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 divorcĂ©e,
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.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Recent Poetry Book: Dan Jaffe and William Sheldon

Recent books of interest are Dan Jaffe's On the Way to the Polls: Poems (City Light Publishing PO Box 6911, Leawood KS 66206, $16) and Bill Sheldon's Into Distant Grass (Oil Hill Press Chapbook Series #5, 340 N. Fountain, Suite 1, Wichita KS 67208,, $5.00).

Jaffe presents a collection of politically suggestive poems. His intense lyrics demand attention to local and national politics, but always with attention to the personal. A beggar on the street has a face that is a “wince.” Carjackers walk the streets. Jaffe takes his readers through infernos of poverty, racism, classism, and sexism. This is not a poetry of ornamentation, but rather of reality and survival while surrounded by insanity. This is an essential guidebook to the 21st century.

Sheldon's chapbook consists of 12 central poems that first apeared in Midwest Quarterly (summer 2008). (Stephen Meats continues to do an amazing job as poetry editor for MQ.) Sheldon is one of the most poignant and powerful of the grasslands poets. His previous book Retrieving Old Bones (Woodley 2002), was a KC Star Noteworthy Book. This is a sophisticated writer, who honed his craft with Albert Goldbarth, and he is the subject of an Ad Astra poetry broadside (posted on this blog). This new book is not to be missed.

Friday, April 10, 2009

AAPP Contest 3 Theme: Kansas Portrait(s)

Congratulations to the Ad Astra Poetry Contest #2 winners Jo McDougall, Leawood, and Gloria Vando, Mission Hills and L.A., in the professional category; and H.C. Palmer, Lenexa
Tom Mach, Lawrence Claudia Mundell, Carthage, Mo., and Solomon Valley Highway 24Heritage Alliance member; and Eli Jost , Lawrence, juvenile category.You can see their poems below.

The next theme is Kansas Portrait (s). Deadline: April 13, 2009, midnight. The goal is to write a poem (or poems) based on this theme and e-mail to

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. I separate out “professional” poets—those who have published a book of poetry from a recognized press—for their own recognition. And I could not limit myself to just one in each category! This time I include a “juvenile” category as well. And please understand that all entries are winners—the acting of writing is its own success.Please paste your poem into an email (this works best) and also, if possible, attach a document file in WORD or Rich Text Format (so I can check linebreaks if there is a question). Further details and examples of my own poems are on the Kansas Arts Commission website:

AAPP Contest 2, Kansas Towns: Winners

Kansas Town When the Sun Goes Down
Jo McDougall, Leawood, author of Dirt (Autumn House Press)

hums on the horizon.


On a Sunny Sunday in October
Gloria Vando, Mission Hills and L.A., author of Shadows and Supposes

It’s the lack of sound, the lack of motion
I first notice. Nothing moves.
A gray squirrel unfolds from its still frame,
jumps a few times, and disappears
into the green silence. A small breeze wakes
the dying leaves of the black walnut trees.
Then sleep. I walk under overhanging
branches of elms, oaks, and redbuds.
Light. Shadow. Light. Shadow.
My cap and sunglasses fail to block
the afternoon sun. Not a car. Not a soul.
Even the birds are mute. All the doors
are locked, shades drawn against intruders—
Keep Out signs understood, not posted.
I walk on, unseen, unheard.
At the blue service station on the edge
of Mission, I pick up my revived car.
“It’s eerie,” I tell Mr. Buford, “no one’s out.”
“The Chiefs are playing,” he laughs,
“a good day for a burglary!”
I drive home—the only car on the road.
The door to our garage is up, my husband’s car
bears an invisible sign: Steal me!
The front door is slightly ajar.
“Hey,” I yell, “I’m home!”
“Shh! Don’t bother me,” he yells back
from the basement, “It’s a terrific game!”
Elegy to Elmdale, a Prairie Town
H.C. Palmer, Lenexa

Since you went away,
the tame edges
of your hometown

have grown wild.
Every year, we shore
up the framework

of what remains,
yet bedrooms and barns,
even schoolrooms

soften from decay—
compost for prairie
reclaiming its place.
Sounds of Lawrence
Tom Mach, Lawrence

Voices are ghosts too,
still here to haunt us.
Quantrill’s order to
burn the Eldridge
are embedded in stone
and a boy’s scream
from a flying bullet
may be hidden in a
Watkins Museum rifle.
Frazier Hall holds the words
Of Susan Anthony’s speech
While the applause for
Jane Addams and her talk
at the Bowersock Theater
are now buried somewhere
in the mortar of Liberty Hall.
The Pinckney School playground
holds the frustrated tears of a youngster
named Langston Hughes
and somewhere in the soil
of a Lawrence cemetery
are more voices, past and future…
some who have spoken
and some who have yet to speak.
Claudia Mundell, Carthage, Mo., and Solomon Valley Highway 24Heritage Alliance member

Eons ago, the earth here rumbled with the hooves of Black Dog’s tribe.
Later streets of a town thumped with wagon wheels,
Followed by pavement with humming tires on Main Street.
Now, the terrain calms again, sinking back,
As Kansas elements begin to reclaim its own once more.
The muddy Neosho meanders south of town
Like a dirty ribbon in an old woman’s hair,
But the bridge over it rusts, paint faded away.

The creamery sits silent, windows covered like a boxer’s swollen eyes,
And all the busy grocery stores have ceased to be.
Bank, video store, a lawyer’s office, and tavern
Still open doors for business with remaining neighbors.
Brick and metal churches yet dot the town like pats of butter
Dropped in a steaming vegetable dish.

The courthouse, once hectic, continues to transact
Tags and taxes, and stores the county history.
On the courthouse lawn, a cast iron kettle stands waiting
For summer, when fat back and beans cooking
Will draw folks back into town for a reunion.
Until then, I know what Dorothy learned at Oz,
That Kansas is home, where I belong.
A Kansas Town
Eli Jost , Lawrence, 4th Grade

A Kansas town,
no doubt about it.
A Kansas town for sure.

With the little post office made of stone
and the one-room schoolhouse.

The pretty church with the stained glass windows,
three on either side,
and the steeple bell with its tower leaning.

The old wooden farmhouse with a wrap-around porch
and its barn with the red paint peeling.

A Kansas town,
no doubt about it.
A Kansas town for sure.


Monday, April 6, 2009


Current theme is: Kansas Town(s)Deadline: April 9, 2009, midnight

The goal is to write a poem (or poems) based on the given theme and e-mail to .

Each contest winner will receive a free book of poetry and/or Ad Astra broadsides. Winners will be posted on this blog and .
The Kansas Poet Laureate is the sole judge and reserves the right to choose based on her own aesthetic taste.

Please paste your poem into an email and also attach a copy in Rich Text Format (RTF), if possible. Further details and examples of my own landscape poems are on the Kansas Arts Commission website:


Thank you all for the wonderful response. I enjoyed all the entries. I ended up with two categories, professional writers and all others. Professional writers, in my opinion, are those who have published one or more books of poetry with an established press (not self-published). So my favorites are these five, and I hope everyone continues to enter the next round:

William Sheldon, Hutchinson, author of Retrieving Old Bones (Woodley Press)

You step from conditioned air
onto the broiling tarmac
of a gas station—Wakeeney, Oakley,
Colby, somewhere on the western
edge of Kansas—eyes straining,
desiring mountains. “Flat,”
you say, hot wind in your teeth.
Look behind you. You have risen
three thousand feet
since you left Kansas City, more
than you will climb again
by Denver. You have watched for miles
wheat and tumbleweeds.
Two pheasants—their blue
green heads—have shown themselves.
“Kansas,” you think,
but like you, they are visitors,
just passing.
“Not much to do,” you say
to the attendant, who pushes your change
across the counter. He smiles
his heart a glad riot, rejoicing
in your choice of the interstate.

Robert Stewart, Johnson County, author of
Outside Language: Essays (Helicon Nine Editions, 2003) and the poetry collection Plumbers (BkMk Press, 1988)

Pine wilt, spider mites, the city
of Prairie Village
have it in for the eight of us –
seven Scotch pines,
or Austrian (who can tell?)
and me, lined up
between traffic on 75th St.
and our yard, and
did I mention Dog, Sparky?
The facts turn split
level residents to naturalists,
and one gone tree
in this state, in the umber
of rolling grains
and west-rumbling avenues,
seems like a pop-
ulation loss, a ghost town.
We have none
to spare, none. We can’t
spare the hyacinth
the city brush-hogged off
the easement.
Whatever dries out, wilts,
cracks gets cut,
jobs well done by vested
men or mites alike.
How should we live here
without the grape
buds chinning themself
in the grass? Listen.
Dog wants to chase down
an ambulance.
So do I. We sit on a stump
and howl, dog
and me holding his leash.

Joshua Falleaf, Topeka

The April rains that paint the tree-tops green
tire as a fury of heat halts all motion,
curbing the grackle’s toddle, the creek’s warm shush.
The swollen roots of trees now cut its banks,
ten feet high and crumbling. Murky puddles
and brush speckle the creek bed, baking, even
in the still smothering shade of cottonwood limbs.
Without current of water or wind, freed flecks
of white descend from the vaulted arbor,
then linger, suspended, our summer snow
in these searing, humid days and evening burns.

Near one of the remaining pools, beneath
that airy haze of cotton flakes, a flash –
a resolute perch smacks the mud and gasps.
Swelling, then collapse, the perch’s scales flex,
reflecting prism-shades the sun alone
cannot display. But soon, its thirst for breath
fatigues – its luster fades and dulls to gray.

Jefferson County: Nature on the Edge
Wayne White, Oskaloosa

Lift your eyes from the deep gold of late spring grasses
to the coal plumes on the southern horizon.

Face north to avoid the night time glow
that overwhelms the stars.

Feel the scream of the red tail hawk that stirs a primordial urge
until it fades into the drone of an airplane.

Listen to early morning footsteps softly rustle the woodland leaves
as all subtlety is ground out by the commuter’s tires on gravel.

Enjoy the sensation of tongue on snowflakes drifting from the winter sky
and try not to think of the chemical traces they might carry.

Summer Drive Across Western Kansas
Candace Krebs, Western Kansas

The High Plains are not flat.
Nor empty. Nor bland.

They raise rodeo cowboys here
and reliable middle managers, good salesmen,
a few poets who masquerade as teachers,
or journalists.

Even here,
where you can almost drive off the map,
are tendrils of road that lead back to
some bemused notion of urban civilization.

Meanwhile, blistering thunderheads toss rainbows
over wheat stubble fields of sun-bleached gold
while deep green corn rows rattle, and grow.

Open space opens an ocean only memory and dream can fill.

Evening draws antelope from the river bottom,
fireflies from their nests,
dampness from the earth and grasses,
musky perfume from the sage,

drains the sky of the last of its demons.

Thursday, April 2, 2009


In addition to the Ad Astra Poetry Contest (see details below or on the Kansas Arts Commission site), here are Academy of American Poets April Poetry Month projects:

  • - Poem-A-Day: Great poems from new books emailed each day of National Poetry Month. Sign up for your daily dose of new poems from new spring poetry titles at
  • - Poem In Your Pocket Day: Join thousands of individuals across the U.S. by carrying a poem in your pocket on April 30, 2009. Find out details at
  • - NaPoWriMo Pledge Drive: Challenge yourself to write a poem every day in April. Learn more at
  • - Free Verse Photo Competition: Capture and share ephemeral bits of verse for a chance to win jewelry and book prizes, at
  • - Spring Book List: Check out the new books of poetry available each spring by visiting
  • - National Poetry Map: Find out what is happening in your state by visiting the National Poetry Map at
  • - Poets Workshop: Get inspired with generative writing exercises and reading assignments. You can also participate in peer critique workshops by posting poems in our discussion forum, at