Checkered Mates

Checkered Mates

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Tricia Knoll is a Vermont poet who sometimes feels she has learned most of what she knows the hard way. She is deeply grateful for family, poet friends, and mentors who contributed to her learning. And the two dogs of the pandemic. Mates in the deep sense.

Her work appears widely in journals and anthologies and has received nine Pushcart nominations and one Best of Net. Her chapbook Urban Wild (Finishing Line Press) focuses on interactions between wildlife and humans in urban habitat. Ocean’s Laughter (Aldrich Press) details change over time, both personal and environmental, in the small coastal town of Manzanita, Oregon. Broadfork Farm (The Poetry Box) highlights the creatures and people of a small organic farm in Trout Lake, Washington where Knoll was a regular farmsitter. How I Learned To Be White (Antrim House) details Knoll’s exploration of the impact of white privilege in her family background, education, and growing awareness of racial inequality. How I Learned To Be White received the 2018 Indie Book Award for Motivational Poetry.

Before coming out as a poet (printing a business card), Knoll studied literature at Stanford University (BA) and Yale University (MAT). She taught high school English for ten years, killing Julius Caesar in a classroom some twenty-two times. From there she went on to Public Relations for Portland, Oregon’s Children Museum; and served as the Public Information Officer for the Portland Water Bureau—writing the staples of a water utility and wishing they were poetry. She was a FEMA-trained emergency responder to Hurricane Katrina.

She has spasmodic dysphonia, a neurological speech glitch, that gives her a healthy respect for silence and dogs who understand her every word.


In a letter-poem to her first husband, who’s having sex-change surgery, Tricia Knoll writes, “You are wise to join us. We need all the smart ones we can assemble.” Knoll might well chair that assembly herself; but the poet’s piercing intelligence is enhanced in this superb collection by wryness, compassion, and often enough, humor. Precise and rangy at once, she seems to strike the right note no matter what she considers, her work aptly served by her uncanny eye for exact and eloquent detail.

 ~ Sydney Lea, Poet Laureate of Vermont (2011–2015)

The poems in Tricia Knoll’s Checkered Mates—by turns tender, raw, and truthful—mark a departure from her usual work. Though her lifelong intimacy with the natural world remains omnipresent in this volume as well, she more often turns her incisive gaze toward humans, and her own past relationships. Yet no matter the subject, the “honest harvest” of these poems is always their authentic unfolding, so that we emerge from each poem, and the book as a whole, more aware of our own mortality, ready to “break open / the way love does.”

 ~ James Crews, Editor of How to Love the World: Poems of Gratitude & Hope

Tricia Knoll is an original, her slant on life curious, generous, cheeky, and always surprising as she “backtrack[s] matrimonial trails” and “embrace[s] bare facts,” including the “kindness of getting old.” Whether standing on a dike in New Orleans, lifting weights with a friend, or waiting in the airport for an ex-husband who has undergone gender affirming surgery, she remains alert to eros, compassion, and the play of metaphor. For all the life in her narratives, her rhythms and sounds are equal to them—“Low-slung, the lunar face is acned styrofoam,” or “A soft wind dries the sweat of climb”—as she moves through poems with the tenacity of a chess player. Mate. 

 ~ Rebecca Starks, Author of Time Is Always Now

Paperback: 52 pages
Publisher: Kelsay Books (March 13, 2021)

Highland Park Poetry Review by John Leotta 
Seven Days