Hard Life, Hard Love | Kathryn Gahl

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Kathryn Gahl’s poems are filled with the sweet but hard liquor of life. With delicious details, she writes of domesticity, of rural living, of taverns and school busses, of grease guns and chainsaws. Details like “the sound the treetops/make when they touch the sky” and “… a cuddle-mad moon” show her skill as a wordsmith. For me, there is a deep resonance, especially with poems of her mother. They remind me of my mother and grandmother’s endless and often thankless work. Gahl is a poet of great skill and heart.

-Karla Huston: Wisconsin Poet Laureate 2017—2018 and author of Grief Bone and A Theory of Lipstick, both winners of the Wisconsin Library Association Outstanding Achievement Award.


There is a language unique to the rural Midwest, a language those who have lived its seasons and walked its fields can never leave behind, regardless of where life takes them. Kathryn Gahl’s, Hard Life, Hard Love, speaks this language through the common experiences of farm families and the work of farming. For all those who once called a Rural Route home, and for those who live there now, these poems capture the rural experience shared, and valued, by so many.

 Daniel Smith, author of Ancestral


With Hard Life, Hard Love, Kathryn Gahl invites us into a farmhouse, its kitchen and porch, and she shares beans, tomatoes, and mice with her signature humor and unexpected turns of phrase. The oscillation among need, desire, and a desperation to avoid suffering is the marrow of Gahl’s poems, each of which tells a story, clear in details and concrete, yet more than one expects from simple moments with grilled cheese sandwiches. 

Emily Bowles, author of The Satisfactory Nothingness of Girls





Kathryn Gahl began writing as a farm girl and kept writing through dual degrees in English and nursing, a career as nurse manager, and mothering a daughter and son, alone.

Her fiction, nonfiction, and poetry—appearing in over fifty journals, three anthologies, and four ekphrastic art shows—have won numerous awards, including The Hal Prize for Fiction and Poetry, the Lorine Niedecker Poetry Award, and an Outstanding Achievement Award from the Wisconsin Library Association for The Velocity of Love, a memoir. Cornerstone Press selected Messengers of the Gods: New & Selected Poems for its Portage Poetry Series.

When not writing, she enjoys cooking, deep sleep, and dancing mad-hot ballroom.




Hot Summer Sofa

A cricket on the sofa crossed her legs
settled her see-through wings
no one noticed her or offered her a drink
she didn’t mind, she said to the spiders who
        dropped in
she didn’t mind missing the
mug of beer and cubed cheese.
It didn’t work to crash the party
open her shyness
she could only chirp and strum
when she was invisible
alone on the hot summer sofa
long after the Sheepshead players
had gone home