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