Monday, November 16, 2015


Dennis Etzel, Junior, agreed to answer a few questions about his new book and his memoir/documentary-based writing projects. He is a fabulous reader and advocate for the arts, if anyone needs a program. He inspires me both with his community contributions and fine work. I recommend his book, available from his website (below) and FaceBook. He is one of the reasons Lawrencians haverespect for our upriver neighbors in Topeka!
 DL: Please list the titles of your books and chapbooks (and where to get them).
DE: My Secret Wars of 1984 (BlazeVOX 2015); The Sum of Two Mothers (ELJ Publications 2013); My Graphic Novel (Kattywompus Press 2015). Available at The Raven, Prospero’s, and my website
I do like selling them from my website for people who can’t come to readings, as I sign them and include other fun memorabilia. For My Secret Wars of 1984, I include a pack of cards, buttons, Pop Rocks, or other things that are from 1984 or 1984-inspired.

 DL: I notice your books have thematic unity. How do these book-length topics come to you?
DE: I enjoy working out of my memoir, writing about topics of survival, LGBT communities, pro-feminism, class, Patriarchy, etc. I often come up with a project and go through with it. For example, My Secret Wars of 1984 is an alphabetized 366-sentence poetry-memoir collage, using texts from
the year 1984 (Lyn Hejinian, Ronald Johnson, bell hooks, Marvel Comics, Dungeons & Dragons, President Reagan, etc.) with sentences of my own—within the context of political and personal struggles of that time (my mother coming out in the midst of living in a conservative neighborhood, America in a recession, daily nuclear bomb threats, etc.).
                My Secret Wars of 1984 developed from the Ronald Johnson Reading Group in Lawrence back in 2011. After thinking about how that was one rough year for me, I thought I could examine that time through documentary poetics strategies. i knew the sentences should have tension, play with words, etc. to describe my personal story. At the same time, I looked for texts from 1984—texts to reflect what I was reading (comic books, Dungeons & Dragons, Orwell, etc.), as well as what inspires me now (bell hooks, Hejinian). As it was an election year, Ronald Reagan had to work his way in, as he scared me! He truly scared me with his talk about nuclear war, as if he was ready to show those Russians!
                Using different texts--the appropriation--along with my sentences to create a collage, I was worried how I could put a stop to my collecting. I figured, 1984 was a leap year, so I would collect 356 sentences. Also, if each sentence was a part of that year, a part of me, then no sentence should be lesser than any other. Based on a poem by Carolyn Forche called "Blue Hour," I realized I could alphabetize the whole thing and that would be that—to mimic what I used to do with my music, comic books, and such.
                It took time to locate and read through the texts after I got home. I also included song titles, movies titles, etc. I placed each sentence in an Excel spreadsheet, along with where I found the sentence, if it was my own, etc. in different columns. This allowed me to alphabetize the sentences within moments, but could return back to the original sequence by source (alphabetizing the column of sources). When I started playing with the idea of stanzas, it truly worked as a book-length piece. What I love about the collection is that it was fun to write, to collect, to create. The surprise of going from one sentence to another sentence creates its own metaphor—placing two unlike things together to say they can be compared or are the same. Prose Poetry seems to work on that level, from sentence to sentence for enjambment.
                Another thing I love about the collection is it does what I set out to accomplish--to pull off a memoir as text as representation, borderlining the confessional mode. It's hard for me to read confessional poetry anymore, but the experimental mode seems the best way to convey true emotions without pointing the finger or dropping a ton of lead onto someone's foot.

DL: What made you want to be a poet?
DE: A young boy told me that people write poetry to say the things they normally wouldn’t say, to share feelings they wouldn’t normally feel. I wanted to do that. During my first years at Washburn University earning a degree in Computer Systems Analysis, Dr. Jorge Nobo from Washburn’s Philosophy Department gave me advice on how to improve my writing: carry a thesaurus and write in a journal daily. I did, and that journal became really personal. It was a way to get my deeper voice on paper, to examine my life and wish to connect with others. The journal held my first poems. I then went to an open-mic poetry night at the Classic Bean and realized poets were alive and well, not only being published around the country, but living in Topeka. I was dedicated from then on.

DL: You have an MFA and other degrees. What helped your writing from your education?
DE: Each degree in English helped me further to realizing I wanted to write out of memoir, to play with what the “I” could do, and to write something past post-Confessionalism. Working with all of my mentors showed me different ways of exploring form based on each person’s preference in her or his own writing.

DL: What did you learn on your own?
DE: I read everything I could—wishing to be as well-read as possible. My own studies of various writers taught me how form and context serves the poem’s intent in different ways.

DL: What do you want to accomplish in your writing?
DE: I am still exploring those things from the past, as well as wanting to explore the Patriarchal, racist, sexist, anti-LGBT, classist culture we are a part of. They are intertwined—the public and the private. If I can write as a form of activism, I want it to be a part of the many other voices speaking now.

DL: What poetic form in your poetry is interesting to you and how/why?
DE: I vary in forms. My chapbooks are lyrical, and I’ve began making those poems into a full-length collection. I also love how My Secret Wars turned out. I have also started experimenting with poems as footnotes to other poems—embedded like Matroyshka dolls.

DL: Please give a sample poem in that form.

yearbook pages5 surveyed



I alienate myself on this planet
 but record as an anthropologist
every name of each lifeform
as this was my world


as a closed-off street I walked
sometimes as a clown
to put on a face
recognized with
two outcasts hung out with me
one my best friend I knew
the first and last name
of every last student
the first thing I think about
when looking back
down the blocks of photos
names like house-markers
streets I ran to escape
after the final bell to Comics
& Fantasys [sic], I am sick
of being Orpheus
I look back every time see
your own middle school for details


Dennis Etzel Jr. lives with Carrie and the boys in Topeka, Kansas where he teaches English at Washburn University. He has an MFA from The University of Kansas, and an MA and Graduate Certificate in Women and Gender Studies from Kansas State University. He has two chapbooks, The Sum of Two Mothers (ELJ Publications 2013) and My Graphic Novel (Kattywompus Press 2015), and a full-length poetic memoir My Secret Wars of 1984 (BlazeVOX 2015). His work has appeared in Denver Quarterly, Indiana Review, BlazeVOX, Fact-Simile, 1913: a journal of poetic forms, 3:AM, Tarpaulin Sky, DIAGRAM, and others. He is a TALK Scholar for the Kansas Humanities Council and leads poetry workshops in various Kansas spaces. Please feel free to connect with him at



Saturday, November 14, 2015

Kansas Poet Laureate Eric McHenry Explains Poetry

Eric McHenry, the fifth and current Kansas Poet Laureate, recently shared insights about poetry at Kansas City Kansas Community College. He described the unique place of poetry among the arts: ““A poem is composed of words. A song is composed of notes, and a painting is composed of paint. But the historical function of paint is not to mean. The historical function of notes is not to mean,' he said. 'However, the historical function of language is to mean, to communicate, to express, to convey and to make things clearer.'” Here is the article about his visit to KCKCC, with more of his insights about poetry:

                 Eric McHenry, the Poet Laureate of Kansas, visited Kansas City Kansas Community College Oct. 29 to share his talent and love of poetry with students, faculty, staff and community members. “The best poems, for me, are the opposite of page turners, they are page don’t turners,” he said. “When I finish a page of poetry that blows me away, the last thing I want to do is turn the page. I want to stay there with it, re-enter it, and continue digging until I have gotten to the bottom of it. Some of the best poems I know on the surface are the furthest things one can imagine from a page turner.”
Denise Low, Eric McHenry, Wyatt Townley, Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg
                McHenry was named the 2015-17 Poet Laureate of Kansas by the Kansas Humanities Council in April. As poet laureate, he will work to promote the humanities as a public resource in Kansas through appearances, presentations, public readings and discussions throughout the state. His visit to KCKCC was jointly sponsored by the Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences Division; Institutional Services; the KCKCC Library and the Intercultural Center.
                One of the poems McHenry recited was “The Bean Eaters” by Gwendolyn Brooks. Born in 1917 in Topeka, Kan., she was the first African American to win a Pulitzer Prize when she was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1950. McHenry said he had the honor of meeting Brooks in the late 1990s when she visited Washburn University.
                Another poem that he shared was “After Apple-Picking” by Robert Frost. He described the poem as “an experience. It is a world we can enter and inhabit. The point of the poem, to me, is its existence,” he said. “This is not to say this is a poem without meanings that we can apply to our own lives and experiences. One of the reasons the poem seems so real, so true, is because it speaks to experiences so many of us have had.” . . . .  McHenry said many times when reading poetry, people look to find the meaning. He said looking for that meaning might be an unreasonable to ask of a poem. “A poem is composed of words. A song is composed of notes, and a painting is composed of paint. But the historical function of paint is not to mean. The historical function of notes is not to mean,” he said. “However, the historical function of language is to mean, to communicate, to express, to convey and to make things clearer. It is a natural human reaction to a poem to say what does it mean. What is it trying to say? I think when you ask those questions, you risk restricting what the poem can be a little too much.”

Bio: "Known throughout the United States as a poet, McHenry is an associate professor at Washburn University in Topeka, Kan. His work has appeared in a variety of publications including Poetry International and Yale Review. In addition, publications such as the New York Times and Columbia magazine have published his poetry reviews. His third book of poems, Odd Evening, will be published in 2016. He has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize for poetry seven times and is the recipient of the Theodore Roethke Prize. In 2007, he received the Kate Tufts Discovery Award for his first book of poems, Potscrubber Lullabies. It is the largest American prize for a first book of poetry."
Eric McHenry named Poet Laureate of Kansas by the Kansas Humanities Council.
McHenry Interview with Miranda Ericsson. Same Interview as a link.
Eric McHenry on Wikipedia
Eric McHenry and his book, Potscrubber Lullabies on Waywiser Press'swebsite
Eric McHenry on Washburn University's website
Potscrubber Lullabies on Powell's Books' website
Nov. 13, 2015, Kansas City Kansas Community College 7250 State Ave. Kansas City, Kan. 66112, press release.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Alarie Tennille Responds to a Writer’s Survey

Thanks to Kansas City poet Alarie Tennille for allowing me to post her responses to my writers’ survey. I created this for several professional workshops. Tennille is a force in the Kansas City literary scene. She recently was runner-up for the prestigious Thorpe Menn Award for her book Running Counterclockwise (Aldrich Press, 2014), which I reviewed for the Kansas City Star-- A quartet of locally rooted poets  She is a thoughtful person; her wise responses are helpful for writers and readers alike.

 Personal Writing Style
1. Where do you do your best writing? Describe the table, chair, keyboard or tablet, and room or place. AT: My best first drafts are usually written somewhere cozy, usually I'm sitting on my sofa with my legs up. I write in long hand in a magic notebook. (It's magic because it seems to expand and never fill up...well, not for years anyway. I favor large sheets of lined paper in a spiral bound book that will lie flat. Cat on lap optional (at cat's discretion). Usually I have a hot mug of tea beside me, sometimes a different beverage. After that I move to my computer in my upstairs study to type it in. The room is red, and I'm surrounded by bookcases.
2. What audio environment works best for your writing? Silence or background chatter? AT: I definitely don't like chatter. I prefer silence or very soft Classical music (nothing with lyrics!). Nature sounds are fine: birds, fountains.
3. What is the feeling you get when you do your best writing? Does this happen often? AT: It doesn't have to be my best writing, just writing that pleases me at that moment. (I sometimes change my mind later.) At times, it's a peacefulness, because I can let go of my guilt about procrastination or writer's block. Other times, it's an adrenalin rush. I almost want to share it with the world right then, though I know that's not a good idea. (The adrenalin rush is typically after I hear my critique group's reaction.) Thankfully, the feeling comes pretty often and never gets old. I wrote professionally for many years and didn't have the luxury of waiting for inspiration. Now I don't pressure myself to write every day, but enough to be ready for my critique group.

Public Writing Experience
1. What kinds of experience do you have with publicly sharing writing (besides this class)? AT: If it's bringing a homework assignment in for a critique, I generally enjoy it. If it's sharing what I just wrote on-the-spot, I don't like feeling pressured to do that. My best writing rarely happens sitting at a table of strangers and working on a tight deadline.
2. What do you enjoy about public situations that involve sharing of writing? What is your favorite type of activity? AT: I love to share my writing at public readings and open mics. However, it took me many years to get over my stage fright. I like hearing and seeing the crowd's reactions. I'm often surprised which poems seem to be the evening's favorites. I can feel shy about sharing in a workshop if I don't feel I've had time to polish my work a little.
3. When you participate in a public activity you like, do you have any feelings similar to your good writing times? AT: YES! The satisfaction of reading my poems to an audience is really the culmination to my original feeling of wanting to share the poem.
4. What can you do to improve your personal satisfaction from writing? From public sharing of writing? AT: The best way to improve both craft and satisfaction is to work at it and repeat the process. If you'd told me 10-11 years ago that I'd one day enjoy giving public readings, I wouldn't have believed you.

 Alarie Tennille was born and raised in Portsmouth, Virginia with a genius older brother destined for NASA, a ghost, and a yard full of cats. A Phi Beta Kappa, she graduated from the University of Virginia in the first class that admitted women (B.A. with distinction in English). She met her husband, graphic artist Chris Purcell, in college. She still misses the ocean, but loves the writing community she’s found in Kansas City. After a career ranging from technical editor to greeting card writer, Alarie is retired and has more time to focus on her poetry writing. She serves on the Emeritus Board of The Writers Place. Her poem, “The Quilters of Gee’s Bend” was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. In 2010, she published a chapbook, Spiraling into Control (The Lives You Touch Publications). In 2014, Alarie celebrates her first full-length poetry collection, Running Counterclockwise (Kelsay Books: Aldrich Press), a Thorpe Menn Award finalist. Her work appears in The Whirlybird Anthology of Kansas City Writers and in numerous journals including Margie, Poetry East, Coal City Review, I-70 Review, English Journal, Wild Goose Poetry Review, and Southern Women’s Review. Website: Reviews
A quartet of locally rooted poets.The Kansas City Star.