Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Denise Low on Indigenous Writers of Kansas, for Ks Literary Map project

Indigenous Writers and Kansas, May 29, 2019 Denise Low, Ph.D.

for the Kansas Literature Map Project of Washburn University
sponsored by Humanities Kansas, Washburn, and Haskell Indian Nations University

          Kansas, in the center of the United States, is a crossroads in the history of Indigenous peoples. It enters settler history with the Louisiana Purchase of 1803, between the 18th and 19th centuries. The region is geographically on the cusp of the “frontier” in that history: Kansas City is the gateway to the West. Kansas writers inherit complicated histories and landscapes.
The terrain varies widely. Parts of the state are western high plains and canyonlands, and in the southeast, at the other extreme, is a section of the Ozarks. In between are short-grass prairies, wetlands, and oak savannahs. Nineteenth century land trails are the Oregon, Santa Fe, Chisholm, and Pony Express; and each evokes a history.
Before the United States government colonized the region, nations that lived here included: Arapaho, Cheyenne, Comanche, Kaw, Kiowa, Lakota, Osage, Pawnee, Otoe and Missouria, and Wichita peoples. As European settlement pushed west, all of these nations were deposed from their lands, but not without conflict.
The U.S. government designated this region as an Indian Territory at the time of the 1830 Indian Removal Act. About thirty Eastern tribal nations were relocated to reservations in Kansas, including Lenape and Munsee (Delaware), Shawnee, Miami, Kaw, Osage, Peoria, and Wyandot. Today, four federally recognized tribal nations remain from those times: Potawatomi, Kickapoo, Sac and Fox, and the Iowa Tribe of Kansas and Nebraska. In addition, federally recognized tribes in Oklahoma have land holdings in Kansas, notably the Wyandotte Nation, which has three casinos in the Kansas City, Kansas, area; and the Delaware Tribe of Oklahoma, which has a second tribal headquarters in Caney, Kansas, and eighty acres in North Lawrence, currently undeveloped.
Kansas is adjacent to Oklahoma, which was the reduced Indian Territory from 1834 to 1907, and migrations from one state to another are common. As the Civil War conflict spread into Indian Territory in the 1860s, tribal groups that sympathized with the Union fled into Kansas. Some returned after the war, and some did not. During World War II, many Oklahomans of all backgrounds migrated to Wichita to work in the airplane factories. Oklahomans and other neighboring states send large contingents of students to school at Haskell Indian Nations University. Haskell has, according to its website today,  students from “150 federally recognized sovereign nations from 38 states.” Most of these return home, but some remain in Kansas.
          Haskell has been an important center for Native education since 1884, and many students and staff have distinguished themselves as writers, from Ella Deloria to Stephen Paul Judd. Native Kansas writers come from this complicated map. They may identify as members of federally recognized tribal members from Kansas or elsewhere. They may be members of unrecognized remnant groups of Indian Territory when it included Kansas. Academic migrants form a substantial group of Kansas-related authors. They are often transients who spend some time as professors in the state and move on.
          Perhaps the most distinguished writer with Kansas connections is Ella Deloria, Dakota (1889-1971), an early anthropologist who worked with Franz Boas, founder of that social science. She is aunt to the author Vine Deloria, Junior. Her publications include Waterlily and Iron Hawk, novels; Dakota Narratives, a collection of stories; and numerous other anthropological and narrative prose publications and papers. At Haskell from 1923 to 1928 she taught dance and physical education. In the summers, she worked with Boas with Lakota linguistics and other projects, often uncredited. In 1928, she published The Wohpe Festival  (Multilith), and that early publication must have been a writing project from her Haskell days. Her extensive online archives, sponsored by the American Indian Studies Research Institute of Indiana University, include all of her books and articles.
          Langston Hughes is another famous writer with Kansas ties. Although he was born in Joplin, Missouri, in 1901, as a baby his mother moved him back to her mother’s home in Lawrence. He benefitted from the Lawrence school system for his early educational skills and also his grandmother’s schooling in oral traditions of her family. She had ties to the Pamunkey Indian Tribe of Virginia, which finally gained federal recognition in 2015, and to Eastern Cherokees. Hughes describes her as a Native woman in his autobiography, “My grandmother looked like an Indian - with very long black hair. She said she could lay claim to Indian land, but that she never wanted the government (or anybody else) to give her anything." Langston never knew his grandfather Charles Langston, and his father was in Mexico. Often his mother was traveling to find work, so Grandmother Langston was the writer’s most influential family member. He opens The Big Sea with a description of his mixed identity:

You see, unfortunately, I am not black. There are lots of different kinds of blood in our family. But here in the United States, the word "Negro" is used to mean anyone who has any Negro blood at all in his veins. In Africa, the word is more pure. It means all Negro, therefore black. I am brown.

He challenges the idea that identity can be reduced to a simple formula, and he suggests some of his complexities in his positioning in the African American community. My Lawrence biography of Hughes, co-authored with Thomas Weso, gives some of his diverse background and connections to abolitionists in Kansas.
          These two authors also illustrate the extremes of identity among Kansas writers. Enrolled Native writers reared in Kansas include Joshua Falleaf, Lara Mann, Pamela Dawes Tambornino, Gwen Westerman, Robert Warrior, and Daniel Wildcat. All of these Kansas natives have ties to Haskell except Westerman, who attended K.U. I am including writers of critical essays in this list, as well as creative writers—but not technical writers.
          One of the more prominent Kansas-born writers is Gwen Westerman. Westerman is a quilter, an academic, a poet, and a storyteller. She has dual enrollment in very different tribes, Cherokee Nation and Sisseton-Wahpeton Dakota Oyate. She studied with my mentor at KU, Bernard Hirsch, who taught English and American Indian Literature at KU in the 1970s. She is a faculty member at the University of Minnesota-Mankato. Westerman co-wrote MniSota Makoce: The Land of the Dakota, with Bruce White, which won a Minnesota Book Award. Her collection of poetry, written in Dakota and English, is entitled Follow the Blackbirds. Her poetry is receiving recognition, as Heid Erdrich included her in the important anthology, New Poets of Native Nations (Greywolf, 2018).
          Pamela Dawes Tambornino is a prose writer whose collection of stories, Maggie’s Story: Teachings of a Cherokee Healer, is an authentic account of her experiences with her Oklahoma grandmother. She also has Osage tribal heritage through her father, and this is another example of complicated ancestry. Pam was former director of the Haskell library, when she won the national federal librarian award of the year, and she also taught in the English department for ten years. She has publications in Tribal College Journal, the Chicken Soup for the Soul series, Summerset Review, and Yellow Medicine Review. She has been living in Linwood and just moved to Lawrence.
Joshua Falleaf, enrolled Lenape from Caney, Kansas, whose MFA is in poetry writing, has been a professor at Haskell since 2010. He writes poetry and essays, and his background and scholarship are assets to his teaching of Native students. He also has had responsibilities with his ceremonial grounds in Oklahoma.
Thomas Pecore Weso, my husband almost thirty years, came to Haskell from the Menominee reservation in Wisconsin, as did his mother, aunts, and uncles, and also the generation before that, his grandfather and great uncles. His Prairie Band Potawatomi great-grandfather may have been a student here as well. His family illustrates the deep ties to Haskell many Indigenous people have to this Kansas institution. His award-winning book Good Seeds: A Menominee Indian Food Memoir, has sold well and won national and international recognition. He is at work on his second memoir for Wisconsin Historical Society Press.
Devon Mihesuah, enrolled Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma with Chickasaw heritage, has published, according to her website, over a hundred “refereed journal essays, book chapters, commentaries, editorials, and books.” These include award-winning novels, food essays, a biography of the Cherokee Ned Christie, and much more. She edited the influential American Indian Quarterly for nine years and has been at the University of Kansas since 2005. Her critiques of the field Indigenous Studies appear in numerous articles and important books.
Luci Tapahonso, Diné, is a prominent transient writer who lived in Lawrence. She taught at K.U. from 1990 to 1999, while her husband Robert Martin was president of Haskell. She is author of poetry, children’s books, and essays—the latter of which I believe are not recognized enough for their important insights about rhetorical differences between the Diné and English literary traditions. She writes in Diné and often uses a syntax that reflects her first language. Perhaps less well known is her activism while in Lawrence. She insisted on the establishment of an Indigenous Nations Studies graduate degree as part of her negotiations with KU, as well as a diversity fellowship. She served on the Kansas Arts Commission and received a Kansas Governor’s Arts Award. She has left her mark on the state.
Among writers who have heritage but are not enrolled, Diane Glancy deserves special comment. She recently has a member of the First Families of the Cherokee Nation, which suggests a new category for people with heritage but no tribal membership. She writes about her work:

My heritage affects my worldview. For years, I have written about Native history, and I have done research to uncover unrecognized and overlooked parts of that history. I have traveled to the places where that history happened. I have written about the importance of land, of being, of presence.

She grew up in Kansas City, where her father worked in the meat packing plants, and she lives in Prairie Village, Kansas. Since 1984 she has published poetry, fiction, essays, and drama. Her novel Pushing the Bear (Harcourt, 1996) retells the Cherokee Trail of Tears with historical accuracy and detailed maps. She has innovative approaches to literary structures in all of her writings. Her edited collections include Visiting Tipi Town: Native Writing after the Detours, an essential text of hybrid genre writings for me when teaching at Haskell.
          Linda Rodriguez, born in Fowler, Kansas, graduated from high school in Manhattan. Her  Cherokee heritage is the basis of her writings, including the most recent book of poetry, Dark Sister, nominated for an Oklahoma Book Award. She won a St. Martins Press/Malice Domestic Best First Traditional Mystery Novel Competition for her first Skeet Bannion mystery, which was also a Barnes & Noble Mystery Pick. She has published ten books, and more are pending.
These are some comments about writers with connections to this region, and all the writers deserve thoughtful readers beyond this annotated catalogue. To summarize some insights about these authors and their writings:

  • ·        They reflect contemporary situations for Native peoples, even when writing about historic themes. None romanticizes or simplifies a complicated history. Pushing the Bear, by Glancy, is informed by deep geography as a structure. Mihesuah’s Ned Christie biography engages with issues of biased journalism and influence of mainstream stereotypes like the larger-than-life savage.
  • ·        Careful research informs the works, so vague generalities about Native peoples, prevalent in the pulp Westerns of the 20th century, are not perpetuated. Tribal affiliations are specific.
  • ·        They reflect the complexity of multiple viewpoints. As people of mixed heritages and/or histories, they balance multiple perspectives without one erasing the other, as Tambornino presents her Cherokee grandmother’s life in the Osage community of Pawhuska, for one example.
  • ·        Forces of nature and land’s rights are essential.
Here are some thoughts about the future of Indigenous writers in Kansas.
  • ·        We will see more writers of several tribes, either dually enrolled or with one official enrollment but other cultural influences. Gwen Westerman is one example of this.
  • ·        Writers with three, four, and more tribal affiliations will create a new kind of diversity among Native writers.
  • ·        Indigenous people from Mexico and other Latin American countries will find recognition as another category of Native writer, outside of U.S. government recognition. The current poet laureate of Kansas, Huascar Medina, is of indigenous Panamanian (and Puerto Rican descent). Xánath Caraza of Kansas City, Missouri, is an immigrant from Vera Cruz whose mother is Aztec. She has published trilingual poetry in Nahuatl, Spanish, and English.
  • ·        The visual and written arts will merge, as in the works of Stephen Paul Judd, Choctaw and Kiowa; Thomas Yeahpau, Kiowa; and Tvli Jacobs, Choctaw—all former students at Haskell involved with film and text.
  • ·        Indigenous people will continue to select media that will enhance their abilities to sustain and develop traditions.

The diversity of Kansas Indigenous writers reflects the central position of Kansas on the continent. It is midway in history of European settlement and also in geography, as Haskell and other universities continue to attract people from many nations. The attention of Kansans to education, even when in self-interest as in the founding of Haskell Institute, creates an environment that encourages writing and writing communities. These communities, within and across tribal membership lines, will continue the storytelling in genres that are simultaneously old and new.   

Native American Kansas Writers
This annotated list is intended as a beginning point for further researchers. The emphasis is on literary writers.

Joshua Falleaf, Caney (Delaware), MFA, McNeese State University, Haskell faculty 2010 to present.
Diane Glancy, Kansas City area (Cherokee heritage), numerous publications about Native life and awards in all genres.
Langston Hughes, Lawrence (Pamunkey and other heritages), writes in his autobiography The Big Sea of his Native heritage and conflicted identity as a mixed-blood person. He lived in Lawrence from infancy to age 13. Wikipedia has the correct birth date and information about Hughes
Denise (Dotson) Low, Emporia (Delaware heritage),
Lara Mann, Valley Center (Choctaw), published Indigenous Game Theory (Chickasaw Press, with LeeAnn Howe), and poetry chapbook, “A Song of Ascents and Descents" Salt Publishing (UK) in 2014 in Effigies II
Linda Rodriguez, Manhattan (Cherokee heritage) with numerous publications including the Skeet Bannion detective series and poetry. and
Gwen Westerman, Wichita and did her PhD at K.U. (Cherokee and Sisseton-Wahpeton Dakota Oyate)
Robert Warrior (Osage), Marion County,
Daniel Wildcat (Yuchi),  Coffeyville,

Native American Writers Connected to Haskell or KU
Christie Cooke, (Dine), MFA, University of Arizona, Haskell faculty 2008 to present
Stephanie Fitzgerald ([Cree] Nehiyaw/Ininiw, at KU 2000-2019, director of Indigenous Studies, Arizona State University, 2019). Books include: Native Women and Land: Narratives of Dispossession and Resurgence ​(University of New Mexico Press, 2015), and co-editor of Keepers of the Morning Star: An Anthology of Native Women's Theater ​(UCLA American Indian Studies Center, 2003).
George Godfrey (Potawatomi, 1993-2001)
Tvli Jacob (Choctaw, former Haskell student), filmmaker from Oklahoma.
Steven Paul Judd  (Choctaw and Kiowa, former Haskell student), , co-author with Thomas Yeahpah,  The Last Pow-Wow (Create Space, 2016).
Devon Mihesuah (Choctaw, at KU since 2005), author of award-winning books of fiction, history, and Native food culture,
Theresa Milk (Lakota, Haskell B.S.Ed., Ph.D. at KU, faculty at Haskell 2001-2016), Haskell Institute: 19th Century Stories of Sacrifice and Survival  (Mammoth).
James Thomas Stevens, Aronhiótas (Mohawk, at Haskell 1994-2001), poet, published his first book in Lawrence with First Intensity Press, Lee Chapman publisher. Now faculty at Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe.
Luci Tapahonso (Dine, taught in the KU English Department from 1989-1999), First Navajo Nation Poet Laureate,
Thomas Pecore Weso (Menominee, AA degree from Haskell 1993, BGS and MA, University of Kansas), resident of Lawrence 30 years. Good Seeds: A Menominee Indian Food Memoir (Wisconsin Historical Society Press, 2016), and a second memoir completed
Diane Willie (Dine, AA from Haskell, B.Ed. KU, graduate studies at KU in creative writing and education), chapbook of short fiction, Sharp Rocks (Mammoth). She teaches at Native American Community Academy in Albuquerque.

Thomas Yeahpah (Kiowa, former Haskell student), co-author with Steven Paul Judd,  The Last Pow-Wow (Create Space, 2016)  

See Washburn's literary map of Kansas:

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Denise Low Remembers the New American Poetry Collection at the Kenneth Spencer Library

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, John Moritz started a reading series and asked me to join an advisory group for the "Literary Ephemera" at the University of Kansas' Kenneth Spencer Research Library. The group included Moritz, Kenneth Irby, myself, and Rob Melton, founder of this collection now known as the New American Poetry Collection. We met regularly and planned for readers to visit Lawrence in association with the collection. These included Joanne Kyger, Robert Duncan, Edward Dorn, Tom Raworth, and others. A belated thank you to John Moritz, who demonstrated the importance of individual support of such endeavors.
Since that time I have been aware of how important libraries are as vibrant vessels that hold and celebrate poetry as well as many other kinds of texts and artifacts.  Language is something we learn all our lives, and as Leslie Marmon Silko explains in the novel Ceremony, it is “a continuing process,” connected to a webwork, and each word has a history of its uses. Each word is refreshed each time we use it. 
I so appreciate this wonderful literary tradition we share, in all its permutations. And I thank you for sharing this moment with me and the literary community we form together.

Friday, April 26, 2019

Denise Low on Moods in Poetry: Line Lengths


Anger, joy, infatuation, grief: each casts a specific spell. Emotions may blaze or give off a slow warmth. When the poem is convincing, the emotion rekindles in the mind and body of the reader. Limericks set up expectations of humor, not elegies. Simple rhymes are for children’s verse, not odes to nightingales. Length of lines and overall length of poems can signal mood to readers without words. Here are some general examples:

Å     Spells: Repetitive short phrases and refrains to effect change
Å     Romance: Lyrical short poems, songs, and sonnets
Å     Anger: Personal and/or rage against injustice—quick and pointed
Å     Sorrow: Lyrical elegy (for lost love or lost souls), shorter poems
Å     Awe: Short expressions of intense surprise
Å     Occasional poems: poems to commemorate public events, medium length (long enough to lend gravitas). These have moods that vary.
Å     Humor: Mixed forms with contrasts, tricksters, rhymes, irony
Å     Whimsy: Games, riddles, word acrobatics
Å     Joy: Extended delight at a more conversational pace
Å     Celebration: The classical ode, a longer form
Å     Reflection: Compositions rooted in memory and observation
Å     Nature Poems or Biofilia: Patterns of nature’s processes
Å     Depression: Less intense poems, maybe with narration

Parallel, repetitive lines make this long-married love poem into a spell. Try this form with your topic.

I Marry Your    by Denise Low
I marry your late lamplight insomnia
I marry your pierced ear lobe with no earring, half closed
I marry your political views
I marry your stepfather who disappeared
I marry your warm hand’s fleshy comfort
I marry your sweet silky skin laid against mine
I marry your stereo system thumping acid rock
I marry socks, underwear, and shirts you cannot sort
I marry your slow-cooked pork with sauerkraut
I marry your tears when Uncle Buddy died
I marry your voice, its music of short vowels
I marry the twenty-odd years you have stacked your
    socks, underwear and shirts in the closet next to mine.

How does this format dictate how you write? What kind of emphasis is there, and how does that deepen mood?
Now take the same idea and rewrite it as a haiku (or other short form). Notice the changes in mood.

Moods in Poetry: A Guidebook for Writers (Mammoth, 2017). Denise Low is former Ks. Poet Laureate, professor, and author.

Wednesday, March 6, 2019


I became interested in the genre known as Plains Indian ledger art after viewing the Black Horse ledger at the Newberry Library in Chicago, in the 1990s. Becca Gerkin has an excellen article about the palimpsests of this ledger. It was my introduction to this genre. Ross Frank defines it as:
A transitional form of Plains Indian artistry corresponding to the forced reduction of Plains tribes to government reservations, roughly between 1860 and 1900. Due to the destruction of the buffalo herds and other game animals of the Great Plains by Anglo-Americans during and after the Civil War, painting on buffalo hide gave way to works on paper, muslin, canvas… .”
This is a primary narrative genre that is a graphic, literary, and authentic Native expression. I researched ledger art for classroom use at Haskell Indian Nations University, where I taught 25 years, and I continue to find it an Indigenous literary form that informs the present as it sustains cultural identities of recent and distant histories. It challenges and complicates European traditions of literature. 
Here are some links from my presentation at Native American Literature Symposium.
“Black Horse Ledger: Digital Collection for the Classroom.” The Newberry Library.
“Fort Robinson Breakout” Chief Dull Knife College. YouTube. Aug. 30, 2012.
Keyser, James D. The Five Crows Ledger: Biographic Warrior Art of the Flathead Indians. University of Utah Press, 2000.
Lindsay, Stacy. “Behind the Scenes of Moonrise Kingdom.”
Low, Denise. “Composite Indigenous Genres: Cheyenne Ledger Art as Literature.” Studies in American Indian Literature, vol. 18.2 (Summer 2006).
Low, Denise and Ramon Powers. “Northern Cheyenne Warrior Ledger Art: Captivity Narratives of Northern Cheyenne Prisoners in 1879 Dodge City.” Kansas History, vol. 35.1 (Spring 2012).
“Plains Indian Ledger Art.”
National Museum of American History. “Keeping History: Plains Indian Ledger Drawing. Smithsonian Institution.
Rose, Christina “Native History: Descendant Tells Father’s Story of Fort Robinson Escape Survivor Tells” Indian Country Today. Jan. 22, 2014.
Round, Philip H. “Bullet in a Bible.” Repatriation Files: Blog.
“Touching Coup.” Skinner Auctions. .
Lorraine Jessepe, “Homecoming: Contemporary Artist Chris Pappan Redefines Plains Indian Ledger Art,” Indian Country Today, Oct. 30, 2011, Examples of Pappan’s works are online at the Spencer Museum of Art “Heartland Reverberations,” an exhibition presented by the Spencer Museum of Art .
“Southern Cheyenne Art: George Levi,”, accessed Oct. 3, 2018. .
Levi, George. Buffalo-Check-George Levi, “Original Ledger Art,” Plains Indian Ledger Art, accessed Oct. 4, 2018. The drawing is 31/8 inches by 83/8 inches. .
Levi, George. Cheyenne Buffalo Hunt-George Levi, “Original Ledger Art,” Plains Indian Ledger Art, accessed Oct. 4, 2018. The drawing is 13 inches by 81/2 inches.
Buffalo Spirit, Alaina, Tell Them We are Going Home, Facebook Aug. 26, 2018. Accessed Oct. 4, 2018. . See a reproduction in this volume. Her biographical information is on the Department of Interior’s Indian Arts and Crafts Board page, “Alaina Buffalo Spirit,, October 26 - December 5, 2008, accessed Oct. 4, 2018. .
 Buffalo Spirit, Alaina,”, Sept. 23, 2011, accessed Oct. 4, 2018. . The image is on Flickr, .

            More of her art is on view, including Fort Robinson Survivors, in “This Is Art After All,” a TEDxBillings, YouTube.Com, Feb. 10, 2015. Accessed Oct. 4, 2018. .

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Denise Low Posts: William Stafford continues to inspire

Last Saturday of Jan. we celebrated the birthday of William Stafford, born in 1914 (the Sat. closest to his birthday was snowed out). The meeting room of the Watkins History Museum was filled for over 3 hours as people read his poems, reminisced, and read poems inspired by Stafford. Thanks to Ronda Miller for organizing this, the Kansas Authors Club, and the museum staff. Here are my remarks as I continue to think about this important man from western Kansas:
How I Use William Stafford’s Writing as a Model by Denise Low (c. 2019)
This title is false. I use William Stafford’s life as a model for living, and writing is an aspect of his influence. I met him often enough when I was beginning to write that I imprinted on him as a mentor. When I was co-editingCottonwood Review in the 1970s (with Mike Smetzer),  we corresponded with him regarding publication of a suite of poems. He came through Lawrence not long after, so then I met him in person. We had rejected a few of his poems—and I had been surprised to see some less good work from him. I worried he might have taken offense, but he opened his reading with the humble, “Editors are our friends. They help us publish the best work.” So I learned his generosity of spirit.
In 1990 when editing Kansas Poems of William Stafford, we corresponded and exchanged some phone calls. He was ever considerate. He was born the year before my father and within a few miles. He had the same dialect, in which he expressed similar dry humor and stern work ethic. I took him as a poetry father. Familiar were his models of submerged ego, moral sense of community responsibility, and aesthetic appreciation for nature. Once I read about an educational analysis of the most effective teaching techniques. The conclusion was that it didn’t matter what pedagogy a teacher used, but the students learned the most from passionate teachers. We remember not exact geography lessons from fourth grade, but more, we remember the presence of that teacher. Stafford is memorable as a passionate poet and my guide.
Stafford’s lessons are with me every time I read his poetry. The most important thing is that a poem is a living entity. It has a continuous existence within the webwork of language, where it enters the stream of literary tradition, in however humble or lofty a position. Joseph Harrington has written a book about newspaper poetry of the 19th century, a subgenre of the tradition and valuable in its own way. With print, electronic, and oral archives, poems continue to exist in a communal cache of language. 
A living poem needs to be an ember that has shape, texture, color,  smell, and heat (or cold). It pares down all extraneous “function” words like articles, prepositions. Too many adjectives and adverbs also slow down a poem, as well as repetitions. Most of all, a living poem is fresh, without cliché of language or thought. To be memorable poems within that literary fabric, the verbs need to ignite an immediacy.  This is Stafford’s genius.
  Treating a poem as a living entity also defines its shape—the sonnet-like lyric is Stafford’s best métier, and perhaps mine as well. It is brief enough to sustain a poem’s flame yet long enough to spin out a brief story and resolution.
And the most important thing: the living poem has electricity when its surprise is revealed. This is the turn or verso or koan-like moment. In “Traveling Through the Dark” it is the place where the narrator reveals a live fawn is within the belling of the dead deer, and Stafford pauses the poem, “I hesitated.” This is unexpected, and the lack of action speaks more than the final lines when he pushes the doe “into the river.” In this hesitation, the real action occurs—moral reflection on mortality and machinery’s toll on nature. This is at the end of the third stanza (of five), and the sentence ends with an emphatic full stop and stanza break. That twist is where readers join the poet in an eternal moment of discovery.

 I have thought about Stafford’s legacy for five decades. Other poets also write about nature, social activism, the Great Plains culture, and history. Stafford uniquely creates an eternal present in his works through skillful manipulation of verb tenses and stories. Each of his poems, implicitly or explicitly, shows awareness of the living nature of poetry.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Denise Low's Poetry Workshop Online or in KC Is Enrolling

Advanced Poetry Workshop with Denise Low, Online or KC area, Jan.  22-Mar. 12. Drop-ins welcome.
Master Poets as Models Study of individual poets who have had an influence on the American tradition, especially those who write prose poems, experimental work, inspiring work. We will take apart poems and see what makes them work. I remember my brother disassembling wristwatches and exposing all the tiny springs and gears. This course will do the same with poems. To join, email kansaspoetry[at]
  • William Stafford (he can write about 2, 3, and 4 timeframes in a single poem)
  • Charles Simic, prose poems, with a look at Rimbaud’s Season in Hell
  • Ronald Johnson (erasure inventer, ultra-compression)
  • Francis Ponge, “poet of things,” who included his process with his poems
  • Hadara Bar Nadav’s inversions of points of view
  • Other topics/poets: Talk poetry of Tommy Pico

I’ll work with Poetry Foundation samples of poems mostly, so no need to buy books. The course includes weekly course materials, online editing of 2 poems a week, plus: In person: workshop meeting, access to online/in-person print materials, and OPTIONAL online editing of 2 poems before the class meeting (48 hrs. ahead of the meeting time). We meet 6-8pm:  Jan. 29, Feb. 5, Feb. 12, Feb. 26, Mar. 5, March 12. Meetings are in the Johnson Co. Central Resource Library, Study Room 9 (Jan. 22) and Study Room 10 (all meetings after Jan. 22). We have the room reserved starting at 5:45 pm for informal chatting. Regular workshop participants who miss a meeting may access online materials and participate in online editing/chat rooms. Online option only, review of the session’s portfolio at the end (editing and suggestions for publication of 10 revised poems from the course). Terms are $30@ or 6 for $150, payable through PayPal, Google Wallet, or Square (credit cards): mammothpubs[at] Cash or checks (made out to Mammoth Publications) work also.

Sunday, December 16, 2018

Denise Low responds to Death of the Book Review & an article by Sam Eichner

 My long-time friend Fred Whitehead sent me a link to an article that suggests, by its end, 
that both the literary and the journalistic book review forms are dead--or at least greatly altered. Sam Eichner begins his argument in "What's Behind a Recent Rise in Books Coverage" by chronicling the increasing coverage of books in news media, but not through increased book reviews. First, he notes how major news outlets are adding to book articles: “Since the beginning of 2017, The New York Times has continued to expand its already robust book coverage. More recently, New York announced that it would triple its book coverage. In October, The Atlantic launched a Books section and a newsletter.” Eichner adds that BuzzFeed has a new online book club and Facebook group. However, all book news competes with a cacophony of online pop-up ads, video clips, and social media. Books continue to have, nonetheless, qualities like no other medium, even if readers do not have more time. He quotes the NYT book review editor Pamela Paul, who lists virtues of the book: they give historical perspectives, longer-range perspectives, and analysis of all the flotsam of news fragments. Eichner refers to these virtues as he ends his article with a rally to continue to support books: “. . . it may be more important than ever for publications to help books accomplish these goals," but his means to this end is to join the production of bits and bytes: "But the best format for them to do so is likely no longer the traditional, single-book, literary review. To break through the noise, editors must translate old-fashioned book coverage to the lingua francas of today’s impossibly paced media climate: shareable lists, essays, digestible Q&As, podcasts, scannable email newsletters, hashtags, Instagrams, even book trailers.” Oh my, brave new world. The entire article is worth a read. Whether we like it or not, the book review has morphed into a variety of book niblets.

What’s Behind a Recent Rise in Books Coverage? By Sam Eichner Columbia Journalism Review, Dec. 3, 2018.  

Sam Eichner is a writer based in New York, whose work has been published in The Daily Beast, Electric Literature, and The Huffington Post. You can follow him on Twitter @seike17.

Friday, December 7, 2018

Steve Bunch Shares Allen Ginsburg, Ed Dorn, Other Lawrence Literary History

Here are Steve Bunch's Lawrence literary memories of the Rock Chalk Cafe, which served Ed Dorn, the Fugs, Allen Ginsberg, many other literati over the years. It begins:
Steve Bunch

"Edward Dorn's poem "The Cosmology of Finding Your Spot" celebrated the Rock Chalk and its denizens ( ) and was published (typos and all) as a broadside in connection with a reading in support of the Draft Resisters League in 1969. The reading occurred just across the street from the Rock Chalk, at the United Campus Christian Fellowship building. As I recall, Robert Bly also read that evening. Robert Creeley, Robert Duncan, Galway Kinnell, and Diane Wakoski also came through Lawrence that spring."
I remember the reading at the UCC, and how suave Dorn was, how cooly activist. His wife Jennifer Dorn was with him, also a respected poet, and she impressed me. Do I remember what he read? Yes--parts of Gunslinger he was working on at the time. He made me think differently about history of the West, my home region. It was a long way from Gunsmoke and Palladin, although there were some of the same characters. He had a grasp of the history that informed his discussion as well of the poets, and I admired that. Here is a review from the Guardian by Patrick McGuinnis of Gunslinger, and it begins:

"Gunslinger is perhaps the strangest long poem of the last half-century: a quest myth wrapped around an acid-inspired western comic strip adventure in which a gunslinger, astride a drug-taking, talking horse called Levi-Strauss, searches for Howard Hughes ("they say he moved to Vegas / or bought Vegas and / moved it. / I can't remember which"). Charles Olson had insisted, in the wake of Pound, that where Europe had history to make poetry with, America must take geography. Dorn's contribution to the Great American Long Poem – Pound's Cantos, WC Williams's Paterson, Olson's Maximus … – was Gunslinger, which appeared in five sections over six years. The American west was Dorn's imaginative home, and his poem is an extraordinary feat of imagination, humour, allusion and lyric invention. It takes the standard fare of a good if surreal western (brothel madams, saloon brawls and gunfights) and melds it with high philosophical riffs."