Poet and author Mike Katko, left, chats Tuesday with Keith Lewis following the Rotary Club of Los Alamos meeting for which Katko was the guest speaker. Photo by Maire O’Neill/losalamosreporter.com
Mike Katko, left, enjoys a laugh Tuesday with Rotary Club of Los Alamos President Vincent Chiravalle. Photo by Maire O’Neill/losalamosreporter.com
BY MAIRE O’NEILL
“Poetry shows us the emotions of love are real. These are not just our emotions but human emotions. Poetry can take you places very subtly that prose cannot. Poetry is the only history we have of human emotions. It is a timeless record of feelings common to all human life. A good poem is a little tap on your shoulder to remind you to pay attention, that life is but one precious moment,” local poet and author Mike Katko told Rotary Club of Los Alamos members during their Tuesday meeting at Cottonwood on the Greens,
Katko read from “Skies and Other Things’, a book of his poetry and spoke of his upcoming novel, “Big Medicine, Pretty Water”. The oldest of seven children, Katko has an interesting and diverse background. He is a Vietnam War veteran, a former construction worker and pizzeria owner and was a school teacher and principal for 17 years. He is currently the program coordinator community education at the University of New Mexico-Los Alamos.
Katko explained to his fellow Rotarians how he got into poetry.
“I grew up in Spain and all over as my dad was in the service. During the end of the Vietnam years we ended up in Cheyenne, Wyo. We used to go to the rodeo there and I was standing next to this old crusty cowboy and there was a parade going on. There was another cowboy with a lasso on a big horse with his big hat on and dressed up to the max. I looked up at the old cowboy and I said, ‘Man, that’s a real cowboy,’. The old guy looked at me and said, ‘He’s all hat and no cattle’. So when I heard that I was just a little kid. Everything I envisioned about what a real cowboy was or what a fake cowboy was, was in just those few words. That stuck with me. That a few words could mean so much – I think that’s where my interest in poetry started,” he explained.
Katko said poetry takes him into his imagination which is his favorite place to be.
“I grew up a poor child in the sixties and my imagination was my pastime. I grew up as Richard Brautigan would say, in an America before television crippled the imagination of America and turned people indoors and away from living out their fantasies,” he said.
Katko gave some insight into “Big Medicine, Pretty Water” which he said is a work of historical fiction based on that time when there was prohibition and a lot of land grabbing from Native Americans.
“So imagine if you were a young orphan Native American girl growing up in a train village in 1927 in Northern New Mexico, in a town controlled by a powerful train manager and a bootlegger that’s trying to destroy the way of life. And also imagine a person that attracts Big Medicine – divine intervention,” he said.
Pretty Water was a real person Katko met when he was a school principal in Pojoaque, Katko said but the person in the book is a different person.
Asked where he gets his inspiration, he said he is inspired all the time.
“I have a rampant imagination that takes me all kinds of places. I have always enjoyed stories my grandfather had. I grew up where I didn’t have a lot of toys to play with and we would make up games all day long,” he said.
Katko also discussed his writing process.
“The poetry just hit me – I’d just scratch something down on a little piece of paper and then craft it into a poem later on. The novel came from talking to some friends. It started out as a story about a Native American football team when I was coaching and teaching. I saw these boys and they would just tell lies. And I asked them why do you guys lie all the time. And they would look at me with these blank faces, like what do you mean, everybody lies. No we don’t lie,” he said.
He said he was talking to some friends and he was writing a story about an Indian football team.
“After about four or five chapters I looked and there were no women in the book. I said, well I’ve got to put a woman in here somewhere. So I started writing about my grandmother and my great-grandmother was in Acoma in Sky City and she one day went down she want down where she had her sheep down in the valley below Acoma city and she found two soldiers tied up by the Mescalero Apache so she untied them and took them back up to Acoma and she ended up marrying the one with the green eyes,” Katko said. “I started thinking about all those women back then who had no voice. They were captured by soldiers and taken in and forced to be wives. So I thought about that and when I started writing from that point of view, “Big Medicine, Pretty Water” just kind of wrote itself.”
He said he finished a rough draft in just a couple of days. It now has about 30 chapters, he said and he just kept drawing on that inspiration and thinking about his grandmother. The novel has been edited once and now it’s going back to a copy editor, he said. Local photographer Elena Giorgi is working with him on a book cover.
In the meantime, Katko’s book of poetry. may be purchased through Wilhelmena Press at www.mikekatko.com.
Mike Katko describes his writing process Tuesday for fellow Rotarians at their regular weekly meeting. Photo by Maire O’Neill/losalamosreporter.com
Local poet and author Mike Katko signs copies of his poetry following Tuesday’s meeting of the Rotary Club of Los Alamos at Cottonwood on the Greens. Photo by Maire O’Neill/losalamosreporter.com