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A Raven, a Muse, a Promise: An Interview with Yvonne Lutter / Kate Carter, author of Covenant

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I’m actually the stand-in for the real author of Covenant, Catherine E. Carter. Kate and I lived together for over twenty-five years. She died of Covid in 2020. Covenant was written over thirty years ago, most of it on Cape Cod. When she died, getting her manuscript published became a mission to fulfill a promise I made a long time ago.

You can buy Covenant here.

Are you a writer, too? Submit your manuscript to Atmosphere Press.

Tell us the story of your book’s title. Was it easy to find, or did it take forever?

I don’t know the story of how Covenant became the title of Kate’s manuscript. I can only guess she was exploring the notion of promises—sacred vows made to self, to others, to God; promises made, but also promises broken. On its face, I see Covenant as a book of poems which explores relationships through the lens of love and betrayal.

How did it feel when you first saw your book cover? Or when you first held your book in your hands?

I love the cover, but it had to grow on me, just like a relationship has to grow to reach full maturity. I realized the other cover options I was given were more flashy—colorful with a more overt (but superficial) sense of a woman’s transformation. But I was drawn over and over to the odd one out, the muted tones of the Raven. It felt more subtle, the use of crayon reminding me of children but also of gravestone rubbings. The Raven seemed ominous at first (probably by reputation), but the eye! Its gaze was so compelling I had to follow. Not unlike my personal experience with Kate. In hindsight, the cover I chose is better than perfect. The Celtic mythology of the Raven speaks directly to Kate’s manuscript. Associated with death (its shiny black feathers, raucous unique call, and preference for carrion meat), the Raven represents the profane, the contrary, the dark and evil aspects of human experience. Yet, paradoxically, the Raven also represents magic, mystery, transformation and healing, wisdom and prophecy, a spirit capable of moving between the realm of the profane and that of the sublime. In fact, the first section of Covenant is a series of poems Kate titled Immram. The Immram is a Celtic navigational story, a journey to the otherworld in search of mortal truths and a warrior’s vindication. Like the Raven, Kate’s book Covenant transverses the material and spiritual worlds. It was the perfect image for the book cover. Finally, I must say that when I first saw the finished draft, the book itself seemed so small, hardly capable of holding the power of Kate’s words which can leave me speechless, awestruck. But to me, the Raven says all this and more to those who choose to listen.

Who/what made you want to write? Was there a particular person, or particular writers/works/art forms that influenced you?

If I was Kate’s muse, she was also mine. She shaped my thinking about healing, my understanding about trauma as I watched her creative process moving from and through her history and legacy of childhood abuse to the full-bodied, multi-talented poet and artist she became.

What other professions have you worked in? What’s something about you that your readers wouldn’t know?

I’m a psychologist, now semi-retired after years working on the edge. I found myself drawn to the event horizon of the black hole of trauma, working with marginalized peoples fighting for life beyond the unrelenting call of the profane. I worked over ten years in a women’s prison, another five on two different Indian reservations, after many years of work with survivors of childhood sexual abuse and domestic violence. As hard as the work could be, my patients taught me to never give up, to believe in the good, to find faith in the unknown mysteries, and to seek healing in the creative arts. To me, Kate’s work in Covenant was the best expression of human resilience and the desire for love and that love will triumph every time.

What was the most rewarding/meaningful part of publishing your book?

Covenant was published as a memoir, a tribute, a promise I made to Kate, a commitment to honor her vision and talent. It was and still is a thrill to hear reactions from Kate’s friends and family who recognized her wit as intelligence but who had never read her work to savor, to feel the sobriety of her “deep inner life…”

If your book had a soundtrack, what are some songs that would be on it?

Kate, who studied music, would have a great answer to this question. She wrote her poetry to be read aloud, and having sat, entranced, listening to her read, I can only say that I hear the sounds of the natural world interwoven with old-world rhythms and pagan chants, interposed against the cacophony, the incoherent babble of our commonly shared human experience.

What is one thing you hope readers take away from reading your book? How do you envision your perfect reader?

I hope Covenant will be read, appreciated, indeed treasured, by literary people, by “deep thinkers,” by all sorts of creative folk, by salt-of-the-earth Midwesterners and old country people alike. By the curious, and even the spiteful…for I believe Covenant will hold its own in whatever company seeks to check it out and take it in. Enjoy!

What new writing projects are you currently working on? Or, other projects that are not writing?

Again, Im not the author of Covenant, nor really a writer, though I do dabble a bit. I have two projects that hang in the wings, waiting for the right time. One is a series of children’s stories, the Fellows Farm Collection. These stories come from the real-life adventures on our hobby farm, with titles such as Puddle Day, Is That My Duck?, Liquid Goat, and Maud and Matilda’s Zuni Adventures. The stories are funny, full of the emotions that make life real, coupled, I hope, with humorous depictions of the feathered and furry folk that enriched our life together. I hope to incorporate my mother’s cliches for good living as morals for the stories. The second, more serious project, Stories from the Edge, I imagine as a series of clinical vignettes from my experience as a senior supervising psychologist working in ethically challenging settings (the prison, on the reservation, in solo practice). Meanwhile, I garden, visit my donkeys, now retired, and care for the people in my life.

How was working with Atmosphere Press? What would you tell other writers who want to publish?

Awesome! Working with Atmosphere Press was better than I ever could have imagined. I felt shepherded through a clearly defined and professionally executed set of steps all designed to bring a wish to completion. The process itself was flexible enough to accommodate both obstacles and idiosyncrasies, while efficient and professional in focus and goal. I was clearly in charge of the process, but I was never alone with the work. The editorial and design support was remarkable—I really felt that from the beginning Nick Courtright “got it”—taking the risk to publish a decades-old manuscript of a now-deceased poet. His initial encouragement and belief in the project set me on the path to follow through. Trista was a delight to work with; I looked forward to her feedback, knowing she had chosen to take this project on and recognizing the kindred spirit she shared with Kate. I had so much fun thinking things through and seeing the work through her eyes. Alex and Cameron took Covenant from print to market. I am still amazed at how beautiful this little book is. From the Raven cover to the typeface, Atmosphere Press outdid itself in transforming a wannabe piece of work lost to an old filing cabinet to a beautiful volume of visionary—albeit deeply personal, some might even say confessional—poetry. Kate would be so proud of Covenant, for Atmosphere Press really outdid itself fulfilling the vision she had so many years ago. I am ever grateful.

You can buy Covenant here.

Are you a writer, too? Submit your manuscript to Atmosphere Press.

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