has achieved success as an adult by voluntarily making herself even more vulnerable than she felt as a tall female.Rejection, she has learned, won't kill her. Starving herself could.The 35-year-old Northeast Tacoma resident pours herself into her poetry. During the last 15 years, her poems have appeared in university magazines and small press publications. Last year, a poem she wrote about the joys of a newborn was published in a national anthology available at bookstores, Family Celebrations: Prayers, Poems and Toasts for Every Occasion.But Simpson never knows when she submits a poem to a publication if it'll be met with reception or rejection. Sometimes she'll send a poem to three different publications and receive three different rejection letters before finding another that accepts it.That's the thing about poetry, she said. It's something you do and it's kind of like you send it out there and it might find a home.Other poets see their poems in their heads before they write them. Simpson hears them. About the same time she grew frustrated with her height - when the teachers lined students up by height Simpson was always last - she heard her first poem.It was at a slumber party at her family's Dallas-area house when she was about 7 years old. Simpson lay on her bed chatting with her friends. Suddenly, she mentally heard a poem about a sparrow and a robin and the fact one was jealous of the other.She still remembers the first line: The sparrow flies with golden wings up to the rising sun. Now, looking back with an adult's logic, she laughs at that early effort. She can understand an animal that can fly being jealous of the robin or sparrow, but it doesn't make sense for a flying animal to be jealous of another.It was not a great poem, but it was the first, she said. Sometimes when you write, it is like that, pulling on a plug.She started hearing poems in the shower, while driving, at night in bed. She kept a notebook nearby. A flood of poems followed and she filled numerous sheets with her creations. The subjects of her poetry changed over the years. Poems about animals and holidays evolved into prose about love and finally, into more serious subjects, such as addictions and the birth of a child.Although she wouldn't listen to the hunger in her stomach, she listened to her heart and her head and set those emotions and thoughts down on paper. Marri Hill, Simpson's mom, remembers her daughter as a strange little kid who had read all the children's books at their town library by the time she was 2 and who produced a professional-looking poetry magazines as a teen. really by age 2? or should we say before kindergarten.If anything's bothering her, she goes right to her writing, said Hill, who lives in the same Dallas-area house where Simpson was raised.While Simpson cringed from rejection at school, she faced it head-on as a poet. As a teen-ager, she wallpapered her bedroom with rejection letters. In high school, Hill would bring her a tray of cheese and crackers or other food and beg her daughter to eat. She'd ask, Why can't you have this? Simpson could only shake her head. She didn't know.Hill sent Simpson to a treatment center for people with eating disorders when she was XXX. She recovered, but says food will never be a simple matter of assuaging her hunger. She worries if she gains a few pounds and still follows the three rule, which keeps her from eating more than three of an indulgence, like tortilla chips or M & Ms. Her husband tells her she's still too thin.She's since been able to write about her eating disorder. When she reads back over her poems, they often act as flashes of memory for different periods in her life.Although happy when a publication accepts a poem, Simpson mourns the fact each poem will only find one home. She views them as living things that are too big for a single publication.It just seems sad the life of this poem occurred in the spring of 1999, she said. It's very strange. It's nice it's out there. I guess I shouldn't think of them as little personalities.She'll send her favorite little personalities out again and again despite countless rejections. If she believes in a poem, she wants it to find the perfect home and will send as many self-addressed stamped envelopes as she must to ensure it receives one.Sometimes ensuring a poem finds a home means altering the poem. Recently she received an acceptance of a poem on the condition she remove the last stanza. At first, she planned to turn the publisher down. Then she read the poem again.It deserves to be published, she said.She's recently begun writing short stories. She enjoys writing stories for the same reason she loves writing poems - the challenge of playing with words and expressing herself through them in a way that is both clear and beautiful.She denied her physical hunger for years, but has learned to listen to the hunger to express herself.It demands from you, she said. You have a story to tell and it wants to be written. "

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