Sunday, September 30, 2007



Harley Elliott is the Kansas poet’s poet. He is the writer I studied to learn the best ways to write about grasslands and inner landscapes of the imagination. His words flow as smoothly as conversations among friends. He uses an unassuming mid-Plains dialect—peppered with vivid images. I consider him the first English-language poet to use this region’s idioms. Elliott also writes longer works about history of the West, as well as whimsical and surreal poems. Loading the Stone (Woodley 2006) is a unique prose work that straddles fiction and nonfiction.

Elliott has lived in Salina since he was a two-year-old, and his writing reflects his attachment to prairie spaces. Yet he eschews labels. He told an interviewer: “I was really conscious that if I wasn't careful I would get put into this box called ‘prairie poet.’" This poem is directly about avoiding the stereotypes of labels. He suggests all words can limit direct experience of reality. In this case, the monarch butterfly walks on his face, and “blinded by words,” he fails to match its “shining light.” He addresses his readers and asks us to join in his quandary about how to express relationship with nature. Elliott’s “hinged mosaic” description for butterfly wings here is one of my favorites.


This butterfly stopping on my cheek

would choose yours too

if you had fallen down among

grass and pasture flowers

and your face closed

hard as mine.

This small hinged mosaic

of orange black and palomino

has been given a name

and the danger of names hovers

close to both of us today.

Walking up it stops at

the doorway of my eye:

there I am

blinded by words

in the shining light of its face.

We rush together

earth and sky.

Education: Elliott graduated from Salina High School. He received a BA from Kansas Wesleyan University and an MA in art from New Mexico Highlands University.

Career: This poet and artist spent four years in Syracuse, New York, after college, where he established relationships with New York publishers, including Dick Lourie (Hanging Loose Press). He returned to Salina and taught art at Marymount College until it closed. Then he worked in arts education at the Salina Art Center. His ten books of poetry are from Crossing Press, Hanging Loose, Juniper, Woodley Press (Washburn University), and others.

© 2007
Denise Low, AAPP4. © 1993 Harley Elliott, “Butterfly Master.” © 1989, Denise Low, photo

A downloadable version is available for non-commercial use from

Monday, September 17, 2007



Langston Hughes was born in Joplin and raised in Lawrence until 1915-16. He was a true genius: he innovated the art of mixing spoken words with music, still an evolving American art form. He celebrated African American culture as he wrote poetry using the spoken vocabulary and sometimes in blues rhythms. He was a leader of the Harlem Renaissance in New York City, where he wrote plays, performed poetry, and mentored writers. He was a journalist, essayist, novelist, lyricist, and children’s author.

When my husband and I researched Hughes’s life in Lawrence for our book Langston Hughes in Lawrence, we found his homes were within walking distance of the Kaw River. He must have walked to its banks and watched the incessant current. The Kaw indeed is a “muddy” river that can be “golden” at dusk.

In this poem, Hughes calls on his memory of rivers as he catalogues, or lists, rivers important to world civilizations. He writes in uneven lines but maintains the poetic feel by using parallel beginnings and repetitions. He wrote of his poetry that it was often “racial in theme” and in “the rhythms of jazz.” This free-flowing poem could be an improvised solo.


I've known rivers:

I've known rivers ancient as the world and older than the

flow of human blood in human veins.

My soul has grown deep like the rivers.

I bathed in the Euphrates when dawns were young.

I built my hut near the Congo and it lulled me to sleep.

I looked upon the Nile and raised the pyramids above it.

I heard the singing of the Mississippi when Abe Lincoln

went down to New Orleans, and I've seen its muddy

bosom turn all golden in the sunset.

I've known rivers:

Ancient, dusky rivers.

My soul has grown deep like the rivers.

Education: Langston Hughes graduated from high school in Cleveland, attended Columbia University, and earned a BA from Lincoln University, a historically black university.

Career: Beginning with The Weary Blues (1926), Hughes made his living as a professional writer and lecturer. He published over 40 books and wrote numerous plays.


© 2007 Denise Low AAPP3. © 1959 Harold Ober Assoc. Inc. “Negro Speaks of Rivers.” Portrait by Winold Reiss

Monday, September 3, 2007


STEVEN A. HIND (1943- )

For over twenty-five years, Steven Hind has published poetry about life in the Great Plains and Flint Hills of Kansas, including the small towns. Robert Frost is an influence, as well as fellow Kansas poet William Stafford. Hind’s language appears simple, and his people are salt of the earth. Tragedy, extreme weather, and economic disasters complicate the rural experience. Nonetheless, Hind also celebrates the vivid natural life of the region, where animals may be as distinctive as next door neighbors. “Blue Heron” is an example of this.

Many Kansans are avid bird watchers, whether formal members of the Audubon Society or just roadside observers. Hundreds of bird species migrate through the mid-continent skies, and many remain as year-round residents. Great blue herons are colorful water birds found along river banks and marshy areas. The poet accurately acknowledges the bird’s habitat, which is “Behind the pond.” Hind shows how poetry involves research and observation.

This poem could be a simple snapshot of the bird—until I look more closely at Hind’s language and see how he enlivens the description with comparisons. Nearly every line challenges me to see two images at once: willows sound like a silk scarf unfurling; the heron lowers and raises its head like a jackknife closing and opening; guitar frets appear on the water; and the great bird’s wings are like oars of a rowboat. The ending line, “the bright gravel of stars,” is an inversion, where earth and sky reverse positions, echoing the poem’s theme. This dizzying image shows the possibilities for language to surprise and delight.


Behind the pond under a whispering

scarf of willows, heron does his lone

knifewalk beside the wind-fretted waters.

His deft movements make a death

defying progress: a life of mud transmuted

into sky life as he rows away on a river

of air and its melody of coyote song

through cedars beyond cedars, their

silhouettes swallowed by darkness

beneath the bright gravel of stars.

: Steven Hind was born and raised near Madison, in the Flint Hills. He earned a BA from Emporia State University and an MA (1970) from the University of Kansas.

Career: Hind taught at Hutchinson Community College and Topeka High School for 36 years. His books are Familiar Ground (1980); That Trick of Silence (1990); In A Place With No Map, (1997); and Loose Change of Wonder (2006, Ks. Notable Book Award). His CD Waking in the Flint Hills is available by writing to 503 Monterey Way, Hutchinson, KS 67502.

© 2007 Denise Low AAPP2 © 2006 Steven Hind “Great Blue Heron” © 2005 Patsy Terrell, photo of Steven Hind