Photo by Janne Debes
Ken Autrey lives in Auburn, Alabama, where he has helped coordinate the Third Thursday Poetry Series since 2013. He earned degrees from Davidson College, Auburn University, and the University of South Carolina. He is an Emeritus Professor of English at Francis Marion University in South Carolina, where he taught poetry, creative nonfiction, and advanced composition. Previously, he served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Ghana and taught at Tougaloo College in Mississippi. He spent one year as a visiting professor at Hiroshima University in Japan.
His work has appeared in Chattahoochee Review, Cimarron Review, Poetry Northwest, Southern Poetry Review, Texas Review, and many other journals. In addition to Penelope in Repose, winner of the 2021 Helen Kay Chapbook Contest (Evening Street Press), he has published three chapbooks: Pilgrims (Main Street Rag), Rope Lesson (Longleaf Press), and The Wake of the Year (Solomon and George).
Ken is married to Janne Debes. They have two daughters and six grandchildren.
Penelope in Repose is that rare poetic feat: a series of poems which make a successful whole, a story complete and real and powerful. These poems choose the inside, to use a cliché. But these poems are never merely that: the subject, Penelope, is indeed family to the writer, someone he’s met, admired late in her life, and who now deserves, in her final absence, someone to carry on in that voice. The work is moving, dramatic, and striking in its imagery. —Robert Parham, author of The Relentlessness of Salvation
These elegies conclude with remarkable subtlety, paying tribute to the life they’re about by representing it truly. They include the routine along with the revelatory, and tender details as well as bigger ideas about the limits of a poet’s knowledge. Realistic as the poems are, they preserve a sense of possibilities: that the writer can reach a greater understanding of the deceased, and that we might perceive people better too, whether they are strangers or our own selves. The main character’s stories blur as she leaves this world, yet Autrey, ever generous, gives readers beautiful images in which to dwell. —Rose McLarney, author of Forage
Each poetic portrait in Penelope in Repose captures more than a mere moment. Instead, they “stretch out time / a rope plunging into a thicket,” showcasing the breadth of a life that spans from dog-sledding in Alaska to contemplative smoking in Alabama. Penelope, a woman who “doesn’t dare imagine sleep,” becomes real to us in Ken Autrey’s remarkable collection. –Tina Mozelle Braziel, Known by Salt