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