Sunday, December 18, 2011


New book by Diane Glancy Now It Is Snowing Inside a Psalm. This book of short reflective essays shares a winter journal of doubts as well as triumphs. This skilled writer’s personal response to the Hebrew text gives new perspectives on language and its role as a tool of faith. This will help readers through the dark snowy days ahead. She writes:
“It has been a hard winter. The snow seems to get into everything, even the Psalms. There are gray mornings I need to plug into the Word for the will to get up and work at my projects for the day. There are energy pockets in the Bible, especially the book of Psalms. I have been through the Psalms many times over the years. What new could there be left?  Yet they always stoke the will, and I am able to do what is needed. This winter, I opened the Psalms for another familiar journey, but soon found them not familiar at all. They became a new journey on the same road. There were variations in the landscape of language, and new insights. I found resilience in the dreariness of a long winter. I also discovered little disruptions in the Psalms that matched the disruptions I felt in my own interior landscape. The little clumps of words I read fit the clump of circumstances I faced. The Psalms became cross-word puzzles of a sort as I looked between two different translations— King James Version and the New Revised Standard Version.  This winter, I walked through the snow with the Psalms as a map. Even the gray clouds changed each day. Month after month, there was snow and cold, and cold and snow, yet I walked the changing terrain in the Psalms. My sister-in-law told me about a newspaper photograph last summer at the Lake of the Ozarks. It was of ticks with their little arms upraised in the grass, waiting for someone to pass along so they could latch onto them. That is the way I felt as I read the Psalms. They held to me, not to take life from me, but to give it.” Distributed by Mammoth or buy the Kindle edition. Order through
*Diane Glancy is professor emerita at Macalester College in St. Paul. Among her 30+ books are: The Reason for Crows, a novel of Kateri Tekakwitha, a 17th century Mohawk converted to Christianity; Pushing the Bear, a novel of the 1838-39 Cherokee Trail of Tears; a collection of essays, The Dream of a Broken Field; and new poetry, Stories of the Driven World. In 2010, she made her first independent film, The Dome of Heaven. She has been the recipient of many awards including National Endowment of the Arts Fellowships, a Minnesota Book Award, an Oklahoma Book Award, and an American Book Award. Her website is .

Sunday, December 11, 2011


I've read the 10 best NY Times book list, the local paper Lawrence Journal World's best 2011 list, and no poetry is included. I'm listing my own 2011 poetry favorites, based on books I have received this year. I'm including a few anthologies and related prose books. I know I am excluding some wonderful books, but mostly I don't have access to them. I have champagne tastes in poetry and a Kool-Aid budget. I will be nominating some of these for the National Book Critics Circle awards, as a member (see their website for more information about nomination processes by board members and also members-at-large). I do regular reviews of poetry for print and electronic media as well as this blog--please send books if you would like to be considered in 2012.
2011 Denise Low DOZEN BEST BOOKS OF POETRY, alphabetical order
  1. Water Puppets by Quan Barry (Perihelion), winner of the 2010 AWP Donald Hall poetry award. I picked this up at the public library and loved the language.
  2. Mackinac Suite by James J. Bogan, Jr. (The Full Court Press). This writer always takes me with him on his trips.
  3. Preparing to Leave by Stephen Bunch (The Lives You Touch Press)
  4. Things Come On: An Amneoir by Joseph Harrington (Wesleyan University Press). This book changed how I think about language and about memory. Julia Kristeva writes about how poets lead innovation by word tinkering. This book is amazing.     
  5. Domande Personali by William J. Harris (Leconte). Italian bilingual edition that sings, sings.       
  6. Glamour by Jonathan Holden (Mammoth Publications). Jonathan is such a good poet that he can make math and science lyrical. He's 1st poet laureate of Kansas.     
  7. Carry Catastrophe by Megan Kaminski's (Grey Book Press) . This poet is a comer. Watch for her full-length book coming from Coconut Books.      
  8. Pretend the World by Kathryn Kysar (Holy Cow! Press). This Minneapolis poet shines even in the crowded heaves of the Minnesota arts scene.
  9. PoDoom by Jim McCrary (Hank’s Original Loose Gravel Press). McCrary hones social critique to a high art.
  10. Rain Comes Riding by William Sheldon (Mammoth Publications). This Great Plains poet combines Goldbarthian awareness of syntax with compelling narratives of place.
  11. The Afterlives of Trees by Wyatt Townley (Woodley). Terrific images ornament all the poems.
  12. Ship of Fool by William Trowbridge (Red Hen). Smart, funny, sad. First rate poetry and a handbook of poetic form.
Sing: Poetry from the Indigenous Americas, edited by Allison Hedge Coke (University of Arizona Press) 
Begin Again: 150 Kansas Poems, edited by Caryn Mirriam Goldberg. You will be surprised how many poets of merit come from this crossroads state.  
The Best American Poetry 2011 guest edited by Kevin Young, series editor David Lehman (Scribner). Topeka poet Kevin Young continues to excel in curating as well as his own writing—see also his own Dear Darkness (Knopf 2008).
An Endless Skyway: Poetry From the State Poets Laureate edited by Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg, Marilyn L. Taylor, Denise Low and Walter Bargen (Ice Cube Books). 38 or so states have poets laureate. Here’s a sampling of some of the diversity, beautifully produced by Iowa’s Ice Cube Books.
The Penguin Anthology of  20th Century American Poetry edited by Rita Dove  (Penguin). Thank you to courageous Rita Dove for shifting the center of gravity to include more real gritty American life in these selections.
Robert Duncan: The H.D. Book, edited and with an Introduction by Michael Boughn and Victor Coleman (University of California Press). Amazing discussion of how poetry enters our lives through memorable people and events. Thank you to Ken Irby for this gift!
Beautiful & Pointless: A Guide to Modern Poetry by David Orr (Harper). Orr is always provocative if not always right.
Also a word for: Natural Theologies: Essays About Literature of the New Middle West by Denise Low. I appreciate Greg Kuzma and Nebraska's The Backwaters Press for taking a gamble on this first book about contemporary grasslands literature.   

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Travis Hedge Coke reads from U. of Az. Press anthology of Indigenous poets SING

Here is a video of Travis reading at Haskell Indian Nations University, Dec. 7, 2011:

Allison Hedge Coke and Travis Hedge Coke read from new anthology at Haskell Indian Nations University

Allison Hedge Coke displays SING
Travis Hedge Coke takes photo of Allison.
Joshua Falleaf in Poetry Wriitng class
Allison and Travis read from the new anthology of Indigenous North and South American poetry Sing, from University of Arizona Press: . Joshua Falleaf, Haskell instructor of the Poetry Writing class, hosted them.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

UTNE READER moves to Topeka!

Topeka is becoming a hipper & hipper place. Great poets and writers there, now this:

Monday, December 5, 2011

American Life in Poetry: "Two Gates," by Denise Low

Ted Kooser, the Poetry Foundation, and the Library of Congress sponsor this weekly poetry column, and a pdf version is available for download at this site. Thanks to Ted Kooser for the thoughtful introductory comment.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

A Favorite Book of 2011: William Trowbridge's SHIP OF FOOL

As the year ends, I remember Bill Trowbridge's reading from his new book Ship of Fool (Raven Bookstore's Big Tent series, April 28) as one of the best I have ever seen: he read quality work, all unified by a theme. He had just the right balance of poem to discussion of the poem, and the right balance of funny and serious. He connected with the audience so well. Trowbridge is a master sleight-of-hand, who plays on his readers' sympathies as well as Charlie Chaplin's Little Tramp, and the correct response is laughter and tears at once. Yes, every poem is about Fool, and by the time the book ends, the archetype Fool has been a film noir star, parted from his money, wise, and a prom goer. Here the Fool has his holiday, April's Fools Day, with a catalogue of bad practical jokes. I follow this poem, pulled into its momentum, and don't notice its sleekness. His final, original image of Fool lost in space stays with me for days. Trowbridge is so good.
On Fool’s birthday, April 1, people play
jokes on him all day long. “April Fool!”
his wife and kids hoot as the pancakes explode.
“Gotcha again!” quips the gang at work
when he sits down in the Limburger cheese.
His mom and dad, though dead, always call to ask
if he has Prince Albert in a can. “Well, let him out!”
they shriek, not waiting for an answer.
By five o’clock, Fool feels like a space walker
cut loose from the mother ship. The radio
in his head chatters nonsense as he floats
end over end. “You are my sunshine,”
he sings sotto voce, “my only sunshine.”
(first published in The Gettysburg Review)
Look for William Trowbridge's poem "Rental Tux," Jan. 9, 2012,in An American Life in Poetry, a syndicated newspaper & e-column published by the partnership of The Poetry Foundation, Ted Kooser, and The Library of Congress.
Trowbridge, an Omaha native, has a Ph..D. in English from Vanderbilt University. He teaches in the University of Nebraska low residency MFA program. He was Distinguished University Professor at Northwest Missouri State, where he was an associate editor of The Laurel Review. He lives in Lee's Summit, Missouri with his wife Sue. Ship of Fool is from Red Hen Press. Other books are The Complete Book of Kong (Southeast Missouri State University Press), Enter Dark Stranger, Flicker, and Paradise (Uall from niversity of Arkansas Press). His website is

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Zingara Poet Interviews Denise Low for Poet Laureate Series

Lisa Hase posted a lengthy interview and the poem "Pocahontas: A Portrait" on her creativity coaching blog. The Interview includes this excerpt.
How does poetry bring or add meaning to your life?
"First, I became involved with poetry so young, that it is hard to tease out how it, among other experiences, add meaning to my life. It’s a spiritual practice—I do believe that learning the discipline of language is one of many paths to enlightenment. It requires engagement with reality, not neuroses. Observation and reflection are the polarity, and syntax the means along the way. So poetry keeps me connected to immediate experience, and it makes historic tradition collapse into the present moment. We use ancient words, and each use reinvigorates them. I cannot imagine my life without poetry. " For more of the interview, see:

Monday, November 21, 2011

Francisco Aragon reads "Walt Whitman," after Ruben Dario, in Spanish and English

The American Literary Translators Association hosted Francisco Aragon and Fred Arroyo for a reading at the New Letters and BookMark offices Nov. 19, 2011. This recording is from Francisco's reading from his new book Glow of Our Sweat (Scapegoat Press, Kansas City.Here is his biographical information from the Poetry Foundation website: "Poet, translator, essayist, editor, and San Francisco native Francisco Aragón studied Spanish at the University of California at Berkeley and New York University. He earned an MA from the University of California at Davis and an MFA from the University of Notre Dame.Aragón’s multi-genre book Glow of Our Sweat (2010) includes poems, translations, and an essay. His translations appear in Federico García Lorca’s Selected Verse: A Bilingual Edition (1996). The editor of Bilingual Press’s Canto Cosas poetry book series and the anthology The Wind Shifts: New Latino Poetry (2007)." Aragon's poetry appears in Inventions of Farewell: A Book of Elegies (2001) and Mariposa: A Modern Anthology of Queer Latino Poetry (2008). Aragon is a 2008-2011 national board member of the Association of Writers &Writing Programs. At the University of Notre Dame, Aragón directs Letras Latinas, the literary program of the Institute for Latino Studies, and edits for Momotombo Press, which he founded. Francisco studied and lived in Spain also.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Diane Glancy's film Dome of Heaven Is an Authentic View of Great Plains Life, Both Cherokee and Anglo

A private showing of this terrific film Nov. 18, 2011 was a highlight of the American Literary Translators Association conference in Kansas City. Diane Glancy is best known for books of poetry and prose relating to her Cherokee heritage, and this film does continue her explication of contemporary American Indian concerns. Cherokee characters are central to the film, but also this film gives an authentic portrait of small town life on the Great Plains. The film (and novel) Winter’s Bone tells truth through fiction regarding the Ozarks, and Cedar Rapids portrays upper Midwest life. Dome of Heaven has equal authenticity and quality. Glancy, who lives in Kansas City, was not present because she was attending the Los Angeles Skins Film Festival to present the film.

Small Great Plains towns often include Native populations as well as descendants of European settlers. I grew up in small town Kansas grasslands, not far geographically nor culturally from Vici, Oklahoma, the setting, in a family of mixed backgrounds. The film is shot on location, and local people participated as actors, extras, and musicians. I recognized the café, school, court, church and bar, and always the sky. The film is based on Glancy’s book Flutie, about her experiences as a visiting writer in Vici public schools. She wrote a script from the book at a Sundance Native American Screenwriting workshop. For more on the making of the film, see Glancy’s website

The story revolves around a Cherokee veteran (Wes Studi, a subtle and strong performance) of World War II and his German war bride (Sylvia Kofler, a Kansas City writer and perfect fit). Their two children are Flutie (Thirza Defoe) and Franklin (Noah Watts). Franklin works with his father in a local garage as an apprentice mechanic; although he is bright, he has dropped out of high school. His sister Flutie wants to go to college, but she is morbidly afraid of speaking in front of people. She must overcome this phobia in order to pass high school and attend college. There are romances, arguments, tragedies, two marriages (Franklin's) and hope. The Greek myth of Philomela is another layer of the plotline. Well placed ambient shots of the area, including Southwest Oklahoma State campus, create the sense of the land being a character as well.

I viewed the film with a group of academics—people whose critical faculties are sharpened by decades of grading student papers and critiquing literature. Not an easy audience. Yet there was not a dry eye by the end of the movie. I heard others comment about the  well crafted dialogue, the use of silence as counterpoint to the panoramic views of the plains, the acting, the pacing, the musical score, and more. Country western is on most radio stations in that region, and the Randall family of Vici has listened well. Their ballads complement the script. Through a Looking Glass of Lawrence, Kansa, filmed and edited the movie, and their skill is apparent. I appreciated seeing the film with outsiders, because I was lost in the film’s verisimilitude. Dome of Heaven especially captures the humor. Glancy incorporates the overlapping Cherokee and rural humor, which is understated, self-deprecating, instructive, and inventive. A neighbor sees the father Mr. Moses driving a tractor down a road followed by a ten-year-old driving a truck (early driving is commonplace), but the kid’s head cannot be seen. The neighbor deduces that Mr. Moses is training the truck to follow. One of Flutie’s suitors creeps into her bedroom late after a night of drinking beer at the Cedar Shack. His hasty morning retreat, under the eyes of father and brother, is a classic.
Glancy brings skills of a trained writer to her script. After receive a graduate degree at the University of Iowa, she has published about 30 books of fiction, poetry, non-fiction prose, and drama. Among her awards are two National Endowment for the Arts Fellowships, a Minnesota Book Award, an Oklahoma Book Award, an American Book Award, and the 2011 Best Native American Film at the Trail Dance Independent Film Festival (Duncan, Oklahoma). Her most recent poetry is Stories from the Driven World (Mammoth 2010). A new collection of nonfiction, The Dream of a Broken Field (University of Nebraska Press 2011). For a clip, see:  

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Nikky Finney wins 2011 National Book Award for Poetry

Poetry winner of the National Book Award is Nikky Finney for Head Off & Split,  from TriQuarterly, an imprint of Northwestern University Press. My friend Damaris Hill had been telling me to read Nikky Finney for a couple years, and so I did. Her work is tough and strong. The poem “Sign Language, “ from The World is Round (Innerlight Publishing, 2003), shows the vivid, visceral images she uses—here, the image of two hearts torn out of two lovers’ chests. She addresses the reader directly—no safe distances here—with “tell me what is the difference.” This is unforgettable.

For the man who jumped out in front of the woman with his
arm raised like a machete screaming Abomination! as she
walked the streets of San Francisco holding her lover’s hand
for the first time in public.

There is a woman who goes to sleep
every night wishing she had broken
your sternum reached up inside your
chest momentarily borrowing your
heart to hold before your screaming
face and with her other hand still
clutching her lover’s broke next into
her own sternum plucking next her
own heart dangling them both there
sterling silver sign language for you
tell me what is the difference.
Finney is Professor of Creative Writing at the University of Kentucky and lives in Lexington. She’s also on the faculty at Cave Canem, the writer’s center for African-American poets, and a founding member of the Affrilachian Poets. She was born in Conway, S.C. an educated at Talladega College and Atlanta University. Writes Walter Mosely, “She has flung me into an afterbirth of stars and made my stiff bones as loose as jelly.” Caribbean poet Lorna Goodison notes, Finney “calls us to consider and value again the blessings found in community, the strong bonds of family and the transcendent and inexplicable ways of the spirit.” Her narrative poems include characters as diverse as Jacques Cousteau and Saartjie Baartman (the so-called Hottentot Venus), young women defined by violence and old women killing time in a thrift store.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Excerpt from Natural Theologies introduction: defining the West

This book of critical essays about contemporary literature of the American grasslands region begins with an essay that defines the region, and then introduces settler and Indigenous writers with themes of frontier, settlement, people, and nature.
"The landmass known as the West or Middle West or Grasslands or Great and Lesser Plains is an area first conceived by European Americans as a frontier zone. Subsequent histories and American Indian perspectives complicate representations of this region, as contemporary and recent 20th century writers rework themes of history, settlement, personal identity, and theology. Despite the complexities, these writers return to a fundamental truth unaltered by any human constructions: the natural world persists as the defining characteristic of the region."

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Nov. 2011 National Book Critics Circle blog Critical Mass mentions Natural Theologies along with other NBCC member news

NBCC notes publication of my new book of personal critical essays about contemporary grasslands writers: "Former Kansas poet laureate Denise Low has published a collection of her review-articles and other prose, Natural Theologies: Essays about Literature of the New Middle West from The Backwaters Press. . . ." and more on the NBCC blogmember news summary.The link to The Backwaters Press is Thanks to editor/publisher Greg Kosmicki! He's great to work with. Paul Hotvedt did the cover art--an amazing artist collected by museums & universities for teaching techniques-- More on my writing is at

Natural Theologies: Essays about Literature of the New Middle West, is the first critical study of contemporary Mid-Plains literature. Denise Low, former Kansas poet laureate, shows how the region’s writers inherit a Frontier legacy from Indigenous and American settler communities. Myths continue to provide framework for fiction writers and poets, as well as nature and the rich community life. Not all of the region is rural. Cities like Minneapolis, Omaha, and Kansas City, have presence in the literature—but in context of the great acreage around them.  This innovative book defines the region’s character while at the same time illuminating a panoramic past. Indigenous peoples and their philosophies add to this unique look at the Mid-continent’s literary culture. Writers whose work comes to Low’s attention include: William Stafford, Louise Erdrich, Langston Hughes, Ted Kooser, Robert Day, David Ray, Heid Erdrich, Jo McDougall, William Kloefkorn, Adrian C. Louis, Joseph Marshall III, Thomas Fox Averill, Linda Hasselstrom, Diane Glancy, and other Mid-Plains writers .

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Good article on docupoetry by Joseph Harrington

Joe defines “docupoetry” as verse that " (1) contains quotations from or reproductions of documents or statements not produced by the poet and (2) relates historical narratives, whether macro or micro, human or natural. " See the full article at the Jacket2 website  

Saralyn Reece Hardy supports reinstatement of a public Kansas Arts Commission

The Kansas legislature voted to reinstate the state funding for the Kansas Arts Commission, after Gov. Brownback eliminated it. The Kansans who oppose public access and funding for the arts are Brownback and the Koch brothers. Saralyn Reece Hardy explains financial and community concerns in this article, reprinted with permision. Denise Low
The Kansas Arts Commission has closed its doors. Kansas has become the only state in the nation to eliminate public funding for the arts. Public funding is premised on one intrinsic rule: Art is for everyone, and our culture belongs to all. Public funding is about equal access. Public funding ensures that Kansas museums, concerts, dance and theater events are open to all Kansans, not just to those who can afford the price of admission or enjoy private access. Public funding is crucial in expanding audiences beyond elite circles. Public funding ensures that people across Kansas can build strong cultural communities in places large and small, rural and urban: Goodland, Hays, Fort Scott, Concordia, Salina, Lincoln, Greensburg, Wichita, Lucas, Lawrence and Kansas City.
Let’s not forget what the arts look like in Kansas. Art in Kansas is and has always been of the grassroots, nurtured by values, reflecting the unrelenting work ethic of its people, and exploring a common landscape that runs beyond our vast horizon. Every community in Kansas can point to local examples of how artists – musicians, visual artists, writers, actors, dancers — have helped shape the shared language of our state. Thriving arts communities are an integral part of Kansas’ independent, democratic nature.
On one hand, art is not about the money. Still, the financial impact of eliminating public funding for the Kansas Arts Commission is clear: The state cut a budget of $689,000 in funds that had yielded an investment of $1.3 million in federal funds, creating jobs statewide and supporting arts all over the state. All of those dollars, those jobs, those opportunities, are now gone.
In my career in the Kansas arts, and also as a steward for national public arts funding, I have experienced firsthand how powerful public support can be in stimulating philanthropic contributions among communities, artists, private business and foundations. In turn, these public-private partnerships have the power to draw national and international recognition for local arts programs and a reputation for innovation to the entire area. A renovated arts facility may owe its presence to a generous private donor, but sustaining its future often requires a public source. Foundations award prestigious challenge grants to arts organizations, but matching funds often depend on an arts infrastructure supported by city and state grants.
The Kansas Arts Commission once made it possible for generations of children in our state’s communities to experience a rich selection of arts opportunities, but now the organization and its network lie fallow, and Kansas children are the poorer for it. All of our residents deserve opportunities to develop creative and critical minds, capable of imagination and innovation, the same resourceful qualities that characterize us as Kansans.
If Kansas is to contribute to a national currency of ideas, then the state must invest in arts and education for our residents. Cultural capital and economic capital are not separate; they go hand in hand. If we shortchange our children and communities on one count, we will shortchange them on the other. For the sake of future generations of Kansans, public funding for the arts must be reinstated in the blueprint for the state.
Ultimately, art is not about money: Art is about innovation and improvisation, authenticity and insight. Art means exercising individual freedoms in conversation with a community. Public funding is about access and opportunity — investing in the marvelous diversity of human expression, sharing those perspectives among us all, and making us stronger as a people.
— Saralyn Reece Hardy has worked in the arts in Salina, Washington, D.C., and now Lawrence.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Matt Porubsky Reading with Eric McHenry, Denise Low, Bill Sheldon, Brian Daldorph

& Kevin Rabas, Dennis Etzel Jr,Jason Wesco, Mary Stone Dockery and Jeff Tigchelaar
Reading Friday, November 4th 5:30-7ish pm to celebrate the new book by Matt, at Blue Panet Cafe Nov. 4, Topeka
Blue Planet Café 

The Three Times in My Life when I’ve Read William Stafford’s ‘Key of C – An Interlude For Marvin’ from Kansas Poems

We were on the road between our homes
speaking only of each other, instances and secrets.
You read to me on the way,
your voice elliptical in turns
and surroundings of stanzas and statements.
I saw the poem first through your voice:
all of them telling their futures,
their secrets to come to hold them fast to time.
I had to cry for their fates.
It seemed like our moment was in theirs,
the uncertainty of our timelines placed to sight.
She was born sometime later.
I had forgotten the poem as time travelled us
toward embraces of three.
I stumbled upon it and was stopped like a short breath.
I saw the poem through the both of you,
close by on the bed, in your light and sighing
moment of arms and nothing but that.
I had to cry for you and them
in the gathered instant of gathered fortune,
knowing how tightly you would always hold her.
The sun shined setting through
the windshield of the locomotive.
The air-conditioning and my shaded safety-glasses glinted it away.
I found the book of poems in my bag and read the poem again.
I was sure of my emotions in my surroundings of reflecting steel,
ballast black from loose oil and a co-worker stranger beside me.
But still, behind my glasses I had to cry for the poem.
The gentle giving. The gentle giving.
I put the book away and turned from the stranger,
bent to reach for a bottle of water from the ice bucket,
not offering one to him.
The poem swirled into me as cold water.

Matthew Porubsky’s first book of poetry, voyeur poems, published by Coal City Press, was the winner of the Kansas Authors Club Nelson Poetry Book Award in 2006. His second book of poetry, Fire Mobile (The Pregnancy Sonnets,) is  from Woodley Memorial Press. He lives in Topeka where he works as a freight conductor for the Union Pacific Railroad.!
Links to articles about Fire Mobile (The Pregnancy Sonnets):

Saturday, October 29, 2011


Wayne Propst, erstwhile companion and employee of William S. Burroughs, displayed his autographed softball Oct. 28, 2011, at an art event in Lawrence, Kansas. The old man, according to Propst, thought this was a baseball--he was not much of an aficionado of the sport. This is really a softball, inscribed: "for Wayne Propst and many years of friendship William S. Burroughs December 5, 1996." Wayne says it is the only baseball Burroughs ever signed, and it would fetch thousands at auction. Wayne had other fine art and collectible objects in his shopping cart (which he bought at the junk yard for $3): a turkey baster/artificial inseminator; shoes left over from one of his Shoe Flings; plastic gun, mounted; samples of his plastic baby head art; "Fluffy," a mummified cat; a severed golf iron--about a 3, I'd say. The portability of his display helps him cover all of downtown Lawrence art events with ease. He also uses the cart to carry tools at Lou's Farm, his land north of Lawrence, where Burroughs often visited. I remember parties there when Burroughs, then frail, was helped through the yard by James Grauerholz, Pat Elliott, David Ohle, and other companions. No one ever played baseball at these events. I remember McCormick's vodka was involved. Photos here show interest from an art consumer plus the milieu of Hobbs Loft during the Final Fridays Lawrence Art Party. The rhythm & blues band was very tasty. Unfortunately, too many arts fans are also baseball fans and spent the evening watching St. Louis Cardinals win the final game of the world series, rather than bidding on the Burroughs baseball. Burroughs was born in St. Louis and is buried there--perhaps his ka or spirit had some interest in the series. Probably not. Also, here is the WSB autograph on theWikipedia site, in case you wondered.

Thursday, October 27, 2011


Saturday, November 5, 2011 Alderson Auditorium, Kansas Union

9:30-9:45 am  Welcome, William J. Harris, KU, Master of Ceremonies
 9:45-10:15 Joe Harrington, KU, “Kansas &/or Oz, in the Poems of Kenneth Irby and Ronald Johnson”
 10:15-11:15 Poetry Readings by The Eberhardt Poets: Lyn Hejinian, Pierre Joris, Ben Friedlander, Denise Low & Joe Harrington
 11:15-12:00 Group Book Signing
 12:00-1:30 Lunch
 1:30-2:00 Denise Low, Haskell Indian Nations Univ., “Sensory Type/Topographies: Ken Irby’s Atlas to the World”
2:00-2:30 Ben Friedlander, University of Maine, “The Walk to the Paradise Garden”
 2:45-3:15 Pierre Joris, SUNY-Albany, “Irby’s Very Own North Atlantic Turbine”
 3:15- 3:45 Lyn Hejinian, UC-Berkeley, “We Might Say Poetry”
 4:00-4:30 Roundtable Discussion
 4:30-5:00 Poetry Reading by Kenneth Irby

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Mammoth Publications releases Bill Sheldon's RAIN COMES RIDING

 The dog’s ashes work their way
deeper into the garden’s soil.
This season I walk alone,
The dirt road winding
Into darkening sky.
The horses no longer
come when called, and the wind
keens, “Winter is coming on.”
The rising moon rattles the dry grass,
and below, the dead
continue their long work.

To order email $12 postpaid. RAIN COMES RIDING details poet William Sheldon’s passion for the Great Plains. People loom against the horizon—his family, neighbors, runaways, working men, and also the people who lived in this place before, whose scattered flint tools remain still unchanged. He is a poet who embraces fully the contradictions of simulated realities existing, fragmented, in a timeless universe of flint and bluestem grass. Sheldon is a skilled, smart writer who has much to tell his readers about how to live with good conscience.  This second book of the poet shows him creating a new genre of ballad. William Sheldon lives in Hutchinson, Ks., where he teaches. His book Retrieving Old Bones (Woodley), was named a 2002 Kansas City Star’s Noteworthy Book. He has an MFA from Wichita St. Univ.

Many poets of estimable value are called to mind by Bill Sheldon’s book: Kansas poets certainly (William Stafford, Steven Hind, Harley Elliot, Denise Low), and other-state poets with a knowing eye for the land, from the severe poems of Robinson Jeffers, to the more clement naturalism of Mary Oliver, to the savvy, stringent explorations of Wendell Berry.  How can one read Sheldon’s “Red” and not think of the poems of Phil Levine, their similar understanding of manual labor and the lives invested in that work?  I could go on in this vein, but… Sheldon is finally a practitioner of his own voice and vision—albeit one that takes its place happily in a community of other poets—and Rain Comes Riding, steeped in history and family, in an intimacy of place and sometimes a wry sense of humor, is the rich record of a career in which the world and the word have been lovingly wedded.” Albert Goldbarth, Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award

Saturday, October 15, 2011

First Draft: Denise Low essay on Ken Irby's Poetry

Sensory Type/Topographies: Ken Irby's Atlas to the World

Poetry icon Kenneth Irby creates texts of sensory topographies—and so he has changed the technology of the page. I remember his long-time publisher John Moritz of Tansy Press fussing about Irby’s long lines and the gap-toothed spacings and typography and original illustrations—all the ways Irby pushed the limitations of paper, ink, and bindings. This was decades ago, and I still see John grumbling as he midwived some of the most remarkable writing of our time. This has not gone unrecognized. The Poetry Society of America selected Irby as a co-recipient of the Shelley Memorial Award in 2010. This establishes him as a major poet among other winners—Robinson Jeffers, Marianne Moore, Robert Duncan, and Robert Creeley, to mention a few. Irby also won the Gertrude Stein Award in Innovative American Poetry, a Fulbright Fellowship, and other honors. His collected poems, The Intent On (from North Atlantic Press) covers the years 1962 to 2006. The square-ish, dense tome is weighty until opened. Then dynamic axes of words rise from inert materials to assemble, within readers’ visionary faculties, myriad revelations of consciousness....
This is the start of a presentation I'm working on for the Nov. 5 celebration of Kenneth Irby (see events).

More details from the press release: KU faculty member Kenneth Irby turns 75 this year. In the tradition of other events acknowledging major figures in contemporary poetry, such as the May 7, 2011 celebration of Robert Kelly in New York City and that of Amiri Baraka in Newark, New Jersey in 2009, the Eberhardt Colloquium at the University of Kansas this year is in his honor and celebrates his astonishing oeuvre. Both national and local scholars and poets will examine Irby’s life and work through lectures and panels; poetry readings will celebrate his contribution to American Literature. The day will conclude with a poetry reading by Irby himself. Featured speakers and presentations include: Lyn Hejinian, UC-Berkeley, “We Might Say Poetry” Pierre Joris, SUNY-Albany, “Irby’s Very Own North Atlantic Turbine” Ben Friedlander, University of Maine, “The Walk to the Paradise Garden” Denise Low, Haskell Indian Nations University, “Sensory Typ/Topographies: Ken Irby’s Atlas to the World” Joe Harrington, University of Kansas, “Kansas &/or Oz, in the Poems of Kenneth Irby and Ronald Johnson.” The colloquium is sponsored by the Department of English, The Hall Center for the Humanities, the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences and the Spencer Museum of Art. An issue of the online journal Jacket 2 will be devoted to the proceedings, as well as including other solicited essays, letters, and critical remembrances. The issue will be edited by William J. Harris and by Kyle Waugh, co-editor of Irby’s collected poems, The Intent On. This event is free and open to the public. For further information, contact William J. Harris (

Sunday, October 9, 2011


A year ago I visited Kramer’s Books in D.C., and I perused the poetry section. The Swallow Anthology of New American Poets (Ohio University Press, 2009) appealed to my browser’s appetite. As I expected, I did not know any names on the cover. I paged through the book, and this poem jumped out:


After Beloit I went back to the paper
and wrote arts features for eight dollars an hour,
and lived in the Gem Building, on the block between
Topeka High with its Gothic tower
and the disheveled Statehouse with its green
dome of oxidizing copper.

I was sorry that I had no view
of old First National. Something obscured it
from my inset balcony. I heard it
imploding, though, like Kansas Avenue
clearing its throat, and saw the gaudy brown
dust-edifice that went up when it came down.

Friday nights I walked to High’s home games
and sat high in the bleachers,
and tried to look like a self-knowing new
student, and tried not to see my teachers,
and picked out players with familiar names
and told them what to do.

Eric McHenry. Never heard of him, and Topeka is 20 miles upriver from my home. This is how I met 5th generation Topekan McHenry. In his biography, I learned that after college at Beloit and Boston University—and a stint in Seattle—McHenry returned to Washburn University to teach. Kevin Young, Ben Lerner, Cyrus Console, Gary Jackson, Amy Fleury, and Ed Skoog are among his Topeka peers who are publishing with national presses. Must be something in that riverwater. See this Lawrence Journal World link to Topeka poet Matthew Porubsky’s new book Fire Mobile: Sonnets (Woodley Memorial Press):  

As I read “Rebuilding Year,” I identified with the scenery and the life—I’ve written for a newspaper in Kansas, and I know the low-wages and long hours wrestling with concise syntax. But McHenry’s sentences are not Hemingway’s direct lines. He has a fascination for recursive wording—the way Topeka High repeats simply as “High” in this poem is just one example. He doubles back on himself often in other poems as well. Sounds revolve also, like the rhymes in the first stanza: “paper,” “dollars,” “hour,” “tower,” and “copper.” He is one of the few Americans to rhyme as effortlessly as the English poets. Nothing feels forced, and the sounds reinforce the theme of return.

The jolt of the poem is the great implosion scene, which sounds like a street “clearing its throat” and also creates an after image of debris, a “dust-edifice.” This is the Tarot card the Tower, with permanence upset by sudden explosion, parallel to the shift from childhood to adulthood. Reality changes quickly and with odd echoes. The “rebuilding” of the title is both a literal architecture and archetypal coming-of-age story, where loss is a natural extension of the process. The renewal of the town and the football team also is the renewal of this man’s psyche. The narrator, the solitary fan in the bleachers, becomes an apprentice poet producing this soliloquy—a t once part of and separate from the crowd. He chooses the lonely seat, the one with a view, and creates conversation with characters who seem familiar, but all the rules have changed. He play-acts being the authority figure as he rehearses for adulthood.

All of McHenry’s poems have wistful twists at the end. His book Potscrubber Lullabies (The Waywiser Press, 2006) includes poems that mostly reconcile loss with commitment to survival, and the tension sometimes creates understated humor. The unstated theme is hope. Like a good Kansan, McHenry is self-deprecating, and his own follies are what keep him humble. He tells wrenching tales, all with prickling awareness. In “Vanguard” he reaches across the years and speaks with the father of the jazz tenor saxophone, Coleman Hawkins, another Topekan:


Here’s what I remember: Coleman Hawkins
and I are sitting at a mahogany table
in the Village Vanguard, quietly talking.
He’s finished a set in which he was unable
to summon even one unbroken tone
from the bell of his once-clarion saxophone.
But now that’s over and he feels all right.
He’s smoking because he’s wanted to all night,
drinking cloudy cognac from a tumbler
and coughing ferociously; his voice is weaker
than his cough; he’s barely audible, mumbling
to me because he knows I’m from Topeka.
He says, “That’s where I learned to tongue my horn.”
I know, and that’s the only thing I hear.
It’s 1969; in half a year
he’ll be dead. In three years I’ll be born.

This is a ghost story, and the narrator keeps his secret to the end. He invests in imagination. He honors the amazing Hawk while simultaneously expressing compassion for the jazzman’s suffering. No word is more than three syllables, and most are two or one—a way to sustain emphasis. McHenry has a plainspoken vocabulary, like many Midwesterners (Stafford, Wright, Bly), which he uses to construct syntactical mazes that lead to genuine amazement.

See more about McHenry at these sites:
“I Don't Want to Live on the Moon,” essay by Eric McHenry for Richard Hugo House, 2009:
Kansas literature map page on Eric McHenry
Washburn University faculty bio

“Rebuilding Year” and “Vanguard” © Eric McHenry. Poems reprinted with permission of the poet