Thursday, June 28, 2007

Appreciation for Jonathan Holden Coming in Midwest Quarterly

The Midwest Quarterly is publishing a special issue about the first poet laureate of Kansas, Jonathan Holden. Stephen Meats, long-time poetry editor of MQ, is putting together a collection of commentary about Jonathan, an interview, and other highlights. Its url is I have the opportunity in that issue to express my profound appreciation for Jonathan at some length.

Holden has been very supportive and gave me a gracious, kind introduction at the governor's arts awards in Topeka, June 7, for which I am very, very grateful. I have known and admired Jonathan for 30 years, when I first heard him read at Kansas State University, where he is a professor. I was a temporary instructor at KSU in the late 1970s, and I also knew his student Scott Cairns, who has become a great poet of faith. Jonathan has inspired several generations of poets.

Jonathan encouraged me to strive for excellence. His example of combining scholarship with writing made me aware of how much research, formal or informal, goes into good verse. His love of the art form was an inspiration also. As I reflected on his career for the MQ article, I realized how much he supported American aesthetics; women's values in poetry; and the inclusion of domestic within the tradition. He truly has impacted, through his own poetry and scholarship, the direction of American verse.

Because they own the copyright, I cannot reprint what I wrote for the MQ, but please do look for that issue. Greg German and Jonathan edited a selection of poetry for it, as well.

Here is a comment from Ted Kooser, which summarizes how many of us feel: "Jonathan Holden is one of our most intelligent poets... It is not always easy to be both brilliant and generous of spirit. It is our good fortune that Holden wears his learning lightly and with such unaffected grace and charm."

Again, my heart-felt appreciation for the commitment of this great mind, first poet laureate of Kansas. Here's a poem from his essential book of selected works Knowing (University of Arkansas Press)

Western Meadowlark

Through the open car window
Seven needles in a haystack
snatched by ear out of the moving
prairie, like you
already fading, passed, gone.
If I could find it, it would be
points of sunlight glancing
off a brooch so near shades
of gold in these moving
grasses I could scarcely distinguish
it from the grasses. Like you
it is always gone.

The bird pulled it off like a string
of catches on this flying
trapeze which keeps swinging
back. If birds’ songs simple mean
I’m here! I’m here!
then why a song so baroque?
How many notes did it have?
Which notes were extra?

In the Beatles’ “Blackbird”
You can hear a meadowlark, its song
canned as the slow-motion replay
of a pass reception on TV:
Love studied into pornography.
The bird falls off a see-saw,
hesitates, picks itself
back up on the rising board,
completes its song.
It does it again.

I prefer the song that eludes me,
This one which we are passing,
Banjo music picked out
Through wind and distance
Already falling behind

Gone and not gone.
--for Ana