Saturday, December 26, 2009

See Legendary Harley Elliott in a Rare KC Area Performance

Harley Elliott is one of the most influential Kansas-Great Plains area poets and writers. He has published 20 books, including publications with Hanging Loose Press, Crossing Press, Juniper, and Woodley. He seldom reads or performs outside of Salina, his hometown. Jan. 22 & 23 Bride of Actors' Ensemble presents: "Easy Writers Harleys Elliott & Marshall in Born To Be Mild" 8 pm at the YWCA of Greater Kansas City, Ks at 6th & State. The Ensemble writes: "Experience the heart-wrenching story of identical twins named Harley--born four moths apart, kidnapped by gypsies and forced to write poetry and stuff--who have been reunited at last. What are the odds? This is heavy. And funny too." For reservations, call 913-371-1105.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Poetry Animations Are Worth a Look!

Hi, the latest techno-gizmo for poetry is animation of poet photographs to make it appear that they are talking, so we can have Walt Whitman, Emily Dickinson, and others appear to speak their poems. Here's the You-Tube link:


Monday, December 7, 2009


Stephen Meats was born in LeRoy, Kansas, and raised in Concordia. Foremost of his contributions to Kansas literary culture is his service as poetry editor of Midwest Quarterly. In that role he has curated special issues of regional poetry, including one devoted to the first Kansas poet laureate Jonathan Holden. He is able to fulfill this poet’s poet role because of his own fine verse. His book Looking for the Pale Eagle is a rare poetry best seller—the first printing sold out quickly.

This poem “My Advice” gives directions for enjoying the countryside of Kansas. Meats describes a typical prairie road—not spectacular, but small joys unfold He suggests that his readers stop and collect “chat,” or roadbed gravel, to reposition at home. The reflective moment of collection is when sky, birds, and landscape are noticed. The rock is for remembering that moment. Like stone soup, after the recipe is complete, the stone can be discarded. As a catalyst, its purpose is fulfilled. Poems are like such stones.

My Advice

You say you want to find yourself. You’ll need
a piece of gravel. Drive any rocked road
in Kansas and you’ll hear pieces by the dozen

knocking in your wheel wells. For once, stop
and get out of the car. Take a minute to look
at the sky—flat bottomed clouds shadowing

the pastures. You’ll hear the meadowlark
on the fence post before you see him fly.
Pick up your piece of gravel. If you’re far

off the main route, a handful of chat, or even
road sand will do. Cup it in your palm while your
tires hum away the miles on the asphalt highway.

Warm it in your pocket as you drink your coffee
at the café counter in the next town, and stay
a while to look at the faces and listen to the talk.

Then take it home with you and right away
put it in your garden or your flower box or drop
it in the driveway. It doesn’t really matter
You’ve already got your answer.

Education: Stephen Meats attended Kansas State University for three years before transferring to the University of South Carolina, where he earned his bachelor’s (1966), master’s (1968), and doctoral degrees in English (1972).
Career: Meats is University Professor and English Department Chair Pittsburg State University. Since 1985, he has been poetry editor of The Midwest Quarterly. Meats has published Looking for the Pale Eagle (Woodley Press, 1993). His poetry, articles, and fiction appear in Kansas Quarterly, The Little Balkans Review, Albatross, The Quarterly, The Laurel Review, Blue Unicorn, Tampa Review, Arete, Hurakan, Flint Hills Review, Prairie Poetry, Dos Passos Review, and others.
©2009 Denise Low AAPP 42 ©2008 “My Advice,” Stephen Meats, in Dos Passos Review

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Keith Waldrop Wins National Book Award in Poetry

For more information about the new NBA winner and sample poems, see the National Book Foundation site:
Judges were Mei-mei Berssenbrugge, A. Van Jordan, Cole Swensen, and Kevin Young

Keith Waldrop, Brooke Russell Astor Professor of Humanities at Brown University, has published more than a dozen works each of original poetry and translations. His first book, A Windmill Near Calvary, was shortlisted for the 1968 National Book Award. Recent books include The Real Subject: Queries and Conjectures of Jacob Delafon, with Sample Poems, The House Seen from Nowhere, and a translation of The Flowers of Evil by Charles Baudelaire.


EPC/Keith Waldrop Home Page
A resource of the Electronic Poetry Center, an edited site devoted to the presentation of full-text resources for innovative writing.

Keith Waldrop Wikipedia Entry

Keith Waldrop page at

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Judith Roitman will read Nov. 19 new poems: here's her new form

Judith Roitman writes this about her latest poems, which she will read from Nov. 19 in a joint reading with Jim McCrary:

"About 9 or 10 months ago I started writing poems in couplets about unrequited love (which, if you know me, is truly bizarre). They were sort of ghazals (an Arabic form) but without the more formal elements. Here is the first one:


My beloved calls me at home
and I tell him: don’t do it.

I will be thrown into the bat cave.
My money will no longer work.

My tongue will be given to birds
and yours glued to the lamppost.

"They were okay, but felt a little glib. For example, the first line of the last stanza is a mashup of something from a Buddhist precepts ceremony, and the last line is the urban legend about what happens on a winter day if you touch your tongue to metal. They didn’t go deep enough. Reading them I felt like a sculptor looking at a block of stone: there’s something inside and my job is to find it. So I started playing with random generators (input a text and it will rearrange it semi-randomly) and the translation program Babelfish (input text in one language and translate it into another) to shake things loose and see what came out. This gave me raw material derived from the original text, like the separated bones of a skeleton. How do you reassemble it? So I went into collage mode and put things together to get this:


Beloved! says to him
from that house shouting.

Thrown with the bat oyster:
qualitative thing.

Money unable to operate.
Lamppost and tongue binding.

Glued to birds:
don’t do it.

"You can see how the translation program changed things: “bat cave” becomes “bat oyster;” “no longer work” becomes “unable to operate.” Somehow the added strangeness gives depth: an oyster is like a cave, and the juxtaposition makes the bat into its own cave (although I don’t expect anyone to consciously think this — I didn’t until I wrote this); “unable to operate” is a more desperate state than “no longer working;” “binding” is stronger and less derivative than “glued.” And you can also see the effect of collage. For example, “birds” is split off from “tongue” and stands alone (the only noun) in the last stanza, together with the imperative — don’t do it — originally in the first stanza. I don’t know how “qualitative thing” appeared, but am grateful it did. Also, freed this way, I could get rid of many (not all) instances of the smoothing parts of speech — prepositions, connectives; freed from narrative I could get rid of many (not all) verbs, which in turn frees the reader from thinking she needs to create a narrative or, even, the illusion of coherent meaning. "

Jim McCrary Interview & Podcasts available at LJW website

The Lawrence Journal World has an online interview with Jim McCrary and podcasts at this site: http://

Jim is releasing his collected chapbooks in a volume, All That (Many Penny Press). He is an original writer with oblique perspectives that illuminate the larger cosmos. Reading his work reminds me of squinting so I can see periphery and direct images at once. He has an MA from Cal. State U.-Sonoma; he's been publishing, editing, slamming, and proclaiming poetry for about 40 years, I figure.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Dear Poetry Friends,

This Ad Astra Poetry Project electronic broadside celebrates the writing of Elizabeth Schultz. She is a talented poet, essayist, and fiction writer. Many people are aware of her distinguished teaching and scholarly career at the University of Kansas, which is highlighted at the University of Kansas Kansas Women’s Hall of Fame website: .

All are invited to hear presentation of her latest book, The White-Skin Deer: Hoopa Stories, Wed., Nov. 18, 7 pm, at the Haskell Cultural Center (at the entrance to campus).

Schultz wrote these stories based on experiences living on the Hoopa Valley Tribe’s land during the 1950s. This was a time period when Bureau of Indian Affairs policies of assimilation were at their height. Like all good fiction, these stories prompt reflection. Embedded within them are the conflicts facing most American tribal peoples at that time and continuing to this day. For further information, see .

Denise Low


Elizabeth Schultz, of Lawrence, combines enthusiasm for art and nature in her writings. As a literature professor at the University of Kansas, she encouraged thousands of students to examine stories closely and then to link observation with reflection. She brings that sense of joyful scrutiny to her creative writings, which include essays and poetry. Often she lings these to nature. Since retirement in 2001, she has continued to be active as a Fulbright scholar, poet, and ecocritic activist. She is a member of the Committee on Imagination & Place and consultant to its press; she also writes for the Nature Conservancy and other organizations.
Schultz delights in patterns, whether crafted by natural processes or artisans. She engages deeply with both, as seen in this poem. A great blue heron’s carcass has an unexpectedly beautiful form. The poet compares it to a macramé dream catcher; crochet-work; an amulet; and also its vertebrae are frets of a guitar. As insects scour its bones, the this erasure creates yet another pattern. And so the poet humanizes an emblem of mortality—the skeleton. The most descriptive words and phrases of the poem are set like gems along strands of short lines, so that “dark amulet,” “polished blade,” and “shining insects,” along with other terms, resound fully.
The poem shows paradox in uncovering aesthetic joy in river refuse. The title is also paradoxical: how does this mostly decayed beast, lodged on a sandbar, tell about the Kansas River? Forces of the river that sustained the living bird cause the final dissolution.

Watching the Kansas River

On a sandbar
a heron is laid
out with care.
A dream catcher,
its design is
pressed into sand.
Its wings stretch
in skeletal symmetry.
Feathers crochet
its light bones.
Its feet curl into
dark amulets,
and its beak is
a polished blade.
Scarabs bead
its intricate fretwork.
the shining insects
devour the design,
releasing the bird
into a river of light.

Education: Elizabeth Schultz received a BA in European History (Wellesley 1958), and MA (1962) and PhD (1967) in English from the University of Michigan. She taught English at the University of Kansas 1967-2001. She has published extensively in the fields of African American fiction and autobiography, nineteenth-century American fiction, American women's writing, and Japanese culture. She was a Distinguished Fulbright Lecturer at the Beijing Foreign Studies Institute (2008) and co-organized an international conference in ecocriticism (2008).
Career: Schultz is the author of Unpainted to the Last: Moby-Dick and Twentieth Century American Art (University Press of Kansas 1995); a memoir, Shoreline: Seasons at the Lake (Michigan St. U. Press 2001); Conversations: Art Into Poetry at the Spencer Museum of Art (2006); poems, Her Voice (Woodley Press 2008); The White-Skin Deer: Hoopa Stories (Mammoth 2009), fiction; and essays in The Nature of Kansas Lands (University Press of Kansas 2009).
©2009 Denise Low AAPP 41 ©2009 Elizabeth Schultz “Watching the Kansas River”

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Harrington, Harris, and Irby to read Nov. 12, 4:30 pm, Spencer Museum of Art

Don't miss this return engagement by three University of Kansas scholars and professors: Joseph Harrington, Billy Joe Harris, and Kennth Irby


At the Ks. Authors Club Conference, I was asked about publishing outlets for poets and literary writers. Here are a few area presses and journals:

BKMK Press, Univ. of Missouri-Kansas City, 5101 Rockhill Rd. KC MO 65110
Cave Hollow Press PO Drawer J, Warrensburg, MO 64093
Green Tower Press & The Laurel Review English Dept., NW Missouri State University, 800 University Dr. Maryville MO 64468
Helicon 9 Editions, 3607 Pennsylvania Ave, KS MO 64111
Mammoth Publications, 1916 Stratford Rd., Lawrence KS 66044
Mid-American Press PO Box 575 Warrensburg MO 64093
Southeast Missouri State University Press and Big Muddy Journal, MS 2650, One University Plaza, Cape Girardeau MO 63701
Time Being Books, 10411 Clayton Rd. Suites 201-203, St. Louis Mo. 63131
Truman State Univ. Press, TSUP Bldg, 100 E Norman St., Kirksville MO 63501
Woodley Memorial Press, Washburn University, Topeka KS 66111
University of Missouri Press, 2910 LeMone Blvd., Columbia, MO 65201

Coal City Review, English Dept., University of Kansas, Lawrence, KS 66045
The Mid-America Poetry Review P.O. Box 575, Warrensburg, MO 64093-0575.O. Box 575,
Flint Hills Review Empria State Univ., 1200 Commercial, Emporia KS 66801
Midwest Quarterly 406B Russ Hall, Pittsburg State U., Pittsburg KS 66762
The Missouri Review, 357 McReynolds Hall, University of Missouri, Columbia, MO 65211
Natural Bridge Journal, English Dept. U of Missouri-St. Louis 1 University Blvd, St. Louis MO 63121
New Letters, U of Missouri-Kansas City 5101 Rockhill Rd., Kansas City Mo 64110

Monday, October 12, 2009



Ben Lerner, from Topeka, pursued academic study of poetry at Brown University. His writing is grounded in the 21st century—with all its nesting boxes of realities and simulations. In one poem he writes about a man watching himself on TV: “He watches the image of his watching the image on his portable TV on his portable TV.” The occurrence of wordplay like this unifies Lerner’s writings. Lerner creates highly populated mappings of urban throughways. These include quick trackings of lifetime trajectories, like Ronald Reagan’s biography, for example. Such a person’s identity in this poetry-scape is reduced to an icon—the movie star president—and so human experience is easily commodified. Lerner told a Jacket magazine interviewer that he is concerned with “commercialization of public space and speech.”

Another of Lerner’s concerns is extended poems with variations on a theme, such as his first book, The Lichtenberg Figures. This interest extends to prose poem sections of Angle of Yaw, a 2007 Kansas Notable Book. Here, Lerner also shows interest in technologically expanded sight. The term “angle of yaw” is a physics term for the tiny sideways shiftings of an object like a bullet or airplane as it moves forward through its line of travel. This only can be observed from perspective of great distance, possible through optical aids. The poet, then, becomes a voyeur with infinite personal interactions to sort. He lives in not the classical age of art nor the modern nor postmodern. His is a land of fast, flattened social interactions, a hyper-industrial age where any human experience, not just labor, can be sold on E-bay.

This prose poem objectively classifies contemporary art forms. Like a wheel stuck in snow, the narrator defines art in relationship to its public context. The poem progresses from static images, painting and sculpture, to more dynamic ones. The dictionary-like tone reinforces the theme of art’s removal from spiritual experience.


If it hangs from the wall, it's a painting. If it rests on the floor, it's a sculpture. If it's very big or very small, it's conceptual. If it forms part of the wall, if it forms part of the floor, it's architecture. If you have to buy a ticket, it's modern. If you are already inside it and you have to pay to get out of it, it's more modern. If you can be inside it without paying, it's a trap. If it moves, it's outmoded. If you have to look up, it's religious. If you have to look down, it's realistic. If it's been sold, it's site-specific. If, in order to see it, you have to pass through a metal detector, it's public.

Education: Ben Lerner was born in Topeka, where he graduated from Topeka High School in 1997. At Brown University he earned a BA in Political Theory (2001) and an MFA in Poetry (2003).
Career: Lerner has published two books of poetry from Copper Canyon Press: The Lichtenberg Figures (2004, Hayden Carruth Prize) and Angle of Yaw (2006), which was nominated for a National Book Award. He has taught at California College of the Arts, Oakland, and now a professor at the University of Pittsburgh writing program. Since 2003, he has co-published No: A Journal of the Arts, a semiannual magazine of poetry, art and criticism. He also edits poetry for Critical Quarterly.
©2009 Denise Low AAPP 40 ©2006 Ben Lerner Angle of Yaw (Copper Canyon)

Monday, September 14, 2009


Don Levering grew up in Kansas City, Kansas, and for many years has lived in Santa Fe. His poetry braids together myth and the natural world, but unevenly. His poems are questions more than answers. As guest poet for the online Academy of American Poets forum, he described writing verse: “To straddle and ride the two-headed horse of poetry: one wants rhythm, the other compression.” This suggests the tension in his writing—the ongoing rhythm is studded with medallions of lightning-quick stories. His collaged images seem familiar, but he arranges them into illogical sequences.

The poem “Spider” suggests the urban myth of a person, perhaps someone like yourself, waking up with a spider in your mouth. It also suggests the Southwestern Indigenous people’s Spider Woman, who spins cosmic stories into realities. Just as this image of the “divine spider” becomes substantial, the poet turns you, or himself, into a marionette puppet tangled in strings pulled by an unseen puppeteer. The narrator is a helpless victim of a divorce, and then a victim of a larger web. The word “marrying” becomes another way of saying “entrapping.” The last part of the poem is a paradox, an unexpected twist. The shadows and dust and spider’s spinning all continue despite personal tragedy. The narrator focuses on the spider’s legs, mouth, and ability to spin silk—and he himself becomes spider-like, the “joyful” singer of this poem.

SPIDER To make a joyful sound, just let the divine spider climb out of your mouth and go about its business tying knots around your life. So you’re a marionette, you still can feel yourself dancing no matter who’s pulling the strings. Even as your divorce decree is signed, the spider goes on marrying you to corners of household dust. Eight legs, a ravenous mouth, and the yen to spin silk in shadows.Who wouldn’t sing?

Education: Don Levering was born and raised in Kansas City, Kansas. He received a BA in English (Baker University, 1971); studied at the University of Kansas and Lewis and Clark College; and received an MFA in Creative Writing from Bowling Green University (1978).
Career: Levering’s full-length books of poetry are Outcroppings From Navajoland (Navajo Community College Press 1985), Horsetail (Woodley Memorial Press 2003), and Whose Body (Sunstone Press 2007). He has published poems in five chapbooks and many anthologies and journals. Levering was a recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship Grant in poetry, a finalist for the John Ciardi Prize, and won first place in the Quest for Peace Writing Contest.
________________________________________________________________________________©2009 Denise Low AAPP 39 ©2008 Donald Levering “Spider” in Whose Body (Sunstone Press)

Sunday, September 6, 2009

William S. Burroughs Remembered Video

On Aug. 2 the Bourgeois Pig in Lawrence hosted a memorial reading for the 50th anniversary of Naked Lunch's publication. The 1950s legal battle over censorship changed the course of United States publication freedoms. Some of the people who knew Burroughs best were at the Aug. 2 reading, including James Grauerholz and Wayne Propst. Wayne played a loop of his home movies of William; some of his artworks were on display; Susie Ashline and Dalton Howard played; and some commemorative vodka & colas were drunk. Diane W. Pinegar shared her photos, and Wayne Propst and T.F. Pecore Weso consented to some interviews.

I recorded some of this event, and, with the help of Carol Burns of Ironwood Films, made a 22 min. version. There is a clip posted at: . Copies of the entire project are available through or at Quimby's in Chicago; Raven & Oread in Lawrence.

I also recommend Wayne Propst's footage at and Yony Leyser's trailer for "William S. Burroughs: A Man Within"at . In person, Burroughs was brilliant, in conversation working out ideas with axes going multiple directions. If one were a friend, he had exquisite, sensitive manners. All of our lives are different because of him.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Small Literary Press Mammoth Publications Rolls Out New Titles

My husband Thomas Weso, and I have a small press, Mammoth Publications, which is presenting a number of book events this fall:

1. Aug. 30 Sunday 4 pm Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg, poet laureate of Kansas, performs poems and songs from her new book/CD LANDED, with co-lyricist and outstanding musician Kelley Hunt, at the Lawrence Public Library. Dinner on your own afterwards at Local Burger.

2. Sept. 4 We Should Have Come by Water: Poems by Robert Day, a fine press (handset type on fine paper) chapbook with prints by Kathy Jankus (representend by the Strecker-Nelson Gallery in Manhattan), limited edition! Signing party details to be announced). Robert Day received his MFA in poetry, but is better known as a prose writer. This is his first publication of poetry.

3. The White-Skin Deer: Hoopa Stories (signing & reading in Oct.) by Elizabeth Schultz

4. We are reprinting E. Donald Two-Rivers’ 2003 book Powwows, Fat Cats, & Other Indian Tales, late August

5. And we also will be publishing the collection of Ad Astra Poetry Project electronic broadsides, a Kansas poetry anthology with commentary by Denise Low, in cooperation with Washburn’s Center for Kansas Studies.

Advance copies of these books are available through or in Lawrence: the Raven Bookstore and Oread Bookstore.

Denise Low, former Ks. Poet Laureate


Allison Hearn has been an active member of the poetry scene in Northeast Kansas for the last decade. She brings a traveler’s experience to her writing, as she was born in Trinidad and is descended from Portuguese, Italian, African, British, and Chinese families. Besides her original home in Trinidad, she has lived in London, New York, Toronto, Princeton, and, since 1996, Lawrence. Her formal training is in art and design.

Hearn has written intermittently since she was a girl, she told a Lawrence Journal World reporter (2002), and she relates to the Kansas landscape because of its embodiment of time: "Kansas is the floor of an ancient sea." In her writings, she lives amidst sea stones, family stories, and Victorian houses, which she restores for a living. In “Yearly Restoration,” an Ad Astra Poetry Contest winner, she delights in the names of commercial house paints: “Morning Mist,” “Electric-Pink,” “Evocative Sunlight,” and “”Frosted-Hawthorn.” These are her present-day layerings of experience over an 1850s frame house. So she participates in history, as she heals damage to “kicked-in doors.” This renewal becomes its own shade, “Good-As-New.” The narrator suggests the “frat-boy parties” that recently ended and other stories, but this is a lyrical poem about sealing in the present, as though it could last through all years.

YEARLY RESTORATIONI bought a bucket of Morning-Mistand painted the windows open.Electric-Pink that splattered the floorwas patiently scraped with razor and ragsuntil the oak grain shone.Evocative-Sunlight in multiple layershid the bruise marks on the walls.Two emergency blankets of Ivory-Coasttenderly covered, mended, kicked-in-doors.Frosted-Hawthorn soothed in cross stitch brush strokesgraffiti etchings from drunken KU frat-boy parties.The painted Victorian,built by 1850s Lawrence-Kansas pioneersstood, patiently, waiting for its wounds to heal.Next morning I brought a gallonof Good-As-Newand sealed the front porch done.

Education: Allison Hearn was born and raised in Trinidad, where she graduated from high school. She attended St Martin's School of Art, London.
Career: Hearn has published poems in journals such as Coal City Review, I-70 and others. She published Dreaming the Bronze Girl (Mid-America Press 2002), a Kansas City Star Notable Book, and a second book is ready for publication. She has worked as a writer, illustrator, and fashion designer in Trinidad and London. She writes poetry and renovates Victorian houses in Lawrence.
________________________________________________________________________________©2009 Denise Low AAPP 38 ©2009 Serina Allison Hearn “Atlas of My Birth” ©2008 Denise Low, photo

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Poetry in July: Not Just an April Kind of Thing

Dear Poetry Friends,
Yes, life continues after one has been a poet laureate. Governor Parkinson was gracious enough this last month to award me a certificate for being poet laureate, and I had my photo taken with him. I also had a chance to stop by the Kansas Center for the book, located in the Capitol building, and visit with Roy Bird, its director.

I also read poetry 12 months a year, not just in April. So here is another great Kansas poet: Victor Contoski. He was one of the first poets on my blog, but I never did a formal broadside of his work.

Congratulations to Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg, who can be reached through the Kansas Arts Commission website. And Jonathan Holden’s DVD of shoptalk is available now (through the KAC), with wonderful documentation of him reading and discussing poetry.

Denise Low


My first college teacher of poetry was Victor Contoski, a professor at the University of Kansas. He encouraged his students unconditionally; he insisted we purchase copies of literary magazines and imagine ourselves in their pages; and he encouraged us to learn how to write reviews. Contoski also taught his students to read Midwestern writers closely, especially William Stafford, Robert Bly, and Ted Kooser. He was greatly influenced by his Polish wife’s experiences during the war and his own experiences teaching in Poland during the Cold War as a Fulbright scholar. A gallows humor underlies the outlook of survivors, and this humor seeps through Contoski’s works.

Contoski writes haunting, vivid and unsettling poems about rain, stars, frontier history, and myths. “Sunset” occurs during a somber time of day. Its setting, the Western frontier, is a backdrop for Spanish horsemen, nursery rhymes, and western cowboy heroes who die. Finally, the European folklore figure Jack enters into the grasslands landscape, reincarnated as a Wild Man figure, and now as comfortable with a cottonwood tree as a beanstalk. And the final victor is nature itself, the constantly moving sun.


Since long before the white man
rode out onto the prairies
the sun has been going down.
A towering cottonwood sways in the breeze
rocking rocking the cradle in its branches.
The hero’s eyes turn glassy.
His hand waves vaguely
toward something in his breast
as his knees buckle.
The giant coming down the beanstalk
feels it start to sway beneath him.
He looks down and sees Jack
with a silly grin and a hatchet
looming suddenly larger and larger
as the sun over Kansas
goes down and down and out.

Education: Victor Contoski received a BA in Ancient Greek and MA in English (University of Minneapolis); and a PhD in American literature (University of Wisconsin 1969). 1961-1964 he lived in Poland, as a Fulbright professor. As a professor at KU from 1969 to 2009 he won the HOPE award.
Career: Contoski’s books are Astronomers, Madonnas, and Prophesies (Northeast/Juniper Books, 1972); Broken Treaties (New Rivers 1973); Names (New Rivers Press 1979); A Kansas Sequence (Tellus/Cottonwood Review Press 1983); Midwestern Buildings (Cottonwood Press 1997) and Homecoming (New Rivers Press 2000).

Tuesday, June 30, 2009


As a fifth-generation Kansan, Denise Low writes verse that references the history and environmental concerns of this region. She grew up at the edge of Emporia, where the Flint Hills and town meet. Early experiences were with wildlife, grasslands plants, weather, and home gardens of the area. She learned to plant tomatoes every summer, and nothing store-boughten can compare to their flavor. From William Allen White, William Stafford, and William S. Burroughs, she
learned the variety of Midwestern experiences and the idioms of those literary traditions.

Like Stafford, Low is conscious of time as another dimension, which has its own cycles, more recursive than linear. Transformation, rather than static grief, characterizes this elegy to her mother. A “columbarium” is a cemetery for people who have been cremated. The poem is a study in contrasts: cold and sun; brick and ash; organic and mineral; sky and earth; animate and inanimate; grief and joy. These oppositions constantly shift.


Cold sun brings this mourning season to an end,
one year since my mother’s death. Last winter thaw
my brother shoveled clay-dirt, she called it “gumbo,”
over powdery substance the crematorium sent us,
not her, but fine, lightened granules—all else
rendered into invisible elements. That handful
from the pouch, un-boxed, was tucked into plotted soil,
the churchyard columbarium, under a brass plaque
and brick retaining wall, as semblance of permanence.
Now my mother is a garden—lilies and chrysanthemums
feeding from that slight, dampened, decomposing ash.
Her voice stilled. One ruddy robin in the grass, dipping.

Education: Denise Low earned BA and MA degrees in English (University of Kansas 1971, 1974) and an MFA in Creative Writing from Wichita State University (1984). In 1997 she completed a PhD at the University of Kansas in English.
Career: Low has taught and been an administrator at Haskell Indian Nations University for 25 years. She also has been Visiting Professor at the University of Richmond and KU. She has written and edited more than 20 books of poetry and prose. From 2007-2009 she served as Kansas Poet Laureate. She is on the national board of the Associated Writers and Writing Programs. Her awards include NEH, Lannan, KAC, and Poetry Society of America recognition.
Her websites are and

2nd Kansas Poet Laureate Denise Low Ends Term

Dear Poetry Friends,
I am finishing my last official Ad Astra Poetry Project electronic broadside. Many Kansans have asked why I have not included myself—and the answer is this position is about being an ambassador for all Kansas poets, not my own publicity. But I will end with a final sample of my own work. More information and poetry samples are at .

What comes next? First, a party at the Lawrence Arts Center July1, 7:30. Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg, the 3rd Kansas poet laureate, and I will both speak, and we will support an independent publication, The new Imagination & Place Anthology. Some of the contributors to this anthology will also read. I will attempt to thank the host of people who have contributed to these two years.

Next, I will continue to present these broadsides periodically. I am surprised by wonderful new Kansas-linked poets almost daily. I have left out some of the poets who were on my original list! And I’ve had so many requests to keep these traveling through cyberspace. These poetry broadsides will continue to be free to media, arts agencies, schools, libraries, and other interested groups and individuals—for nonprofit use.

And do look for a publication of the collected broadsides in book form later this summer. Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg plans to use this book as a text for her own Kansas poet laureate project: to conduct poetry writing workshops across the state (you can make contact with her through the Kansas Arts Commission website). These will be available through , some area bookstores, and online book vendors.

Most of all, through these two years, I have come to have profound admiration for the Kansas Arts Commission staff and board; former governor Kathleen Sebelius, who supported the establishment of the program; the first poet laureate Jonathan Holden; Thomas Fox Averill, who nominated me; my husband Thomas Pecore Weso and family who supported me personally; friends, and especially Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg, the 3rd Kansas poet laureate; Ad Astra poets and poetry contest participants; and all the educators, librarians, independent writers, arts agencies, social service agencies, and students who create our ongoing literary tradition.

I have come to believe that poetry leads its readers and practitioners to a deeper kind of literacy, one that involves greater understanding of the balance between conscious and unconscious; physical and spiritual; and objective facts and subjective interpretations. This is essential, not a frill, in these times of the most complex communication systems ever seen.

My gratitude to you for your interest, and all best,
Denise Low

Friday, June 19, 2009


Dear Poetry Friends,

First, please join the next poet laureate and myself at an Imagination & Place-sponsored event July 1, 7:30 pm, at the Lawrence Arts Center. We will celebrate the passing of the torch to Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg, 3rd Kansas poet laureate. Both of us will speak briefly and read poetry. Also, we will celebrate the publication of the Imagination & Place anthology edited by Kelly Barth. Details are attached.

I have not gone through my list of significant Kansas poets—those who have published one book with an outside press and contributed to Kansas culture. So in the future I will continue with some further broadsides. If you would like your name removed from this list, please contact me at

So here is another Ad Astra Poetry Project broadside celebrating Linda Rodriguez’s poetry. She has ties to the Latino writing community in Kansas City, as well as ties to central Kansas. She has a new book and upcoming readings: first tonight June 19 at Lenexa, Kansas, City Hall for with the Latino Writers Collective at 7:30 pm; and second, Thursday, June 25, she will read at The Raven Bookstore in Lawrence for the Big Tent Reading Series, with Peter Wright at 7:00 pm. I’ll see you there.

Text version


Linda Rodriguez was born in Fowler, graduated from Manhattan High School, and attended Kansas State University before dropping out to hitch-hike to Haight Ashbury in the 60s. Since 1970, she has lived in Kansas City, where she was director of the University of Missouri-KC Women’s Center. Rodriguez is vice-president of the Latino Writers Collective, and she has published in numerous journals and anthologies, including Primera Página: Poetry from the Latino Heartland. Her new collection Heart’s Migration won the Elvira Cordero Cisneros Award. She is of Western Cherokee descent.

In “Coyote Invades Your Dreams,” Rodriguez reminds us of how close Kansans are to animal life. Coyotes stalk fringes of cities and pasturelands. The adaptation of these wily beasts is instructive—we humans also learn environments quickly and well. We share animal qualities of stalking, shifting identities, and forming attachments. A coyote lover is a trickster who both attracts and frightens, like change. The coyote encounter leaves its mark.


You’re staying clear
of him. Just because
you noticed him once
or twice doesn’t mean you want
anything to do with him.
He’s beneath you—
and above you and inside you
in your dreams. His mouth
drinks you deep, and you come
up empty and gasping
for air and for him. That traitor,
your body, clings to him like a life
raft in this hurricane
you’re dreaming. His face
above yours loses its knowing
smile as he takes you. Again,
this night, you drown
in your own desire. Coyote
marks you as his.
You wake to the memory
of a growl.

Education: This poet has a B.A in English-Creative Writing/journalism (University of Missouri-Kansas City) and an M.A. in English (University of Missouri-Kansas City).
Career: Former Director of the UMKC Women’s Center; Personal achievement coach; Editor and freelance writer. Poetry books are Skin Hunger (Potpourri Publications, 1995, one of Writer’s Digest’s four top poetry chapbooks of the year) and Heart’s Migration, (Tia Chucha Press, 2009 Elvira Cordero Cisneros Award).
© 2009 Denise Low, AAPP 35. © 2009 Linda Rodriguez “Coyote Invades Your Dreams” (Tia Chucha, 2009).

Tuesday, June 2, 2009


Kevin Rabas grew up in Shawnee, Johnson County. He attended area colleges and also Goddard in Vermont. Now he teaches creative writing at Emporia State University. He has a musical background, including training in marimba and other percussions. He still performs music regularly in eastern Kansas (see his website below). While living in the Kansas City area, he developed talents as a jazz drummer, historian, and critic, which influences his poetry both in form and content. He writes about Charlie Parker (“Bird’s Horn”) and other musicians. He also approaches a poem like an improvised solo, with a musical phrase (like a poetic image) enunciated and then repeated in varying ways.
In the poem “Lightning’s Bite,” he begins with a child’s voice as a boy asserts that lightning is like a mammal with teeth. Throughout the poem, then, the narrator notices the sky in this new mode, or musical key. The clouds “look like they are carrying heavy sacks.” The trees “wave” in the wind. And because this is a child’s poem, imaginary “great dragons” can appear in the cloud formations. Next, the poem shifts back to an adult’s perspective, or instrumental voice, as the narrator admits the phenomenon is simply wind. So the grown-up comforts the child. Yet the adult narrator is changed. When the storm passes, he sees wind as something more: “It is like standing under a bridge as a train goes over.” The two perspectives merge into a third, as a musician would resolve a melody with a final chord.


Watch out. The lightning might come down
and bite you, my son says, and we look
to the gray, weighted clouds above us
that look like they are carrying heavy sacks
of hail or rain. Or snow, but it is too early for that.
So we hold out our hands and look for the droplets
that should come, and there are none.
So we look to the trees that wave and bend
and to the branches full of big green leaves,
branches that look like the necks of great dragons
twisting and fighting, when all this really is
is wind, and we go home, go inside, and watch
as the lights go out, and we listen to the storm above us.
It is like standing under a bridge as a train goes over.
But this train keeps coming, and rumbling, and my son
puts his hands over his ears. I take him in my arms,
and we do not tremble. We laugh.

Education: Kevin Rabas received a BA in English (University of Missouri-Kansas City, 1995); MA in English (Kansas State University, 1998); MFA in Creative Writing (Goddard College, 2002); and Ph.D. in English (University of Kansas, 2007).
Career: This poet teaches at Emporia State University, where he co-directs the creative writing program and co-edits Flint Hills Review. His awards for poetry include the Langston Hughes Award. He has published Bird’s Horn (Coal City Review Press 2007) and Lisa’s Flying Electric Piano (Woodley 2009). His jazz poetry CD is Last Road Trip, with saxophonist Josh Sclar ( ) ________________________________________________________________________________
© 2009 Denise Low, AAPP 34 © 2009 Kevin Rabas “Lightning’s Bite“ (Lisa’s Flying Electric Piano, Woodley)

Friday, May 1, 2009


Thanks to everyone who contributed to Kansas poetry month! Here are the winners of the 8 contests:
Contest 1: Kansas Landscape Winning submissions from: William Sheldon, Robert Stewart, Joshua Falleaf, Candace Krebs, and Wayne White
Contest 2: Kansas Town(s)
Winning submissions from: Jo McDougall, Gloria Vando, H.C. Palmer, Tom Mach, Claudia Mundell, and Eli Jost
Contest 3: Kansas Portraits
Winning submissions from: Robert Day, Kevin Rabas, Kiesa Kay, and Diane Wahto
Contest 4: Kansas Ghost Stories
Winning submissions from: Dennis Kelly, Philip Miller, Amy Cummins, and H.C. Palmer
Contest 5: Kansas Houses
Winning submissions from: Jeanie Wilson, Thomas Reynolds, Daniel Pohl, Judith G. Levy, and Greg German
Contest 6: Kansas Historic Myths
Winning submissions from: Israel Wasserstein, Tom Mach, Duane L. Hermann, David Norlin, and Serina Allison Hearn
Contest 7: Kansas Gardens
Winning submissions from: Jeanie Wilson, Linda Rodriguez, Judith Roitman, Angela Hine, and Max Yoho
Contest 8: Kansas Wildlife
Winning submissions from: Steven Hind, Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg, Stephen Meats, Bill Hickok, Priscilla McKinney, Robert Stewart, and John Blair

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Ad Astra Poetry Contest #8 Winners

Congratulations to winners of Ad Astra Poetry Contest #8, Kansas Wildlife: Steven Hind (Hutchinson), Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg (Lawrence, next Ks. Poet Laureate!), Stephen Meats (Pittsburg), Bill Hickok (Mission & L.A.), Priscilla McKinney (Lawrence), Robert Stewart (Johnson Co.), and John Blair (Arlington, Texas & former Jayhawk).Competition was very, very stiff this time, and I selected shorter poems to fit the space. I appreciate all the entries that have come my way this month.

Further details and examples of my own Kansas poems are on the Kansas Arts Commission website: My thanks to Christine Dotterweich Bial and all the good folks at the KAC. Greg German hosts the wonderful site, which also supports this project.
This is the last contest, and many of you have up to eight new poems. I encourage you to use them as “poems in your pocket” today—take one out and read it to folks you meet. November is novel-writing month. Perhaps by then you will have a book-length manuscript of poetry completed.

All best, Denise Low

by Steven Hind

The fish that swallowed the fish
carried its last living victim in
the delicate raft of its ribs, as if
art had molded a story of
gluttony, or how unlucky hungers
end every story in the wealth of the
sea. On my spongy soles I stand
before "the most photographed
fossil in the world," as my bones
hold up the soft machine of my
breathing, my blood as salty
as oceans, and I study the jaw,
the awful jaw, made for reaping
first to last suppers, design frozen
into the slab of accumulations,
an awful tale from the depths of
a timeless time, and I imagine
accumulations: a million pictures
of the double fish, drifting into
another pocket of the past.
When The Rain Comes
by Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg

The clouds roll in,
shadows holding up light,
titled silver at the edges.
Trees everywhere turned,
sidewalks dry and wanting,
grass silvering
in stalks of wind.
The branches heavy
with blackbirds,
the old wall of sky etched
with worn lightning.
The whole fields lifted
to the breaking world
where, for a moment,
all that wants to be said is heard.
Evening Callers
by Stephen Meats

Just at dark three barred owls
whisper into the backyard elms.
For thirty minutes they circle
and swoop, or sit in silhouette
on dead branches high
against the fading light
and rollick a cacophony
of howls and coughs and barks
while a flurry of squirrels
skitter for safety on the under
sides of limbs.
Scrambled Eggs
by Bill Hickok

The drab diminutive cowbird
hops like a rabbit behind
her bovine friend.
Makes gourmet meals of
what’s left on the ground.
Her moxie does not stop there.
In spring she drops her eggs
with mercenary zeal
into the nests of strangers.
Meadowlark becomes motherlark;
killdeer, mommy dear;
the prairie sparrows and grouse—
all oblivious surrogates
for these street-smart cruisers.
Gone the nursery and teenage
tyranny. These master sleuths
of the midland flats have
feathers of their kind and
brains that gleam.
Avis Tyrannosaurus
by Priscilla S. McKinney

Growing pale under feathers,
most birds back off from a predator,
giving a bluejay some space,
when he comes to their feeder.

I saw a poor wren pecked to death once
who failed to defer to his dominance.

Watching him run, stalk, and attack,
I see in this present-day seed-eater
his less sleek, unfeathered ancestor,
the monstrous Jurassic meateater.
Hunt It Down & Kill It
by Robert Stewart
I think I could live with animals, they are so placid and self-contained. Whitman

There it is, placid in the tall-grown
Kansas backyard, the rabbit that loves
to flaunt its white behind if our back
door creaks open, or if I stand and look
at it long and long; the rabbit knows
it can stretch its legs far into this state
toward the six-foot privacy fence,
the gleam of morning light in wet grass.

There it is, so self-contained no one
has heard it whine or lie awake weeping
for its sins, though warned by poets,
failing in its duty to God. We kneel,
Dog and I, by the lilac bush to stalk
the demented mania of all things
poking around, ears hand-signaling
the birds that fly and fish that swim

the limitless prairie lakes and skies.
There it is, eyeballing its escape hole
that it might live, also, with animals
not respectable or unhappy even if
a shadow drifts over the earth, sharp-
shinned or Cooper’s hawk, or me
loping in the tall, wet, grass neighbors
sneer at. Lazy, they say. Oh, placid.
Birdfeeder Karma
by John Blair

Take care before
You hang a birdfeeder
Imagining how mellow it will seem
To see your feathered friends
Clinging to its sides
Or hopping all around
On the ground beneath.
Unless you aspire to be
Dispassionate, objective,
A self-distancing observer
Of these non-human species,
You will soon discover
You have linked with other lives
And are a part, in no small way,
Of their existence.
And when one winter day
You find small bones, a skull,
A pair of ragged feathers
Half-hid beneath the leaves
Where last summer
Sparrows hotly chirped
And bluejays jeered,
The tiny pain you feel
Is the gift you gave yourself.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Ad Astra Poetry Contest #8, Kansas Wildlife

  1. Contest 8: Kansas Wildlife Deadline for Submissions: Thursday, April 30, 2009, midnight. This is our last contest!
    Contest rules:
    The goal is to write a poem (or poems) based this theme and e-mail to kansaspoetry@gmail . Please paste your poem into an email and also, if possible, attach a document file in WORD or Rich Text Format (RTF). Further details and examples of my own Kansas poems are on the Kansas Arts Commission website: .
    Each contest winner will receive a free book of poetry and/or Ad Astra broadsides. The winning poems will be posted on my blog, and on The Kansas Poet Laureate is the sole judge and reserves the right to choose based on her own aesthetic taste. Shorter poems are easier to post on the web.

    Please also participate in April 29-30, Poem in Your Pocket Day! Here is one way:
    1. The Lawrence Public Library will be distributing printed poems on April 29 and 30 for Poem in Your Pocket Day, an initiative of the Academy of American Poets for National Poetry Month. Kansas poets are invited to submit short poems (about 20 lines) for this project. Your submission will constitute permission for the Library to use the piece for this purpose only. A copy will be sent to you if your poem is used, and decisions about which poems are used are the Library's and are final.
    2. Another Poem in Your Pocket idea is on : “Celebrate the second national Poem In Your Pocket Day on Thursday, April 30, 2009! The idea is simple: select a poem you love during National Poetry Month then carry it with you to share with co-workers, family, and friends on April 30, 2009.”

Ad Astra Poetry Contest Winners: Ks. Gardens

My Mother's Garden
Jeanie Wilson

Wander down
her garden paths—
smell of lavender
and rosemary,
sound of easy laughter
riding on sunlit air.
It is as if she
is running just ahead—
as if her skirt
has just flicked
out of sight around the corner.
The Environmentalists Burn the Prairie
Linda Rodriguez

I abandon,
like Aeneas, fleeing their set fire,
as if from Dido
and chaos, passionate
and fertile as the void was fertile
enough in Genesis to spawn life
down to the last
caterpillar-chewed leaf.

I surrender
when the burning grass falls around me
as the hot winds surge and fail.
Wrapped in a tangle
of pea-vines and walled in
by man-high grass, I welcome
the roar and the smoke and the flame
too much, I fear.

I circle
behind the fireline
and walk on steaming cinders
where a world had been.
Because of the flames, they tell me,
in spring the gayfeather will shoot up
and a thousand tiny orchids will hide
among the roots of renewed grasses.

I escape
to plant my Roman garden in the spring
in measured, lawful rows.
In classic tradition, I limit creation
to that scrap
I control.
My garden
Judith Roitman

Chiggers. Poison ivy.
Thank God, worms.

Tulips & daffodils.
Pray for mountain rue.

Sticky weed. Burrs.
Thornystem weed (horse nettle?)

Vinca smothered by euonymus along the sidewalk —
Root out the euonymus! Turn it into lawn! Yes!

Vinca carpet along the creek
slowly taking over all empty space.

Lamium almost smothered by vinca along the creek:
only two left.

Coreopsis = moon flower holding off vinca encroachment.

Daffodils in shade.
Hosta in sun.

Oops, backwards. Do-over.

Bunches & bunches & bunches of lilacs.
Rose of Sharon — my childhood home.


Phlox — alternate purple and pink.
Two rose bushes, a gift.
(Now we have to feed them.)

For Sythia, always for Sythia.
What about Alice? Mary? Don’t they deserve something?

Moneywort in two shades intertwined.
Sedum (2 kinds) & maiden pink & chrysanthemummummums.

White pine. Silver birch. Pin oak. Maple. Chinese elm.
Juniper bushes in front, 4 box hedges in back.

Lots of pine trees, 2 of them spindly & not going to last long.
Weed trees along the creek & the east side of the property.

Snow-in-summer (say it fast 10 times).

“If grass won’t grow there
nothing else will.”

But the peonies oh the peonies
the peonies always do all right.
Angela Hine

I. Morning
We pick pans and pans of cucumbers,
their spines pricking the skin
on the insides of our arms,

drops of sweet water budding
at the point where fruit left vine.

Bees as eager as we
to harvest from the blooms
buzz in and around the shaded leaves,

the shadow of my hand
crossing their paths.

II. Afternoon
We pull plastic sheeting off
the old window unit and coax it
to blow its musty, dusty air.

We wash and slice, vinegar and salt,
add mustard, orange-gold turmeric, dill,
pull clean, blue-green Ball jars
from the oven, and pickle
in the weight of the heated kitchen.

Bronze lids pop and seal
in long rows across the counter.

III. Evening
We water the plants, winding
the long hose out from the leaky
faucet behind the garage,

past the onions and strawberries,
through cabbages and past
the row of clustered peppers,
next to the budding okra, planted late.

The earth opens up and drinks
our water, and I drink from the hose,

fresh summer water that tastes like metal
and rubber, sweet dirt and sweat.

IV. Night
We come inside when the sun
has its late setting and june bugs
fly blind into window screens.

We wash our feet in the bathtub,
watch the dirt and dust break loose
and flow down the drain,

dry our feet on towels
dried rough on the clothesline,
wipe our sunburned necks of sweat.

Some nights, the washing is too much;
in the heat, the long day, we go to sleep
and take the dirt to bed with us.
Vacant Lot - Colony, KS
Max Yoho

Hollyhocks grew here,
fibrous and pungent.

Jonquils, pushy as teenagers,
rushed up through the snow.

Here! The yellow rosebush.
Grandma called it “Nebuchadnezzar.”

Here was the garden,
where her gold wedding band
slipped from her slender finger
and was planted among peas or radishes.

Here, I secretly watched, each spring,
for the first green shoots
of a Wedding Band Bush.

Alone now,
at the yellow rosebush,
I say our magic words:
“Your old slippers, my old shoes,
Nebuchadnezzar, the King of the Jews.”


Sunday, April 26, 2009


Charlie Plymell was born in Holcomb during the Depression. He has written that his father was an Oklahoma cowboy, and his mother was of “Plains Indian descent.” He participated in the beat movement in Wichita, L.A., San Francisco, and New York. Michael McClure, Bruce Conner, S. Clay Wilson, William Burroughs, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, and others befriended him. He has edited and published Cherry Valley Editions in New York, since 1974. He regularly visits family and friends in Kansas.

Plymell celebrates details of geographic places in many of his poems, whether Paris, Utah, Baltimore, or Nueva York. Like many Kansans, he is an inveterate traveler, and he has some of the best highway poems. “Not a Regular Kansas Sermon” references Kansas culture in several ways: the subsistence living, with pear cactus and jackrabbits making a meal; and a faith that makes psychological survival possible. He has a declamatory style, with the ability to compress stories to their barest, most gleaming bones.

For my mother in the hospital

Your grandmother married out of
the Trail of Tears.
You were born to a trail of fears,
a soddy, your brother dead.
Now you mistake me for him.

Then came the dust storms.
You put wet wash rags
over our faces so we could breathe.

Many women went mad, “God’s Wrath”
in the storms, miles from anywhere.
It took strength, courage and prayer.
You shot jackrabbits to feed five kids
and even fed hoboes from the tracks.

You gathered cactus for us to eat.
(I saw some at a gourmet market in D.C.)
I’ve yet to see snow ice cream
or mayonnaise & sugar sandwiches.
I did see fry bread recently
at Harbor Place in Baltimore. . . .

Education: Charles Plymell attended North High School in Wichita and Wichita State University without receiving a degree. He received an MA from the faculty of arts and sciences(Johns Hopkins 1970).
Career: Dave Haselwood published Plymell’s first poetry book, Apocalypse Rose (San Francisco, 1966), and Lawrence Ferlinghetti published his novel The Last of the Moccasins (1971). The University of Delaware collections his manuscripts and papers. His other dozen books are listed online at his press: ________________________________________________

© 2009 Denise Low, AAPP 33 © 2009 Charles Plymell, 2002 Patrick O’Connor, photograph

Friday, April 24, 2009

Ad Astra Poetry Contest #7, Kansas Gardens

The next Ad Astra Poetry Contest theme is Kansas Gardens. For some of us these are yearly tomato patches; for some, gardens of Eden; and for others these are oases of ornament. Deadline: Monday April 27, 2009, midnight.

I appreciate the good efforts of so many who send in their works. We are nearing the end of the month, and we have built a good body of work about Kansas life.

Contest rules:
The goal is to write a poem (or poems) based this theme and e-mail to kansaspoetry@gmail. Please paste your poem into an email and also, if possible, attach a document file in WORD or Rich Text Format (RTF). Further details and examples of my own Kansas poems are on the Kansas Arts Commission website:

Each contest winner will receive a free book of poetry and/or Ad Astra broadsides. The winning poems will be posted on my blog, and on The Kansas Poet Laureate is the sole judge and reserves the right to choose based on her own aesthetic taste. Shorter poems (under 25 lines) are easier to post on the web.

AAPP Contest 6 Kansas Myths: Winning Poems

John Brown
Israel Wasserstein
. . . for I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation . . . Exodus 20:5

A mural in the Kansas statehouse:
this man with wildfire eyes, clutching
freedom like commandments,
gun in one hand, Bible in the other,
his image iconic, recalling
a bloody sainthood:

The fires simmered
in Lawrence, the Free-State Press
heaped to ashes and charred
planks by the pro-slavers,
when he took four sons
and his burning abolition,
dragged five men from their homes,
and, in front of their families,
raised sharpened swords.

Brown spread his vengeance
like red wheat across the fields,
left rubble of men behind him.
He stopped short of the prophet
who sent limbs to the four
corners of the land. Yet this man,
who carved wrath
across the state, was feared
by would-be southerners
all the way to the Colorado
border. The state broiled for years,
through skirmishes and lawlessness
and two nullified constitutions.

But Brown left,
raided Harper's Ferry,
and when we killed him
it was the proper Federal way,
on public gallows and rope
cutting against his neck.
The Myth of Stull, Kansas
Tom Mach

If someone tells you to go to hell,
take Highway 40
and proceed ten miles west from Lawrence.
But if you want to see the devil himself
make your brave voyage on the night of
the Spring Equinox or Halloween.
Satanic stories abound over Stull, Kansas —
a hamlet too small to have its own post office
but large enough to contain legions of evil spirits.
They say a little boy had been scorched to death
in a field his father was burning,
and a man was found hung from an oak tree
after vanishing like a wisp of smoke,
while yet another at the old church felt
an unearthly gale while inside the building
But it’s the cemetery that is most feared
for they say it is Beelzebub’s gate.
The voices of the dead will strangle you
while evils spirits carve out your innards.
Legend has it that early settlers erased
the shame of their witchcraft practices
by erasing Deer Creek Community
and replacing its name with “Stull.”
And folks swear that an old tree in the graveyard
once served as gallows for condemned witches
who return each year as Satan’s army.
Pshaw! Look, see the vandalized grave markers
and that church building leveled into limestone gravel.
Nonsense! There is no evil here in Stull, Kansas.
So why did the Pope supposedly order his private plane
to avoid crossing Stull’s path on his way to Colorado ?
Duane L. Hermann

Peak afternoon heat,
not the smartest time,
for a summer hike,
but homage I paid
and reverence
to the ancient ones.
Ignorant of ceremonies
and the language,
yet I come with respect
this is a holy place:
this mound, rising
from the vast, open plain,
a remnant city
of once vast and
mighty civilization
with secrets unknown
hundreds of years now
At Home in the Country
David Norlin

Grandpa Floyd’s beaten straw hat rose well above the gray
Ford garden-tractor that tilled 60-acre milo,
but fell short of my shoulder.
A head short, a heart tall.

His hatbrim’s eyeshade, essential as the now-shattered mulberry windbreak,
oversaw our shaking careful pies to canvas,
our rescue of purple-sugared beauties from brown-green twig-leaves,
Thudding cacophonies ending in supper dessert-sighs.

The stained impressionist tarp mulls its own berry-splashes,
hanging not quiet in the old barn, echoing lazily
against brother dust motes that drift and dream in broken beams,
awaiting another harvest, unrealized.

Across from the barn window, a driveway away,
hovering above barren goat-grazed landfill, another specter floats,
its white wood window frames, door, and stone steps
tucked neatly around another purple-sweet, whose lilac scent
decorated the May air, dressing it for our entry, come supper.

Below, dark brown buries all memory, all trace of basement
and make-shift garage, its ghosts of cream separator,
Mason-jar tomatoes, coal furnace, and Grandpa’s 51 Ford,
complete with glowing purple-green and white dashboard
that so impressed the neighbor’s visiting Oklahoma granddaughter
that night, getting ice cream in town at Dallas’s.

Four years after grandpa’s back-covering brown mole
gnawed its way through his lung,
a smoldering remnant returned to remove grandma’s
last reasons to stay. Returning from a concert,
she found her piano back-lit by flame,
its wires popping one last sigh-sound as it melted
with the rest, leaving only smoke-wisps, not another
slowly-rotting wood grave marker.
Yearly Restoration
Serina Allison Hearn

I bought a bucket of Morning-Mist
and painted the windows open.
Electric-Pink that splattered the floor
was patiently scrapped with razor and rags
until the oak grain shone.
Evocative-Sunlight in multiple layers
hid the bruise marks on the walls.
Two emergency blankets of Ivory-Coast
tenderly covered, mended, kicked-in-doors.
Frosted-Hawthorn soothe in cross stitch brush strokes
graffiti etchings from drunken KU frat-boy parties.
The painted Victorian,
built by 1850's Lawrence-Kansas pioneers
stood, patiently, waiting for its wounds to heal.
Next morning I brought a gallon
of Good-As-New
and sealed the front porch done.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Ad Astra Poetry Contest #6, April 23: Kansas Historic Myths

Contest 6: Kansas Historic Myths The next Ad Astra Poetry Contest theme is Kansas Historic Myths. Deadline: Thursday April 23, 2009, midnight.
The goal is to write a poem (or poems) based this theme and e-mail to
kansaspoetry@gmail. Please paste your poem into an email and also, if possible, attach a document file in WORD or Rich Text Format (RTF). Further details and examples of my own Kansas Myth poems are on the Kansas Arts Commission website: contest winner will receive a free book of poetry and/or Ad Astra broadsides. The winning poems will be posted on my blog, and on The Kansas Poet Laureate is the sole judge and reserves the right to choose based on her own aesthetic taste. Shorter poems (under 25 lines) are easier to post on the web. Deadline for Submissions: Thursday, April 23, 2009 .

Other poetry news:

State Poets-Laureate Denise Low of Kansas and Walter Bargen of Missouri will read together tonight, Tuesday, April 21, 2009 - 7:00 pm at the Johnson County Public Library, 9875 W. 87th, Overland Park, KS 913-495-9107. Please see my blog for more area poetry events.

Veteran poet W.S. Merwin’s The Shadow of Sirius just won the 2009 Pulitzer Prize for poetry. He grew up in New Jersey and now resides in Maui. In 1971 he won the Pulitzer for the poems in The Carrier of Ladders. He has published 40 books of poetry and translations of poetry. The Pulitzer committee described the Copper Canyon Press book as as “a collection of luminous, often tender poems that focus on the profound power of memory.” More information about Merwin is available at:

AAPP Contest 5 Kansas Houses: Winners

Jeanie Wilson (Olathe)

A wicker chair cradles me, rocks me to rhythms
of cicadas and crickets, bull frogs down at the pond.
Two whippoorwills cry around the house.
Night creeps in like a stain.

My great-great grandmother sat on this porch,
looked out across the fields, rested from the day’s heat.
She has passed away along with my grandmother,
grandfather, and my aunt.

I am caught, tangled around by their doings,
their lives—a weaving of threads in the air of this house.
In the darkness, I listen to the sounds of their voices,
watch the parade of faces.
Thomas Reynolds (Overland Park)

In my grandmother’s mind,
The streets were not crooked.

The house where she lived as a child
Stood as resolute as Sander’s Hill.

Sidewalks never cracked,
And mother’s backs were never broken.

The milk truck still pulled up out front,
And bottles waited patiently on steps.

Doors never burst open with anger,
Slamming repeatedly in the August air.

Mothers never cried at midnight,
And fathers, even if so inclined,

Never lost their paychecks in card games,
Wandering the crooked streets until dawn.

Lights were out across town by eleven,
Except for maybe in some upstairs window,

Where one small girl read by candlelight,
And occasionally looked out at the full moon,

Thanking God for the life she was given,
That somehow it would go on forever,

Here with rolling hills as backdrop
And every bad memory erased.

Many Mansions but One for Kansas
Daniel Pohl (Hutchinson)

You must take the tour at Saint
Fidelis to become one of the sixteen
Thousand, yearly, transformed by
Devoted architecture of German
Masters, voted by the people one
Of the eight wonders that live here
On the plains to know it is true.

You need to exit at Victoria from I-70,
From its hurried life, its ego, and the
Mischief it causes, to slow down, to
Listen to the guide explain it, once,
Proclaimed by William Jennings Bryan
As the “Cathedral of the Plains” though
No Bishop ever resided there at the
“Largest Church West of the Mississippi.”

You have to learn about the Biblical
Austrian art, the crafted Italian marble
Altar, the storied windows above it,
Especially on a sunny afternoon that
Will pop the colors to burn memory
Onto the inside of your soul, and
How the eye never is meant to focus
But wander from transit to nave, from
Ceiling to the Stations of the Cross.

Then after, sit, mid-sanctuary, still,
Unmoved, and take the time, because
There is none, and listen to your heart,
To the limestone, to the spirit of the place,
A house big enough to let you know
There is something greater than you.
Something Older
Judith G. Levy (Lawrence)

It's a 70's home I say,
joking away my longing
for something older,

like my grandmother's arms folding me into sleep.

Yes, I tell a faraway friend,
I'm settling in here,
(but the house sings an unfamiliar
song at night)

And all the while a plump robin
pokes at twigs in my yard
and plucks a perfect one,
nesting without fuss or grief.
House In The Middle Of A Field
Greg German (Kansas City, Ks.)

I know of no one who has lived
here. And it has been here forever,
a pivot we cramp machinery around
behind a full-throttled tractor.
The house could have been a corner post
so tight set it made no difference
how taut or in what direction a wire
stretched. The foundation has settled.
Wind has chiseled the excitement
out of the wood, and the sun has left it
grey. Its shingles are receding.
There are no curtains. The front door
is gone, so it must be open. Inside
I mingle with the musty scents eroding
from the crisp millers and mummified mice
hidden behind the layered, pastel paper
wilting from the walls. Children
drift through bedroom doors playing
with antique toys. Screened
by a common farmer face, a man sits
on his kitchen chair. He stares
beyond a woman in a cotton dress
into clouds that might not
be rain. I have done my duty.
And mine are the last boots
to arouse the dusty lull spread
across this cold wood floor.
On the windward side of the house
dad announces there is no better time
than now. I stand back. He lights
a match. Flames lean from windows,
tattered flags at full mast.


Friday, April 17, 2009

AAPP Contest 5: Kansas Houses

The next Ad Astra Poetry Contest theme is Kansas Houses. Deadline: Thursday April 20, 2009, midnight. The goal is to write a poem (or poems) based this theme and e-mail to kansaspoetry@gmail.Please paste your poem into an email and also, if possible, attach a document file in WORD or Rich Text Format (RTF). Further details and examples of my own Kansas ghost poems are on the Kansas Arts Commission website:

Each contest winner will receive a free book of poetry and/or
Ad Astra broadsides. The Kansas Poet Laureate is the sole judge and reserves the right to choose based on her own aesthetic taste. Shorter poems (under 25 lines) are easier to post on the web.
Here is more information on Poetry Month: National Poetry Month is a month-long, national celebration of poetry established by the
Academy of American Poets (AAP). The concept is to widen the attention of individuals and the media—to the art of poetry, to living poets, to our complex poetic heritage, and to poetry books and journals of wide aesthetic range and concern. The AAP hopes to increase the visibility and availability of poetry in popular culture while acknowledging and celebrating poetry’s ability to sustain itself in the many places where it is practiced and appreciated.

AAPP Contest 4, Kansas Ghost: Winners

Congratulations to the Ad Astra Poetry Contest #4 winners for the theme Kansas Ghost Stories. Winners are: Dennis Kelly (Seattle, former resident of Emporia); Philip Miller (Mt. Union, Penn., former resident of KC, Ks.); Amy Cummins (Hays); H.C. Palmer (Elmdale).

After A Burn: In the Cottonwoods at Camp Wood
H.C. Palmer

Look closely. The texture
of burnt grass traces
wheel ruts, uncovers

rings of limestone,
old campfires—
Osage, Neosho and drovers.

Dig beside the gnarly roots.
Chards of clay vessels,
pipestone and snake-oil bottles,

a Colt .45 shell casing.
And there, like a man
sleeping on his side,

the rotted limb that suspended
the rustlers—their spirits exhaling,
rattling the lustrous leaves.
Ghost story
Dennis Kelly
“Michael R. Wise, former chairman of Denver's failed Silverado
Banking, jumped from the ninth floor of a short-term parking garage at the Tampa
International Airport last week.” The Wall Street Journal

Fell, jumped—maybe pushed?
Smooth guyz—like Wise don’t
Fall or jump—they get pushed

You mess too many—people over
Sooner or later—karma catches up
It comes back—like a boomerang

Just like his—second wife
Supposedly—"suicide by pillow"
C’mon please—give me a break

I met Wise—at KSTC
In the student union—smooth
Goodlooking—with Paula

Mike’s hands—cold as ice
His blue eyes—slanted shut
sizing me up—for a scam.

Kansas Ghost
Philip Miller, author of Branches Snapping (Helicon 9 Press)

The haunted landscape I haunt
once haunted me,
stretching as it does toward eternity,
my windows opening to only sky,
so I learned to tell the seasons
by their tones of purple, gray, and blue.
Today it’s the pale robin’s egg of April
and a day moon the color of ancient bones
that lie buried in the clay-rich earth I lie in as well
and listen to the wind,
its highest shrieks to lowest groans,
all of its sad little songs,
in voices that I once thought belonged to ghosts
this wind that won’t give up the ghost, itself—
one thing that will last forever.
Blue Light Lady
Amy Cummins

I heard today the statue of Elizabeth Polly
In her Park on 26th Street and Indian Trail
Had been decapitated and was under repair.
This native limestone sculpture has
An earnest face gazing toward the hill southwest
Of Fort Hays and one neatly cobbled shoe
Peeking from beneath a billowing Victorian gown.
She stood looking away from the park entrance,
Gazing east; now the pedestal has no lady.

The most popular costume for girls in Ellis County
Is the woman in a blue dress with a white bonnet.
Her ghostly spirit emits a blue light.
The tale is told on every Halloween night
To new generations, the story
Changing a little each time,
Becoming ever truer each time it changes.

The blue light lady said to haunt us and help us
In Hays could have been an army nurse,
An enlisted man’s wife, a dead divorcée,
A woman who lived here only ten days before cholera
Took her, as she died in 1867 and became immortal.

A pal who grew up pedaling by the park confided to me:
He feared he didn’t believe in her any more;
She was created by vernacular memory.
When you ask at the fort, you hear a fair account.
But no one wants to think our legend is untrue.

We need Elizabeth Polly, our secular saint,
Walking along the ridgetop of Sentinel Hill,
Where, it is said, she wanted to be buried.
But the ground was too rocky, so
She had to be buried at the bottom of the hill
Where the soil could be opened for her grave.

It was marked by wooden crosses
Washed away in a great flood. We no longer
Have floods, and Big Creek never rises.
Yet Elizabeth Polly is more true than truth
And more historical than history.
She is us; she is how we remember our past.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

AAPP Contest 4: Kansas Ghost Stories

The next Kansas Poetry Contest theme is Kansas ghost stories. Deadline: Thursday April 16, 2009, midnight. The goal is to write a poem (or poems) based on the given theme and e-mail to kansaspoetry@gmail.Each contest winner will receive a free book of poetry and/or Ad Astra broadsides. The Kansas Poet Laureate is the sole judge and reserves the right to choose based on her own aesthetic taste. Shorter poems (under 25 lines) are easier to post on the web. Please paste your poem into an email and also, if possible, attach a document file in WORD or Rich Text Format (RTF). Further details and examples of my own Kansas ghost poems are on the Kansas Arts Commission website: and

AAPP Contest 3 Winners: Robert Day, Kevin Rabas, Kiesa Kay, Diane Wahto

Teal Hunting with Two Old Uncles
Robert Day, author of The Last Cattle Drive and We Should Have Come by Water, a chapbook of poetry

September’s never cold enough for ducks and whiskey.
I shoot in Tee-shirt and moccasins
as green wings hustle from pond to pond
in the yellow morning.

My uncles miss chances, drinking
on the bench deep in the blind
swapping stories about Cheyenne Bottoms
and Snow Geese bigger than the moon.

In the afternoon I work shirtless, laying
strips of sod on the blind’s roof,
careful as my mother tiling her kitchen counter.
My uncles sit on campstools whacking at wasps
with rolled up Ducks Unlimited.

That evening I shot two limits: Blue wings
came in low over the decoys. I dropped
a lone Cinnamon at sundown. My uncles
napped on their bench, twitching.
like old hunting dogs loaded with dreams.
Eden or Lucas, Kansas
Kevin Rabas, author of Bird’s Horn (Coal City Review Press) and End of the Set (Woodley)
as told by my uncle, Charles Keller, who gives tours of the place
“You know where I live? I live right next door to the Garden of Eden.
Up the way’s Paradise, and you go down about a half a mile and you
end up in Hell Crick.” --My grandmother, Bertha (Keller) Rabas

Your father’s mother’s people lived not far
from where old Dinsmoor lies now.
Your grandmother
fed old Dinsmoor’s badgers gingersnaps
Sunday mornings while Dinsmoor mixed cement.

Some called it sacrilege,
some sacrament.
But Dinsmoor was 64,
and figured the Lord
would forgive,
knowing he had so few
flexible years left to live.
Already he was stiffening.

Evenings, before turning in,
Dinsmoor worked
backyard aloe balm
into the cracks in his hands,
fearing his fingers just might crumble
under his wife’s pillow during the night.

He’d spent his whole life
planning the place,
the cabin stacked and mortared
using concrete logs,
the ziggurat for his body
and the body of his wife,
the shed, the garage, the planter,
and Eden above.

Every year,
while Dinsmoor built out back,
we had to borrow
just to put the wheat
back into the ground.

I thought what he built
would last forever.
However, at the start of autumn
when it rains
you can see the faces
of Dinsmoor’s statues
erode so slowly
it pricks your own skin
to watch.

No one knows
how to mix the mortar,
no one learned the secret,
so the arms are falling off of Cain,
the legs off Abel,
the breasts of their wives
are crumbling, Adam’s cane is crooked,
Eve’s hair has fallen,
and the snake’s in need
of complete repair.

Gardner Lake Firefighters
Kiesa Kay

Our volunteers couldn’t afford a fire truck.
Instead, we had a fire Beetle –
an orange VW beetle with blazing red lights
on top. Mr. Reed, the fire chief,
would leap into that Beetle and zoom
to the rescue, sirens blaring.
The one hose didn’t work too well, so sometimes
neighbors would form bucket brigades
from the lake to the house aflame.
Once when the lake was frozen six inches deep,
some guys threw snowballs at a burning house
while the other guys tried to crack the ice.
Once when a house hadn’t burned too much,
but its owner really needed some money,
the firefighters got together and tore down the porch
before the insurance adjuster got there.
The Man Who Never Saw the Light of Day
Diane Wahto

Early morning he dresses in the kitchen
while his wife brews coffee on the stove
and packs his lunch pail, spreading mayonnaise
across white bread, filling the red thermos.
The girl sits in the corner at the table.
She is six and what he calls work, she calls fear.
He puts his hard hat on and his light
and walks in the dark to the mine.
In the evening the girl waits on the steps
watching until his dirt-black face gleams
through the dusk. He is always out of sorts,
raving about what it means to be a man,
to pour his sweat and blood into this family.
The woman keeps her head down and doesn’t answer.
Late at night, her harsh voice penetrates the walls.

Now on spring days my father and I
walk around a town so small
it takes us less than an hour to cross it.
On the west side, we pass a monolith
of eroding concrete and steel,
remains of a worked-out mine.
I knew it was a mistake, your ma and me,
after six weeks, but you were on the way by then.
His voice goes funny and dry.
I catch a whiff of rust,
the seductive decay of long-extracted ore.