"Acting needs witnesses, a whole theater of citizens."
Catherine Theis' translations of the Italian poet Jolanda Insana is forthcoming from the University of Chicago Press in their Phoenix Poets series as Slashing Sounds. Her critical book, H.D.'s Dramatic Poetics, will also be published by Dalkey Archive Press. She is the author of MEDEA (Plays Inverse, 2017), an adaptation of the Euripides story. Her first book of poems is The Fraud of Good Sleep (Salt Modern Poets, 2011), followed by her chapbook, The June Cuckold, a tragedy in verse (Convulsive, 2012). Theis has received various fellowships and awards, most notably from the Illinois Arts Council, Del Amo Foundation, Gold Family Foundation, and the Ugo Da Como Foundation. A graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, she holds a PhD in Literature and Creative Writing from the University of Southern California. Theis’ scholarly interests primarily focus on the intersection between translation, poetics, and performance studies. She teaches in the General Education program at USC.
Her work has been published in a collection of essays titled Classics in Modernist Translation (Bloomsbury, 2019), a volume that addresses modernist engagements with the literature of Greco-Roman antiquity. Her contribution, “Braving the elements: H.D.’s and Jeffers’ ‘transduction’ of Euripides,” explores the similarities between poets H.D. and Robinson Jeffers and their interest in the choral odes of Euripides’ The Bacchae. Read a review of the book here and here.
Through a mix of sound-poems, dance, and traditional scenes, Catherine Theis attempts to jostle Medea from her traditional, male-defined narrative in this modern retelling set in the mountains of Montana.
A 2015 Leslie Scalapino Award for Innovative Women Performance Writers finalist, MEDEA features a Chorus of Flames, choreography for The Milky Way, and a collection of palate-cleansing satyr plays to be performed after. Grappling with both love and language, Theis' Medea "wants to join with the world, to meld with it. Let's let her do that—see what falls away."
Read the reviews:
in Full Stop
Read an interview:
with James Pate in Entropy
Performance produced by Poetry Is
THE FRAUD OF GOOD SLEEP
The Fraud of Good Sleep is a book of “serious humanist” poems. Theis’s poems combine a stunning, classical rigor with a passionate madness that is utterly contemporary and surprising. From prose poems and extended lyric sequences to translations and fragments, this book attempts to enfold the living past into the insane present.
"Paradise Sauna" from TYPO
selections from The Fraud of Good Sleep
‘Catherine Theis’s The Fraud of Good Sleep is a riotous and refined celebration of language. It is elegant and erudite without ever being stuffy, and surprising at every turn. A truly dashing collection, full of glitter, and everywhere intimating the “joy in the mountains very near.”’
‘With The Fraud of Good Sleep, Catherine Theis gives us poetry as sensuous, glinting energy. Swerving between the intimate and the adamant, these poems feel like letters written to you by someone who’s in love with the world—someone whose eyes and heart are wide open, who’s learned (and keeps learning) from the ancients, who can mingle her voice with Sappho’s and smile wickedly at Dante. There are musings on cities and foods (“Who will bring the chocolates weather permitting?”), mock lectures, disarming wisdom (“Fidelity, the sea we share in peaceful times”), and exhortations to live—to live well. “My concern,” writes Theis, “is with circumference, many-faceted / crystal wine glasses, Roman aqueducts, all sorts / of highway thinking.” These are poems flashing with wonder and humor, but “roughed in sorrow,” hard-won in their realizations. They are full of the bright ache of being alive.’
THE JUNE CUCKOLD AND OTHER TRAGEDIES
The June Cuckold floods us in the erotic vegetable splendor of an English garden. Amid “the underneath whispering of peonies,” a chorus of insects bears witness to the exploits of Emily and Ray, a photographer rake. From the same bower, Emily’s daughter Peyton lives as a botanical aesthete, snapping photos and making sketches in charcoal, “mindful of my mother’s garden map.” And Samuel, Emily’s husband, reflects with detachment on the tragedy, ecstasy and doom stitched together by “the liberal thread” of life. What ensues is a simultaneously epicurean and meditative ensemble of voices that confirms Walter Pater’s suspicion that “the way to perfection is through a series of disgusts.”
"Various Instructions for California," from Denver Quarterly
"The Beginning," from Guesthouse: a panoply of modern writing
"Excerpts from Your Baby Book," from The Account
"Imaginary Lives," "In the Unresolved Cadence," "New Year's Day," and "The Vacant Seat," from Firmament
"Wildfires" from Prelude
"A Whole Army to Feed" from Quarterly West
selections from "Buen Clima" from Dream Pop Journal
"A Work of Art" from Yalobusha Review
"Aphorisms" from Diagram
"On Not Understanding Greek" from Tarpaulin Sky
"Indecipherable Hieroglyph," from Annulet: A Journal of Poetics
"Speechless Complainer, What is it Like?" from The New Orleans Review
"Shocked into Speech" from At Length
"Noose soaked in orange blossom water,"Jolanda Insana, The Paris Review, No. 245, Fall 2023
"Translation, free and wild" from Jacket2
IN THE NEWS
Read an article here.