Thursday, February 28, 2008

A Guest Contribution: Brian Dadolph’s Introduction to Paul Muldoon Lecture: “The Eternity of the Poem" 27 Feb., KU

On e of the good thing about working at a university for a number years is that sometimes you’re lucky enough to meet a great speaker a second time around. So I’m very glad that poet Paul Muldoon is with us again.
In introducing our speaker tonight, I don’t want to make the same mistake as the one made by the university president of Colgate University in Hamilton, New York, a mistake referred to by Paul Muldoon in his marvelous new book of Oxford Lectures about poetry, The End of the Poem. According to Muldoon, the university president insisted on introducing Mr. Yeats to the audience, and did his own research about the poet. Unfortunately, however, he made the mistake of thinking that the speaker was Keats and not Yeats—it’s the difference of one letter after all—and introduced the great Irish poet as Keats, the author of “Ode to a Nightingale” and “Ode to Melancholy.” I hope to do better than that.
Paul is one of the most honored of contemporary writers. He has won the prestigious T.S.Eliot Prize for poetry, and the Pulitzer Prize for his 2002 collection, Moy Sand and Gravel. There have been many other prizes and honors, too many to mention now. As well as his Professorships at Princeton and Oxford, Paul Muldoon is also the new poetry editor of The New Yorker.
I have been reading Paul Muldoon’s poetry for many years, following the course of his prolific career. In reading his early poems, I always appreciated the way that Muldoon could make the political both personal and immediate, and I like in particular his poem “Cuba,” which yokes together very disparate events. In “Cuba” the Cold War confrontation between America and the USSR is the unlikely backdrop for a young girl’s confession. It is typical of Muldoon to see the Big Picture in the small scene, and enable his readers to clearly see it too.
Muldoon’s poetry is in many ways a series of contrasts between, for example, a sort of casual tone and yet tight form; between commonplace events and their great significance; between the new world and the “old country”; between very different events, unexpectedly yoked together. Muldoon himself has said that he wants his poetry to sound “very off-the-cuff,” aiming for “clear, translucent surfaces,” which on closer inspection hold, “other things happening under the surface.”
Muldoon’s most recent book of poems, Horse Latitudes, is another powerful and intriguing collection. First of all, I found myself learning about the significance of the title: “Horse Latitudes are the latitudes close to the equator where ships were often becalmed, and horses were supposedly thrown overboard so they didn’t have to be fed and watered.”
This is a collection of masterful poetic technique and considerable emotional power, the two in perfect combination in “The Old Country,” for example, in which Muldoon describes a country—his old country, perhaps—in which “every resort was a last resort,” “every cut was a cut to the quick,” and “every slope was a slippery slope.” Muldoon evokes an awful sense of impending doom, which reminded me, at least, of Bob Dylan’s John Wesley Harding songs. Perhaps I was thinking of Dylan because there’s a sort of tribute to Dylan in this collection, “Bob Dylan at Princeton, November 2000,” in which Bob picks up his “ornery degree” at Princeton with “absolute refusal to bend the knee.”

“Absolute refusal to bend the knee”: that might be applied to Paul Muldoon too, who has, it seems to me, always gone his own way in his writing, and everyone who loves poetry—and art in general—should be glad of that.

There are many Big moments of Paul’s career that I might mention as a final point, but instead I’d like to mention just one small point, and small poem—a haiku, in fact—which not only shows Paul’s mastery of form and wit, but also shows how much fun it is to read this poet who seems to have an endless supply of surprises in his magician’s hat. In the long haiku sequence “90 Instant Messages to Tom Moore,” Muldoon writes:

Skirts round their middles,
the girls have a right confab
while taking widdles.

Thursday, February 21, 2008



For more than twenty years, Albert Goldbarth has taught in Wichita State University’s MFA creative writing program. During that time he has won major prizes for his poetry and essays. Goldbarth is originally from Chicago, and he has not lost the urbanity of that place. He also brings a profound depth of language experience to his work. He studies cultural and historic texts and alludes to them freely. Intellectual thirst is a striking aspect of his writing—and another is his extensive vocabulary.

Goldbarth’s longevity in the Kansas university system suggests compatibility with his adopted home. What he shares with his fellow Kansans, I believe, is self-deprecating humor. He pokes fun at all sorts of folks, but most especially himself. Second, he voices strong opinions, also like most Kansans. And he has no patience with phoniness. Thus an earnestness underlies the poet’s ironies and occasional sarcasms. Despite a harsh, realistic depiction of details, he affirms the ten-million myriad beings of this flawed world.

Like other Kansans who survive the extreme seasons, both physically and psychologically, Goldbarth is a person of faith. In “Wings” his narrator finds a bird carcass. Rather than describe a headless bird, the speaker conjures the image in human terms, specifically wings of a theatrical stage. But he speaks as though the stagehand were an executioner or deus ex machina. In the next section, the poet does look at the desiccated animal remains, but without poetic metaphor. He accepts “hard summer; the land enameled.” He accepts life disintegrating into dust. Then he finds solace in prayer and love.


I always wondered why they called them wings.
—Perhaps because somebody always waited in shadow
in them, with a rope.
With a rope like a great braided nerve
and while some sweet singing or bloody melee
completely filled the central light, this person
would raise or lower the god.
It’s summer. Hard summer; the land enameled.
I find the bird already half-dismantled
by ants—the front half. It’s flying
steadily into the other world, so needs to be this still.
Do I mumble? yes. Do I actually pray? yes.
Yes, but not for the bird. When we love enough
people a bird is a rehearsal.

Education: Albert Goldbarth received a BA from the University of Illinois (1969) and an MFA from the University of Iowa (1971). He pursued further graduate studies at the University of Utah (1973-4).
Career: Goldbarth’s most recent book is The Kitchen Skin: New and Selected Poems (Greywolf Press). He has published over twenty books of poetry, four books of essays, and a novel. He has won: two National Book Critics Circle Awards for poetry; a Guggenheim fellowship; three National Endowment for the Arts fellowships; and a PEN Center West Award.
_______________________________________________________________________ © 2007 Denise Low, AAPP12. © 2007 Albert Goldbarth, “ Wings,” Greywolf Press. © 2007 Denise Low, photo.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Donald Levering to Read at KU

Santa Fe poet Donald Levering will read in Lawrence March 3, Monday, at 4019 Wescoe Hall on the KU campus, 7:30.

Born in Kansas City, Donald Levering was educated at Baker University, The University of Kansas, Lewis and Clark College, and Bowling Green State University. At Bowling Green, he was a Devine Memorial Fellow in Poetry before receiving an M. F. A. in Creative Writing. He has worked as a computer operator, free‑lance journalist, groundskeeper, and teacher in the Navajo Nation. In addition to wide appearances in literary journals, his publications include a poetic adaptation of an ethnological text in Ba Shiru, "The Primal Field: Dogan Myth and Ritual," five chapbooks of poetry, The Jack of Spring (Swamp Press), Carpool (Tellus), Mister Ubiquity (Pudding House), The Fast of Thoth (Pudding House), and The Kingdom of Ignorance (Finishing Line), as well as three full-length poetry volumes: Outcroppings From Navajoland (Navajo Community College Press), Horsetail (Woodley Memorial Press)and Whose Body. Mr. Levering was a recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship Grant in poetry, a finalist for the John Ciardi Prize, and he won first place in the Quest for Peace (rhetoric) Writing Contest. He works as a human services administrator in Santa Fe.

Saturday, February 16, 2008


The KU Spencer Art Museum has posted this prose poem and a reproduction of one of their Paul Hotvedt paintings in their elevator! Please do look for it if you are visiting the museum.

Paul's paintings are online at . He has a sublime relationship with the color blue.

Another keen exhibit is Stanley Herd's and Leslie Evans' documentation of the Haskell Medicine Wheel, created in 1992. See more of Stan's work at and his site features the Medicine Wheel:
Congratulations to the Spencer on its ongoing connections to community.


by Denise Low

The horizon line disappears, and I am lost in the sky after the bough breaks. I remember the startle gesture of my babies—their reflexive flailing of arms and legs as they tried to regain a secure hold. In this landscape, I cannot find the door. Any set of lines will help me: branches, leaf veins, a peripheral blur of field.

The painter finds a quick translation: green means downward. So much depends on depth, width, length. How high the blue stretches, I cannot know. Onward moving clouds cannot hold one position. The painter must finish this picture before it rains, and so he rushes and only suggests compass points. More than a painter, he is a dancer.

But finally, the painter succumbs to sky. He inverts himself, like the man in the tarot card “The Fool.” Blood rushes to his head and turns blue. Leaves open pores to sun and absorb its hue. The painter’s eyes turn the color of heaven, and everything he touches is blue. He is a Midas turning the world blue instead of gold. He is Rudolf Steiner, as he creates a theosophy within an indigo-blue prism.

Like Van Gogh, he finds background is twisting into the foreground. Past and future collapse. Blue veins leave his body and ascend. I can call them branches. I can call them pieces of sky.

Lawrence Panel on National Book Critics Circle "Good Reads"

Posted on Crtical Mass, blog for National Book Critics Circle, Feb. 8

Panelists and audience looked over the NBCC’s Good Reads Winter List and the 2007 NBCC Awards Finalists list, available as a handout, Feb. 10 as they dialogued about recommended books. They created their own list as they discussed the Kansas City-Lawrence book scene. The panel consisted of NBCC members John Mark Eberhart, Kathleen Johnson, and Denise Low, and independent bookstore owner Pat Kehde.The panel praised the NBCC lists for being driven by quality, noting that the best seller lists of the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, and Chicago Tribune are all driven by profit. The panel noted that 291,000 books are published every year, so these lists really are helpful for helping to sort them. Eberhart, the books page editor of the Kansas City Star, liked the idea of recommended readings rather than books that should get awards. The panel agreed that many of the books on the finalist list were accomplished but less accessible to the general reader. Independent bookstore veteran Kehde, who recently sold her store The Raven to another independent owner, described the New York Times bestseller list process (The Raven is a participating store) and noted that the Lawrence store’s best sellers more closely align with the San Francisco Chronicle list than that of the New York Times. ... (Go to Critical Mass for full article)

Monday, February 4, 2008


Lawrence-Kansas City area members of the National Book Critics Circle will join with a bookseller Feb. 10, 2:00 p.m., to present a panel discussion, “Recommended Winter Reading: Essentials.” The discussion will include the February NBCC Best Recommended Reading list as well as the groups own recommendations. Word-of-mouth sells books, so how do these professional readers choose books?. The panel will convene at the Lawrence Arts Center.
Panelists are Pat Kehde, former owner of the independent bookstore The Raven; and three NBCC members: John Mark Eberhart, book review page editor of the Kansas City Star; Denise Low, Kansas poet laureate and academic reviewer; and Kathleen Johnson, free-lance reviewer. The presentation is open to the public and will include a reception, where recommended books will be available for sale.
To create the recommended list, The NBCC polls its 800 members and former NBCC award finalists with the question, “What books have you read that you have truly loved? Reviewers and editors from across the country respond, and results appear on the website. The organization announces its Best Recommended Reading lists on its blog Critical Mass,
Panelists will discuss how they recommend books and what they value in their favorite books. The NBCC is made up of reviewers, bloggers, and editors of national and local publications. The group also gives highly respected annual awards in five genres.

Nominees for NBCC 2007 awards are:
Autobiography: Joshua Clark, ``Heart Like Water: Surviving Katrina and Life in Its Disaster Zone'' (Free Press); Edwidge Danticat, ``Brother, I'm Dying'' (Knopf); Joyce Carol Oates, ``The Journal of Joyce Carol Oates, 1973-1982'' (Ecco); Sara Paretsky, ``Writing in an Age of Silence'' (Verso); Anna Politkovskaya, ``A Russian Diary: A Journalist's Final Account of Life, Corruption and Death in Putin's Russia'' (Random House).
Nonfiction: Philip F. Gura, ``American Transcendentalism: A History'' (Farrar, Straus and Giroux); Daniel Walker Howe, ``What Hath God Wrought: The Transformation of America 1815-1848'' (Oxford University Press); Harriet A. Washington, ``Medical Apartheid: The Dark History of Medical Experimentation on Black Americans from Colonial Times to the Present'' (Doubleday); Tim Weiner, ``Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA'' (Doubleday); Alan Weisman, ``The World Without Us'' (Thomas Dunne Book/St. Martin's Press).
Fiction: Vikram Chandra, ``Sacred Games'' (HarperCollins); Junot Diaz, ``The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao'' (Riverhead); Hisham Matar, ``In the Country of Men'' (Dial); Joyce Carol Oates, ``The Gravedigger's Daughter'' (HarperCollins); Marianne Wiggins, ``The Shadow Catcher'' (Simon & Schuster).
Biography: Tim Jeal, ``Stanley: The Impossible Life of Africa's Greatest Explorer'' (Yale University Press); Hermione Lee, ``Edith Wharton'' (Knopf); Arnold Rampersad, ``Ralph Ellison'' (Knopf); John Richardson, ``A Life of Picasso: The Triumphant Years, 1917-1932'' (Knopf); Claire Tomalin, ``Thomas Hardy'' (Penguin Press).
Poetry: Mary Jo Bang, ``Elegy'' (Graywolf); Matthea Harvey, ``Modern Life'' (Graywolf); Michael O'Brien, ``Sleeping and Waking'' (Flood); Tom Pickard, `` Ballad of Jamie Allan'' (Flood); Tadeusz Rozewicz, ``New Poems'' (Archipelago).
Criticism: Joan Acocella, ``Twenty-Eight Artists and Two Saints'' (Pantheon); Julia Alvarez, ``Once Upon a Quinceanera'' (Viking); Susan Faludi, ``The Terror Dream: Fear and Fantasy in Post-9/11 America'' (Metropolitan); Ben Ratliff, ``Coltrane: The Story of a Sound'' (Farrar, Straus and Giroux); Alex Ross, ``The Rest Is Noise: Listening to the Twentieth Century'' (Farrar, Straus and Giroux).


Trish Reeves is committed to poetry. One of my favorite stories about her took place the evening of September 11, 2001. She continued, that evening, with a previously scheduled poetry reading. After her presentation, a woman thanked her for commitment to the calling of poetry. In times of crisis, especially, poets speak for community. They express shared sorrows; they celebrate our human experience.
The intense, short lyric is this poet’s forte, with attention to heart as well as underlying story. I turn to Reeves’ verse for emotional and spiritual sustenance.
Reeves’ work draws upon the European arts tradition, translated into Midwestern lifeways. This creates a tension, as Old World icons find places in American farmlands. In the poem “Chronology” the poet refers to Van Gogh’s suicide and his oil painting technique of layering paint thickly on a canvas—impasto. His thick paint strokes are vivid and unsubtle—heightened with emotion. The poem resonates with the issue of farmers’ suicides, too common in the heartland as family farms lose economic viability.
The seasonal cycle of summer sowing and autumn harvesting in “Chronology” is replaced not by a calendar timeline, but by an emotional calendar. Reeves creates a new timekeeping paradigm here, suggested by Van Gogh and by farming, but instead more personal: anniversaries of family deaths. When I read this poem, I remember my ancient grandmother mourning her father’s death anniversary. I memorialize my own family deaths.


“Goes out into the field
and shoots himself.”
Well wouldn’t you know
this is the guy we adore.
The wheat wild with him,
the crows crazed and we
so undecided
about life ourselves
that the least mention
of Arles and
self-portraits put on impasto
has us thumbing through
our pasts for the date
he entered them with his sorrow
as vividly as a death in the family
that links us to our
fate like the calendar
on which numbers are unnecessary.

Education: Trish Reeves was born and raised in St. Joseph and recently has lived in Prairie Village, Kansas, as well as Kansas City, Missouri. She received her BA from the University of Missouri School of Journalism. She received an MFA in Creative Writing, Warren Wilson College.
Career: In 1991 Reeves became an English professor at Haskell Indian Nations University, Lawrence. Her students have published and read widely. Her first book, Returning the Question, won the Cleveland State University Poetry Center Prize (1988). BookMark Press of UMKC published In the Knees of the Gods: Poems (2001). Her work is recognized by fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Kansas Arts Commission, and Yaddo; she was a Keck Fellow at Sarah Lawrence College. She has edited New Letters Review of Books. She leads book discussion groups for the Kansas Humanities Council and Johnson County.
© 2008 Denise Low AAPP11. © 2001 Trish Reeves “Chronology” from In the Knees of the Gods (BookMark Press 2001, available at © 2003, Denise Low, photo of Trish Reeves.